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Watch This!

Watch This!: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism

Jonathan L. Walton
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 300
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  • Book Info
    Watch This!
    Book Description:

    Through their constant television broadcasts, mass video distributions, and printed publications, African American religious broadcasters have a seemingly ubiquitous presence in popular culture. They are on par with popular entertainers and athletes in the African American community as cultural icons even as they are criticized by others for taking advantage of the devout in order to subsidize their lavish lifestyles.For these reasons questions abound. Do televangelists proclaim the message of the gospel or a message of greed? Do they represent the "authentic" voice of the black church or the Christian Right in blackface? Does the phenomenon reflect orthodox "Christianity" or ethnocentric "Americaninity" wrapped in religious language?Watch This! seeks to move beyond such polarizing debates by critically delving into the dominant messages and aesthetic styles of African American televangelists and evaluating their ethical implications.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9547-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Prelude
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    Two decades after the public scandals of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker introduced many to the lavish and often lurid subculture of evangelical Christian broadcasting, the gilded world of televangelism recently made its way back into the national spotlight. In November of 2007, Senator Charles Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, sent personal letters to half a dozen evangelists questioning their extravagant lifestyles and budgetary practices. The senator’s main concern was whether select ministries were abusing their tax-exempt status to subsidize their aggrandized lifestyles. Recalling Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s matching Rolls-Royces and air-conditioned doghouses,...

  5. INVOCATION: Time to Tune In: The Phenomenon of African American Religious Broadcasting
    (pp. 1-18)

    At the dawn of the twentieth century, W. E. B. Du Bois described the black preacher as “ the most unique personality developed by the Negro on American soil.”¹ For the majority of the century, because of societal constraints regulating the movement of persons of color in America, these spiritual poets were largely confined to preaching to their own racial and residential communities. Today, however, with the victories of the civil rights era and the emergence of advanced forms of media communication, many of these dynamic personalities have gained wider visibility both nationally and internationally. To channel-surf from BET to...

  6. 1 We Too Sing America: Racial Invisibility, Respectability, and the Roots of Black Religious Broadcasting
    (pp. 19-46)

    Religious broadcasting is an essential proselytizing tool of American evangelical Christianity.¹ This fact is undeniable. Many have addressed the intersections between the mass media and religion as they relate to the development of the Christian Right (read conservative, white evangelicalism). But televangelism in the African American community has been largely ignored. This is unfortunate. There is a widespread misconception among the dominant society that religious broadcasting in America was and remains the sole domain of white men with shellacked hair, the grin of a car salesman, and a gaudily adorned spouse. I have discovered this to be particularly the case...

  7. 2 Something Within: The Cultural Sources of Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II
    (pp. 47-74)

    One could not help admiring the thousands of glamorously dressed bodies as the television cameras panned across the arena. The rows of black faces were as aesthetically attractive as they were demonstrably excited. Older women with neatly “pressed” hair and men with perfectly circumferenced afros clapped their hands jubilantly to the music. Polyester leisure suits and pastel-colored Sunday dresses filled the folding chairs that served as pews. And jewelry-clad men and women adorned in gold punctuated the theme of the evening, “Don’t wait for pie in the sky by-and-by when you die. Get yours now with ice cream on top!”...

  8. 3 Standing on the Promises: Diversity and Change within Contemporary Black Christian Practices
    (pp. 75-102)

    The frenzy associated with the experiential and entertainmentoriented dimensions of worship prevalent in today’s black megachurches is commonly described as neo-Pentecostalism. C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya used this term to describe what was then considered black mainline denominations’ newfound emphasis on experiencing the Holy Spirit in worship. Neo-Pentecostalism, for Lincoln and Mamiya, served as a bridge connecting the experiential worship practices of traditional Pentecostals and the more middle-class mainline emphasis on education and social activism. But when Lincoln and Mamiya employedneo-Pentecostalismas a descriptive category to describe forces of change within the A.M.E. Church, they were admittedly unclear...

  9. 4 Come, Ye Disconsolate: The Ministry of Bishop T. D. Jakes
    (pp. 103-124)

    In 1994, gospel music legends Tramaine and Walter Hawkins recorded a song that was soon adopted by church choirs across the country. Entitled “The Potter’s House,” the song was inspired by the eighteenth chapter of the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, where God is presented as the potter and Israel as clay. The first verse begins:

    In case you have fallen by the wayside of life,

    Dreams and visions scattered, you’re all broken inside,

    You don’t have to stay in the shape that you’re in,

    The Potter wants to put you back together again.

    You who are broken, stop by...

  10. 5 We Are Soldiers! The Ministry of Bishop Eddie L. Long
    (pp. 125-144)

    On January 15, 2004, Bishop Eddie Long hosted Trinity Broadcasting Network’sPraise the Lordbroadcast. The audience that evening was primarily African American, and special guests included gospel recording artist Byron Cage and Elder Bernice King, the youngest daughter of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Though it was never stated explicitly, it was racially implied: this was the network’s tacit acknowledgment of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.¹ But though host Bishop Long abstained from any overt recognition of the slain civil rights leader, the viewing audience did witness an interesting appropriation of Martin Luther King Jr....

  11. 6 Fill My Cup, Lord: The Ministry of Pastors Creflo and Taffi Dollar
    (pp. 145-166)

    The World Changers Church International is located just southwest of downtown Atlanta in the city of College Park. If New Birth Missionary Baptist Church reflects the prosperity of its South Dekalb zip code, then the World Changers Church stands out as a spiritual oasis in a vast desert of urban decay and blight. Situated off Old National Highway—a major thoroughfare that runs through College Park and is known for its abundance of pawnshops, auto repair stores, and a number of after-hour establishments—the gilded dome of the World Changers sanctuary is as conspicuous in the community as Pastor Dollar’s...

  12. 7 The Reasons Why We Sing: The Competing Rituals of Self-Affirmation and Social Accommodation
    (pp. 167-198)

    The world of black religious broadcasting represents a subculture about which mainstream society is ambivalent. Bring up the name of any leading televangelist in any barber or beauty shop in the African American community and you will hear passionate sentiments of both appreciation and apprehension, sometimes from the same person. There are good reasons for this. On the one hand, many televangelists are respected for their apparent business savvy and seeming concern for the community. Even if people do not watch a particular preacher on television or attend their megachurch, they most likely have a mother, brother, cousin, or aunt...

  13. 8 Lift Every Voice: Authority, Ideology, and the Implications of Religious Broadcasting for the Black Church
    (pp. 199-228)

    Throughout this book, I have attempted to situate African American religious broadcasting in a multitraditioned framework of black cultural practices in order to account for differences as well as similarities within the contemporary phenomenon. I have also sought to demonstrate that African American religious broadcasting is a skilled art form and strategic practice. Religious broadcasting is neither a natural occurrence nor simply the transmission of worship over the radio, television, and Internet. Since the days of recording on wax, the artistic skills of prominent African American evangelists have been exploited and varying media strategies have been employed. As noted in...

  14. BENEDICTION: Blest Be the Tie That Binds
    (pp. 229-234)

    In 2006, the scheduled commencement ceremony at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta revealed the complicated times in which African American theological education finds itself. ITC President Michael Battle created a firestorm of controversy by inviting alum and former board member Bishop Eddie Long to serve as commencement speaker. It just so happens that the predominantly black consortium of seminaries elected to award prominent theologian James Cone an honorary doctorate degree during the same ceremony. A large portion of the graduating class protested the invitation of Bishop Long, citing his theological stances on gays and women and his embrace of...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 235-260)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-274)
  17. Index
    (pp. 275-282)
  18. About the Author
    (pp. 283-283)