PRIME TIME PREACHERS: The Rising Power of Televangelism by Jeffrey K. & Charles E. Swann Hadden

PRIME TIME PREACHERS: The Rising Power of Televangelism

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Hadden teaches the sociology of religion, and Swann is both a Presbyterian minister and the general manager of a radio station; so between them they ought to know a lot about the Falwells, Humbards, Robertsons, Schullers, et al. and what they're up to. And in some ways they do: their report sketches a balanced, detailed picture of Evangelical involvement with the media from the early radio pioneers like R.R. Brown to the slick professionals of the Christian Broadcasting Network. But what does it all mean? What are the social roots of televangelism? Is it really a threat to our civil liberties, to the mainline churches, to authentic religion? Hadden and Swann can't tell us, but at this point perhaps neither can anyone else. Some general conclusions, at any rate, do emerge from their hasty but well-documented survey. For one thing, the audiences claimed by the superstars of TV ministry, especially Falwell, are vastly inflated. Both M*A*S*H and The Muppets have larger followings than all the electronic churches combined. Total audience size peaked in 1978 and has been declining since, with the No. 1 preacher, Oral Roberts, suffering heavy losses. Some programs (like Humbard's) are on the edge of bankruptcy, even though they pay for their stars' condominiums and other lavish perks. And the telecongregations? They have, unsurprisingly, a disproportionate number of the old, the immobile, and people alienated from local churches. We learn more interesting but predictable items about how the preachers' organizations blend computerized marketing techniques and old-fashioned hucksterism to keep going. But in the end, we don't learn very much about the preachers themselves: Hadden and Swann reinforce our image of them as a suspicious crew of well-groomed, well-heeled reactionaries with oily smiles and Sun Belt accents, but we need to know a lot more about their psychology and politics. A useful, if limited, introduction.

Pub Date: June 10th, 1981
Publisher: Addison-Wesley