Why is Religion Television So Bad (1992)

Having a Bad Hair Era 

I have a friend who is a faithful viewer of religious television. Years after ``Pearlygate,'' he still longs for his Jim and Tammy Bakker fix.

But there are other stars to watch. He is especially fond of talk shows featuring evangelicals whose hair does not appear to be their own.

Week after week, this media professional turns on his TV and cracks up laughing. He says it would be impossible for secular pros to create satire as cutting-edge as the contents of most religious shows. He calls it ``unintentional comedy.'' In his opinion, the electric church is good precisely because it is so bad.

Yes, my friend was raised in a nominally Christian home and, today, he is part of the flock most researchers call the ``unchurched.'' He is the kind of person most religious broadcasters say they need to raise money in order to reach.

Well, he loves religious television. But I doubt many religious broadcasters would be cheered by this man's glowing, if somewhat twisted, review of their work.

Let's assume for a moment that there is truth in this secular point of view and that, as a rule, most religious broadcasts are technically inferior to their secular counterparts. And let's assume that what many Christians say is true: that much of what is aired on religious television is embarrassing and that they cringe when secular people laugh at it.

Note: We are not discussing the contents of religious and secular television, in terms of morality. This is a discussion of entertainment values.

So why is religious television so bad? I propose five theories.

    Youth Culture: Try to Think Like a Missionary (1992)

    Welcome to Post-Christian America & the New Media World

    It's a fact of life: young people change faster than the weather. The same goes for the trends that shape their daily lives.

    This is true of individuals, these days, and it is also true of groups. It's true of the young people in your pews and of those in other mission fields around the world.

    We're talking about more than a stage of life. We're talking about rapid changes at both the personal and cultural levels. But these trends touch the hearts and minds of individual young people. To them, everything feels personal, not cultural.

    Change. Growing pains. The joy of discovery. The fear of the unknown. The struggle to find meaning, while your thoughts ricochet between the stars and the boredom of daily life.

    In the United States, young people frequently complain that they are bored and that they have nothing to do. They seem to be saying that they wish things would hurry up and change. Suffice it to say that people who work or live with today's young people rarely share these sentiments.

    Is any part of the lives of young people around the world constant, other than change?

    What Fire? The Church and Madonna’s Prayer Life (1992)

    Racing to Put Out the Old Fires 

    Maybe the secret of Madonna's success is the vitality of her prayer life.

    Count them -- there are more prayers than simulated sex acts in the "Truth Or Dare" movie about her "Blonde Ambition" concert tour. Night after night, the secular superstar gathered her dancers and musicians for a pre-concert prayer circle. In Toronto, police officials warned that Madonna would be arrested if she performed some of her raunchier numbers.

    Then the scene shifts. "Dear Lord, this is our last night in ... the fascist state of Toronto," says Madonna, before aiming her words at those gathered around her, instead of the heavens. "I just want you to know that I love you all that I appreciate everything that you're doing for me and that I'm here if you need me. ... Remember that in the United States of America there is freedom of speech, and let's kick a**."

    During a later clash with the Vatican, Madonna told reporters: "I say a prayer, not only that the show will go well, but that the audience will watch with an open heart and an open mind and see it as a celebration of love, life and humanity. ... The audience is left to make its own decisions and judgments. ... When a mind is imprisoned then our spiritual life dies. When the spirit dies, there is no reason to live."

    It would be interesting to conduct a poll to discover the impressions of children and teen-agers who watched "Truth Or Dare" in theaters and on their VCRs. Would most say that Madonna's prayers were sincere? Is she right that the ultimate standard of truth is the solitary mind and the voice of the heart?

    I'm sure that few pastors, or maybe even youth pastors, have spent much time thinking about this Madonna and her prayers. It's much easier to think of her as a jiggling, profane secular humanist who exists to mock God and make money on MTV.

    Can You "Spot The Lie" in TV Ads? (1992)

    Written for Discipleship Journal 

    On the TV screen, average Joes pop open their beers and ogle slinky women who welcome their stares.

    It's impossible to avoid seeing variations on this theme in TV commericals during professional sports events. Which means more Americans need to play a living room game called "Spot the Lie."

    Cultural analyst Os Guinness created the game when his son, Christopher, was five years old. The point is to recognize the temptation to uncritically soak up TV commercialism.

    The rules are simple: Parents say "spot the lie" when an ad comes on TV. The kid has to pay attention and then find an implicit lie, non sequitur or totally irrational statement in the ad.

    Perhaps it's an ad that suggests that men don't love their children unless they buy a particular car tire. Or that women lack self esteem if they don't buy an expensive shampoo. Or that teens can be revolutionaries merely by watching music videos. Or that average Joes are sexy if their drink the right beer.

    If the child "spots the lie," the parent hands over a quarter. Parents judge whether the child has succeeded, since its mom or dad who has to pay up. Note: Parents have to "spot the lie," as well as their children. Everyone has to think critically.