Pray TV: Televangelism in America

Steve Bruce
Routledge. London. 1990.
Pbk. 272 pages. Notes, references and index.

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Pray to the Lord and send all your money. 

Mention U.S. evangelical television and you remember Kenny Everett's huge-handed caricature of holier than thou preachers, or you might remember the couch potato parents in Repo Man, who casually tell their son that they have sent all their money to a TV preacher. 

Should we fear all these God fearing evangelists? This book clearly explodes the myth that evangelical TV is rapidly converting millions of people to credit card Christianity. Those who are likely to watch such programmes, and are moved to send money to them, are usually already converted. Evangelical TV rarely converts anyone, it merely reinforces attitudes and beliefs that have already been established by other social and psychological factors. 

The actual power of TV preachers, or their lack of power, is revealed by the poor election results obtained by preachers who have unsuccessfully tried to become politicians. In addition, sex scandals surrounding Jim Bakker and Jimmy Lee Swaggart might not have shaken the faith of TV Christians but they have made others more sceptical of them and their ilk. 

Bruce puts evangelical TV in the context of the American phenomenon of camp meetings that came about in the 19th century. Here people in the lonely, wild frontier territories were able to gather and pledge their faith. The camps transformed into more organised meetings, which established formal congregations. In this manner the churches helped civilise the Wild West. 

Now you just have to tune-in and pay-up. The message of God is reduced to a bland marketing operation. Such activities only apply to a distinctive minority but their use of TV has made them seem far more powerful and influential. 

Nigel Watson
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