The existence of television, the Internet and similar technologies allows for the quick transmission of ideas. People can spread opinions and messages, both good and bad, in a short amount of time and to a very large audience. Evangelical Christians have been utilizing popular trends to promote their religion for centuries. In the past, evangelicals fused scripture into popular songs, operas and even drinking tunes in order to appeal to a larger group that may not have latched onto their message. Today, a primary tool for these Christians is television, leading to the hybrid term "televangelist." Unfortunately, this term usually has negative connotations, as the press surrounding these individuals is often drenched in scandal.
Making Faith into a Product and Getting Greedy
Networks that broadcast sermons are tapping into a large market of potential customers. The promise of salvation, or a greater understanding of Christianity, prompts some to open their wallets to greedy televangelists who then proceed to exploit them. A Christian television conglomerate called Trinity Broadcasting Network, consisting of over two dozen television channels, came under fire when former employees chose to expose the company. According to a report in the British newspaper, "The Daily Mail," Paul and Jan Crouch, founders of Trinity Broadcasting, used the channel's profits as well as donations from viewers, for the purchase of mansions, private jets and other luxury items. This abuse of both money and power is a prominent reason why televangelists are not often discussed in a positive light.
Permitting Mass Hysteria
In 2011, octogenarian Harold Camping became a household name for his radical claims that the world would come to an end in May of the same year. Most were able to dismiss this prophecy, remembering his previous, and false, predictions of the end of humanity. Also, they were able to discern legitimate reasons to be concerned from the ramblings of an old man. However, some loyal followers of "Family Radio," Camping's evangelical radio program, which was also broadcast on cable TV and the Internet, were quick to believe him. This belief proved to be fatal in a small number of cases. Some followers abandoned their jobs for the promise of an apocalypse and were unable to file for unemployment, leaving their families in ruin. A group of Vietnamese Hmong villagers, short on resources and unable to judge Camping's prophecy accurately for validity, latched onto his predictions and faced death as a result. According to the "Christian Post," they sought the relief of Camping's promised end of the world, but instead found their endings through the guns of a government that did not condone their worship.
Sending Hateful Messages
Everyone's go-to televangelist, Pat Robertson of The 700 Club, has become an endless source of intolerance in the name of Christianity, sending his message over the airwaves to millions. In the summer of 2013, Mr. Robertson came under fire again for his homophobic comments, despite claims that he and his organization do not practice the intolerance they are often accused of. Referencing the "like" button on social media hub Facebook, he suggested the addition of a "vomit" button to be used when homosexual couples post amorous photos. A few years prior to this homophobic comment, Robertson was under fire for comments he made on ABC News regarding the destructive earthquake in Haiti. He claimed that the tragedy was due to a "pact the Haitians made with Satan," ignoring the magnitude of the disaster. While the producers of the show later apologized for Robertson's remarks, the sentiment remains intact. Instances such as these exemplify the negative aspects of the ubiquitous televangelist networks.
Becoming Unwanted Missionaries
Televangelism has worked its way overseas, to India in particular, where it has been received negatively. Criticism includes that sermons are too "Americanized," slowly pushing away what is uniquely Indian and replacing it with what is successful in America -- overly consumerist-based religion. Indians generally do not fully embrace the teachings of the televangelists, partially because they do not like the methods and partially because they prefer their own religion and worship styles. Non-Americans are not quick to completely accept these televised missionaries, leading potentially to as negative a foreign reaction as televangelists receive in the States.
- Selling Faith: Marketing Christian Popular Culture to Christian and Non-Christian Audiences
- Daily Mail: Televangelists Defrauded Tens of Millions of Dollars from Christian Network
- The Christian Post: Harold Camping Linked to Huge 'Massacre' of 100's of Hmong Christians
- The Times of India: The Thriving God market
- Trinity Broadcasting Network
- ABC News: Pat Robertson Blames Earthquake on Pact Haitians Made with Satan
Allegra Sparta graduated from Binghamton University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Spanish. She is a member of the Phi Sigma Iota Honor Society for foreign languages, and has been writing the majority of her life, formally and informally.