- Televangelism refers to the use of television by many evangelists to spread their message and win supporters. It came into its own in the 1970s, and revolutionized religious broadcasting.Prior to that time, with few exceptions, religious programming on television had been limited to modest shows on weekends, usually Sunday mornings, with primarily a local or regional reach.The huge growth in the number of TV stations and improvements in technology created opportunities for independent ministers from nonmainstream denominations, which had previously been denied access to the networks.In the 1960s, Pat Robertson (b. 1930) founded the Christian Broadcast Network, and in the 1970s a growing number of stations linked to CBN. Satellites and cable made it possible to cover the country with relatively inexpensive programs. With networks like CBN, soon joined by Trinity Broadcasting Network, programming could go on every day and at all hours. Both the opportunity and the need to fill 24 hours a day with programming led to the development of talk-show formats (the initial model being Robertson's 700 Club) and the inclusion of news coverage from a Christian perspective.The heightened presence of religious (specifically conservative Protestant) programming on television attracted widespread attention by the end of the 1970s. It became a national issue after popular television minister Jerry Falwell (b. 1932) allied himself with political activists to found the Moral Majority, in hopes of bringing alienated conservative Christians into the political process. Falwell aimed at countering legal abortions, the growing visibility of homosexuals, the abandonment of prayer in public schools, and other "liberal" phenomena.The initial success of the Moral Majority, then the primary organization of the Religious Right, attracted scholars to examine religious broadcasting on television. Sociologist Jeffrey Hadden (1936-2003) coined the term televangelism in 1981. In the meantime, there was a parallel growth in Christian radio, with hundreds of new stations syndicating new national programs.In spite of complaints that its political aspects were breaching the wall of separation between church and state, the world of televangelism grew tremendously in the 1980s. In 1988, Pat Robertson ran for the Republican presidential nomination. His failure to attract support happened to coincide with the start of a series of scandals whenRobertson associate Jim Bakker (b. 1940) was accused of adultery and major financial mismanagement, the very successful Jimmy Swaggart (b. 1935) was accused of sexual misconduct, and several lesser scandals were aired. Falwell dissolved the Moral Majority. Though superseded by a new Christian Coalition, the political clout of the tele-vangelists never returned to its pre-1988 level.Nevertheless, Christian television survived the temporary loss of financial support and emerged in the mid-1990s stronger than ever. As the new century began, both CBN and TBN had adapted successfully to cable television; both were broadcast worldwide via cable and satellite.Measuring the size of the Christian television audience is difficult; measuring its usefulness as an evangelism tool is even more so. However, there is little doubt that it supplies weekday religious entertainment for millions of dedicated conservative Christians and that it has, in secular terms, added a diversity of ideas to the popular culture.Until the 1990s, the televangelism phenomenon was largely confined to the United States. In the 1990s, however, its international potential was being exploited. Cable has enabled religious broadcasting to reach countries that otherwise block such programs from broadcast stations, often government owned. Among the more recent additions, in January 2004 the Seventh-day Adventist Church began broadcasting to Europe via a new satellite vehicle, the Hope Channel.Further reading:■ Steve Bruce, Pray TV: Televangelism in America (London: Routledge, 1990)■ Jerry D. Cardwell, Mass Media Christianity: Televangelism and the Great Commission (New York: University Press of America, 1984)■ Jeffrey K. Hadden and Charles E. Swann, Prime Time Preachers: The Rising Power of Televangelism (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1981)■ ----, and Anson Shupe, Televangelism: Power and Politics on God's Frontier (New York: Henry Holt, 1988)■ Stewart M. Hoover, Mass Media Religion: The Social Sources of the Electronic Church (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1988).
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