of the Dial
Destroyed? Toto? Oh you can’t. You mustn’t. Auntie Em, Uncle
Henry, you won’t let her, will you?
Miss Gulch: If you don’t hand over that dog, I’ll bring
a damage suit that will take your whole farm. There’s a law
protectin’ folks against dogs that bite.
Henry: We can’t go against the law, Dorothy. I’m afraid
poor Toto will have to go.
Auntie Em: Almira Gulch! Just because you own half
the county doesn’t mean you have the power to run the rest
of us. For twenty-three years, I’ve been dying to tell you
what I thought of you. And now—well, being a Christian
woman, I can’t say it.
The other day I was telling a friend about some egregiously
anti-Catholic diatribe I had heard on a Christian radio station
when he interrupted me to ask me why I listen to that.
Only he didn’t mean it as a question. It was a judgment: How
could I waste my time on such flagrant silliness? “Why do
you read the newspaper?” I wanted to say. Why do you watch
television news? Of course I didn’t. I’m still a recovering
Which is too bad, really, because it means I’m not always
quick enough in denouncing what I am more and more convinced
is the hoodwinking of our nation in the name of a Christ I
don’t recognize even though I support my family by spending
my life leading a congregation in trying to figure out and
follow Christ’s teachings. (These teachings, I’m certain,
do not include bullying people on Christian or AM radio or
condemning homosexuals or Christianizing the Constitution
or stacking the courts or demonizing Muslims or mobilizing
a voting bloc to elect program-loyal candidates—but I’m becoming
breathless only partway through my list.)
It’s widely acknowledged that there has been a dangerous and
increasing collapse of evangelical Christianity and conservative
politics so that more and more they come to be seen as one
and the same thing.
But acknowledging that and understanding it as a genuine worry
are different things. One of the most egregious ways progressives
marginalize the religious right is in not taking its media
reach seriously. Probably because Christian radio has always
seemed a quaint, kind of homespun thing, supported by a coterie
of like-minded listeners—hokey, but harmless—it’s easy to
overlook the growing power of broadcasters disseminating a
political agenda cloaked in Christian rhetoric.
I only started listening to Christian radio—which I can only
do in small doses—because a member of my congregation wanted
me to. I couldn’t tolerate any of the Christian contemporary
music and a lot of the radio preachers made me really want
to scream. But I discovered that a lot of the call-in therapy
shows actually had some decent psychotherapists offering useful
information. There was very little “let-and-let-God” talk
on these shows.
I didn’t really start worrying until last fall when a commentator
on a news program began talking about the issues in the upcoming
election. For a minute I thought it was really going to be
thoughtful critical analysis. He sounded fair-minded.
He was intelligent, soft-spoken. So when he got around to
saying, in more or less these words, that no one really Christian
would vote for John Kerry he made it sound almost reasonable.
Unless you were really listening to what he was saying, his
no-nonsense affability made it seem as though dissent would
Mariah Blake, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review,
explores the growing “alternative universe of faith-based
She begins her story with a visit to the Christian Broadcasting
Network’s brand-new Washington, D.C., digs in the Dupont Circle
area. Trent Lott had been in earlier in the week for an interview.
News anchor Lee Webb was just gearing up—with prayer—for the
taping of his show, NewsWatch, one of many of CBN’s
faith-based programs, this one a blend of God, politics and
outside the evangelical community know how large [CBN] is,”
Blake writes, “It employs more than 1,000 people and has facilities
in three U.S. cities as well as Ukraine, the Philippines,
India, and Israel — or how diverse its programming.”
is just one star in a vast and growing Christian media universe,
which has sprung up largely under the mainstream’s radar.
Conservative evangelicals control at least six national television
networks, each reaching tens of millions of homes, and virtually
all of the nation’s more than 2,000 religious radio stations.
Thanks to Christian radio’s rapid growth, religious stations
now outnumber every other format except country music and
The National Religious Broadcasters (“Christian communicators
impacting the world”) mission statement describes its 1,600
members as “your partner to promote the Gospel.” NRB was founded
to “provide access to the airwaves, promote education and
training for members and provide networking opportunities.”
One of their most visible networking opportunities is at their
annual convention, “the largest nationally and internationally
recognized event dedicated solely to assist those in the field
of Christian communications.”
Chris Hedges, a war correspondent and author of War Is
a Force That Gives Us Meaning visited the NRB convention
in Anaheim, Calif., and writes about his experience in this
Harper’s piece makes for chilling reading and ought
to be enough to make those dismissive of Christian media take
another, worried look. But even more chilling is that Hedges
has no particular ax to grind. He’s not anti-Christian. Indeed,
he grew up the son of an activist Presbyterian minister and
was himself a student of Christian ethics at Harvard Divinity
He writes with real anguish at the disconnect between the
Christianity he was nursed on and the kind now ascendant:
brash, unapologetic and hungry for a piece of secular political
mentioned these days is the Jesus of the four gospels, the
Jesus who speaks of the poor and the marginalized, who taught
followers to turn the other cheek and love their enemies,
the Jesus who rejected the mantle of secular power.”
Instead, he says, a disproportionate amount of scripture he
heard quoted at the convention came from the book of Revelation,
“the only place in the NT where Jesus (arguably) endorses
violence and calls for vengeance against non-believers.”
With sadness, Hedges recalls the words of his Harvard ethics
professor, Dr. James Luther Adams who told his students that
fascism would not return wearing brown shirts and arm bands,
but cloaked in the language of the Bible, carrying crosses
and chanting the Pledge of Allegiance.
And Christian broadcasting is fueled by that trio. NRB President
Frank Wright couldn’t have made it any clearer: “We don’t
just tell [listeners] what the news is. We tell them what
And if you don’t listen to what’s happening, it’s hard to
disagree with it.