Acton Institute Powerblog

The Ties that Bind: Cabled Christianity

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Pro-family and church groups are battling over a proposed policy that would allow viewers to select their cable TV plans on an “a la carte” basis. But why are they asking the federal government to referee this fight? In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine at the most powerful communications policy: Turning off the TV.

Read the full commentary here.

Related Items:

Daniel Pulliam, “Preachers and pornographers unite,” GetReligion, June 12, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Evangelicals and Cable TV,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, June 12, 2006.

Piet Levy, “Evangelicals vs. Christian Cable,” Washington Post, June 10, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Concerns about A La Carte,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, January 2, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “A La Carte,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, December 2, 2005.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Faith in the FCC,” Acton Commentary, March 23, 2005.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Confusing Coercion and Conversion,” Acton Commentary, May 5, 2004.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Television not to blame for America’s laziness,” The State News, January 16, 1997.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Don Bosch


    Right over the plate. We cut the cable when our first kid was born 14 years ago, and haven’t missed it. Used all those cable bills to fund weekends at amusement parks, annual memberships at the zoo, and without trying to sound too sanctimonious, have probably used some of that for charity. I can’t even begin to add up all the hours we’ve captured back and put towards hanging out as a family, reading, playing outdoors, etc etc.

    Along these lines, I started a series on my blog called "Reason ### why we don’t have cable T.V."

    At last count I think I was up around #141.

    We’re going to try Sky Angel satellite service now that we’re out here on the east coast (not easy to get the signal in California). Sort of tough to get started – just try buying Dish Network equipment and then tell them you don’t want their service – but we’re looking forward to a relatively inexpensive way to get news, Christian programming, and a couple Christian music stations. More info at if you’re interested. Will let you know what we think once it’s set up.

    Grace and peace,
    Don Bosch
    Managing Editor, The Evangelical Ecologist Blog

  • C J Patterson

    I’ve been wishing for ala carte for years. . . a little known fact I want to post is that my cable company, Cox, has a Basic package which is the low end of the channel listing, the 4 local network affiliates and PBS, WB, WGN, TBN, ORU’s Golden Eagle Broadcasting. Along with local college station and community channels and a half dozen shop-at-home channels. All for only $12.95 a month. Beyond this, I only want the Weather Channel ($26 for the next tier) and EWTN ($50 for the digital tier) . . so I get these feeds via the Internet. This basic cable is never advertised as the lowest tier, but I suspect that the FCC requires some basic service affordable to all.

  • Pauli

    Well said, Jordan. I don’t think the government needs to get involved with this. This is a perfect opportunity for Christians and others to practice the virtue of self-control.

    "Trinity Broadcasting Network and Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network…argue that the ability for customers to individually choose the channels to which they subscribe would undermine their ability to reach non-Christians."

    This is lame, IMHO. These companies can run ads on other stations and on radio, etc. for their product which is programming, not the Bread of Life itself, regardless of how good and evangelical the programming is. Or they can go door to door to convert the heathens. No one is taking away their free speech.

  • Jan-Philipp Goertz

    YES! Exactly. Let’s finally realize our freedom and liberty and ACT upon it. I threw out my TV a year ago. Haven’t missed it. Watch a DVD or go to the ovies if you feel like it. And spend the rest of the time with friends and family or reading.

    Do not succumb to the poison that is more and more legislation. It takes away liberty. And by etching things in stone it takes away life. You can do it. DO IT!

  • bw

    One thing that really muddies this issue is that in many areas cable is still regulated to the point where you have no choice but one cable company (and satellite of course, but that doesn’t work where I’m at). So you’ve got a city mandated monopoly that has no need to respond to pressure from the consumers.

    We need to get rid of the monopoly, and the problem should resolve itself, barring that I see no reason to not regulate a government sanctioned monopoly further, give them a bunch of laws to chew on until perhaps they’ll stop fighting and work towards a free market.

  • Andrew Lynn

    I think those that advocate simply “shutting off the TV” are missing the argument. Sure there are Christian groups who are pushing for these measures in order to censor what comes on their television, so shutting off the TV is the right answer for those Christians. The real argument, however, is the lack of control that Christian viewers have in what channels they financially support. In that sense there is a lack of freedom when it comes to consumers subscribing to cable packages because they lack the economic means to express their true preference in the product they want. It would be like going to the video store to rent Shrek 2 and the store forces you to pay for and take home two pornographic movies with the movie you want. Whereas with an “a la carte” arrangement the forces of supply and demand would give consumers economic means to express their preferences, the current system does not allow the subscribers to voice their displeasure with certain channels by not buying them. They can certainly engage in letter-writing campaigns, boycotts, protests, hunger strikes, or whatever, but wouldn’t the free market solution be for them to voice their displeasure through an aggregate lack of demand for specific channels? That way if people want to send the message to Viacom that they like VH1 but are offended by CMT, CMT will face a lack of demand that Viacom will see. That’s the most effective way for Christians to reject offensive material on TV.

    I agree with Jordan that government intervention should be kept to a minimal. At the same time, there seems to be a monopoly on providing cable in an indivisible package vs. a channel-by-channel package, and as BW suggests, that’s a monopoly that doesn’t respond to consumer pressure. Ideally, an a la carte cable subscriber would enter the market and we as Christians would seize the opportunity to flee from immorality (1 Cor. 6:18). We could do this fleeing a lot better if we didn’t have to pay for channels we didn’t want to support.

    Overall, Jordan is correct to remind us to keep this debate in its proper perspective, but I wanted to respond to those who simply advocated shutting off the TV as the end-all solution.

  • Just a quick update – saw a price list from Cox Cable today, and noted that you can get a package “en Espanol” with all spanish language channels. Sounds pretty a la carte to me, although the menu is all tacos and burritos.