Evangelicals and cable TV
Acton Institute Powerblog

Evangelicals and cable TV

A story over the weekend in Washington Post gives a good overview of the mixed motives behind evangelical campaigning for and against a la carte pricing of cable channels, despite the poorly chosen title, “Evangelicals vs. Christian Cable” (as if Christian broadcasters aren’t largely evangelicals of some sort or another). Just a sign that in the MSM evangelical is becoming a term with primarily political rather than theological content.

On the one side, lobbyists who want to be able to single out stations that they don’t want to receive. For some evangelicals, this is important because they don’t want to pay for or support stations that carry objectionable material.

On the other side, Christian cable broadcasters who are concerned that there won’t be enough demand for them to stay afloat. Or if there is enough demand, it will only be among Christians, and so they ministry that these stations offer will be truncated.

This seems to me to be an either/or situation, and I’m generally in favor of the former, although if consumers really want a la carte they shouldn’t need the crutch of federal legislation to get it. If you are going to allow choice for moral reasons on the one hand, you can’t force other people to get religious programming if they don’t want it. As it works now, most of these Christian stations are simply there as part of the basic package, whether you want them or not.

“‘We do not believe that ‘a la carte’ is the cure for the disease,’ said Colby May, attorney for the Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition, which represents Trinity and CBN, in addition to other stations. ‘In fact, it is a cure that may very well kill the patient.'”

“But the Christian networks’ main concern is that the only ones willing to subscribe would be Christians. If a la carte were in existence, May argues, conversion experiences for alcoholics and people contemplating suicide or suffering from a crumbling marriage never would have happened.”

I actually do have some sympathy for this argument, but am not swayed simply because TBN and other Christian cable broadcasters are enjoying a sort of subsidization of their ministries from cable companies by means of these limited and rigid packages. What TBN and CBN have to fear is that many Christians won’t even sign up to pay for their station programming, and there are other ways to get the gospel message out to people, free of charge.

The Back to God Hour, for example, is the electronic media ministry of the CRC, and part of what the ministry does is to use radio signals to pipe the Gospel into areas where Christianity may be oppressed or illegal. By the way, Bob Heerspink, new director of the Back to God Hour, blogs here.

More thoughts here previously, here and here.

Update: GetReligion weighs in on the issue.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.