electrochurch - The ElectroClash Church An Incomplete...

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The ElectroClash Church: An Incomplete Account of Televangelism in America Aaron Paul Houska Sex and Religion in America Fall 2007 Final Paper In the mid 1960s, the average number of Americans tuning into religious televi- sion programs was about 5 million. Twenty years later, that number was about 25 mil-
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lion (Hadden 9). Today there are perhaps less than 10 million (Gruson). These figures span the history of televangelism, and are telling of its strange and rapid rise to power, and its sudden death twenty years later. Televangelism is a classic American phe- nomenon, mixing evangelical christianity with mass media, with raising vast sums of money wrapping the whole package up. It is too easy to blame the sexual and financial scandals that rocked the televangelist world in the late 80s as the cause of its downfall; while they were certainly the catalyst, a combination of too much competition, unbeliev- ably lavish lifestyles adopted by ministers, and its launching of the Christian Right as a political entity. The developments in the electronic church during the 1970s and 80s were strongly rooted in Evangelical traditions that went back more than two hundred years, and most important of these traditions was that of urban revivalism. Essentially, these Christians believe that the minister is directly involved in individual salvation, serving as both “gatekeeper in the heavenly hierarchy” (Frankl) and the primary proselytizer, and the face that urban revivalism would come to take in the 20th century was primarily shaped by three preachers during the 19th century: Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, and Billy Sunday. Finney set the future standard for revivalist style, emphasizing plain lan- guage, the primacy of Biblical text, and the importance of spectacle. Thirty years later, Moody developed a standard business organization for revivals while simultaneously opening the first generation of evangelical Bible schools such as the Moody Bible Insti- tute here in Chicago. At the end of the century, Billy Sunday combined the innovations of Moody and Finney to create an integrated, streamlined, Evangelical business plat-
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form, incorporating large congregations, Bible schools, and a sharp-toothed business model to run them. With the advent of radio during the 1920s and 30s, revivalist preachers such as Charles Coughlin began setting up weekly radio shows showcasing their oratory powers for a suddenly wide audience (in Coughlin’s case, about 45 million listeners per week). And while these broadcasts were reaching millions of christians at the time when televi- sion was coming into being, religious television didn’t come about until the 1950s, in contrast to radio whose very first transmission was a biblical verse. Furthurmore, from the start the market included Catholics as well. (Hadden 3-5) In fact, the very first reli- gious television program was done by Archbishop Sheen in 1951, with Rex Humbard (an evangelist) only coming onto the scene a year later with his ministry/program
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This note was uploaded on 04/30/2008 for the course GEN_COMM 103 taught by Professor Johnston during the Fall '08 term at Northwestern.

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electrochurch - The ElectroClash Church An Incomplete...

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