WASHINGTON -- Whenever a preacher starts getting personal, picky and downright pushy, Bible Belt folks like to say he has quit preaching and "gone to meddling."
A lot of folks have been saying that, and much more, about the Rev. Reggie White lately. The Green Bay Packer legend recently offended legions of people with a sermon to Wisconsin lawmakers that attacked abortion, called homosexual acts sin and offered up a colorful series of ethnic anecdotes, while arguing that all racial groups must see each other as part of God's image.
As if that didn't make enough people mad, this week White stood up in the nation's capital and said God wants to start messing with the ordinary day-to-day sins of people who think of themselves as conservatives. The man that many call the greatest defensive lineman ever even had the audacity to sack a purple dinosaur.
"How many of you wives have a hard time getting your husband's attention when he's watching TV?", he asked, drawing nervous laughter at a luncheon in which he and his wife Sara were honored by the conservative Family Research Council. "How many of you husbands have a hard time getting your wife's attention when she's on the telephone?... How many of us can get our children's attention when they're watching cartoons?
"Why are Barney and Mickey so much more popular than Jesus? Because the world is trying to feed us ... and trying to get us to idol worship."
White didn't back down on the issues that caused the Wisconsin firestorm and he drew cheers by saying that journalists keep mangling his religious convictions and images. He also came out swinging at CBS, accusing the network's executives of yanking an on-air job -- which he said was worth $6 million -- when faced with pressure from gay-rights groups. CBS denies this, while the superstar's supporters have begun talking about a lawsuit.
But the ordained Baptist minister focused most of this sermon on subjects closer to pews and family-room couches. He talked about heterosexual sins, how many parents are failing in the moral education of their children and how racial and denominational divisions among believers stunt their public witness. He even blamed the church, in part, for the negative role he believes the news and entertainment media play in American life.
White recently completed a two-week juice fast and, during this time of intense prayer, he said God gave him yet another vision. "I've been ripped because of this," he said, and then spoke to the media personnel in the room. "You've got your cameras on? God spoke to me. He said this. He said that what the enemy does is he communicates his evil message, he distributes his evil message and then he gives the resources to those whom he has influenced to promote his evil message."
In other words, said White, Satan is a media mogul, the "prince of the power of the air," who has mastered the art of communicating through television, radio, music, movies and newspapers. But this doesn't mean mass media are automatically evil or that the church hasn't made it's own media mistakes. Simply stated, religious believers are now suffering the consequences of decades of decisions to flee from the world of mass media.
"We said it was of the devil, when it was of God," he said.
It's time to stop running away and to get involved, said White, noting that Korea's most powerful evangelical church has begun publishing a major daily newspaper. Religious believers need to begin putting more movies, television comedies, radio programs and music into the marketplace and be more aggressive as consumers, he said..
Many of his critics celebrated when his job with CBS fell through. But what this media acid bath taught him, he said, is that it's impossible to ignore the cultural role played by mass media. Now he wants to try to do something positive about that, although he declined to discuss the details of this vision just yet.
But he did issue this challenge: "I'm tired of the devil pushing us around. ... God is trying to give people some guts to speak out on truth.''