Mainline churchmen fear evangelicals will dominate.
Some described it as a “thorny issue.” Others conjured up images of the proverbial “can of worms.” But in spite of the generally acknowledged dangers, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) last month opened public hearings on the future of religious broadcasting in Canada.
Since its creation under the Broadcasting Act in 1968, the CRTC has had sole responsibility for the regulation and supervision of all aspects of broadcasting in Canada. Although religious broadcasting per se is not addressed at any point in the act, the focal point has become section three, which requires Canadian programming to present “a reasonable, balanced opportunity for the expression of differing views on matters of public concern.” In the past, the CRTC, which exercises its control through the licensing of broadcasters, has steadfastly refused to license specifically Christian stations, saying these would not reflect the “balance” spoken of in the act. Consequently, Canada has no totally Christian radio or television station except in Newfoundland, where two radio stations have been operating since before that province joined the Confederation in 1949. Indeed, their continued existence was even stated as a prerequisite for Newfoundland joining the country.
Although there has been some dissatisfaction within the Christian broadcasting community concerning the CRTC’S restrictive approach, the scene had remained reasonably quiet—that is, until February last year when Crossroads Christian Communications, Incorporated, producers of the highly successful “100 Huntley Street” program seen daily nationally, made application to the CRTC for a license to distribute their programs via satellite across Canada. In denying their request, the commission acknowledged the need for public discussion on the whole issue, and submissions from interested parties were invited.
An overwhelming 1,500 submissions were received, ranging from single-page letters to carefully prepared and well-documented briefs. A representative sampling of 39 was selected, and their authors were invited to defend their beliefs at the public hearings.
It soon became apparent that CRTC chairman John Meisel’s opening reference to religion as being normally considered a subject “never introduced into polite conversation in mixed company” was well-founded. Two members of Parliament who testified berated the commission for not allowing the marketplace to determine whether or not a station should be on the air. Counseling the CRTC not to become “a denominational Grand Inquisitor,” a British Columbia member of Parliament described the denial of licenses as censorship—“usually something that is applied to pornography and obscenity.” “How ludicrous,” he claimed, “that it is being applied to something as wholesome as Christianity and religion.”
While the call for deregulation was shared by several others, including the Canadian Association of Christian Broadcasters and the Council of the Atlantic United Baptist Convention, it was not echoed by the Council of Muslim Communities of Canada (CMCC). Addressing the commission by means of a telephone link from his office in Saskatoon, Hisham Ahmad expressed the CMCC’S concern that the licensing of specifically religious stations would only mean that evangelical Christian groups with more money at their disposal would dominate the air waves at the expense of religious minorities. Referring to U.S. evangelists “in the style of Falwell and Roberts,” Ahmad described his uneasiness with the message that “unless you follow our ways, you will most assuredly go to hell. Unless you contribute funds, other people will go to hell.”
Warning against the licensing of religious stations, Ahmad reiterated his opinion that if they were permitted, stringent controls should be maintained by an interfaith committee. He proposed to the CRTC that only regular stations be allowed to carry more religious programming, and that such programs be only of an educational nature, reflecting “the mosaic that is Canada.”
Spokesmen for Interchurch Communication expressed similar concerns. Representing Anglican, United, English-speaking Catholic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian, as well as some Baptist churches, the group called for a moratorium on any decision to open up the air waves.
Rabbi Jordan Pearlson of the Canadian Jewish Congress also spoke of controls, which, he maintained, were especially necessary for the area of fund raising, both on the air and even in subsequent direct-mail solicitations.
His concern had been earlier justified by the presentation of Maj. Ben Cheney, a career officer in the Canadian armed forces. Cheney’s brief, backed up by numerous exhibits, described how, after a tour of duty in the Middle East, he had returned home to his widowed mother to find she had given away thousands of dollars in response to “personal” letters from Rex Humbard and others. The letters, he claimed, had been churned out by machine for the sole purpose of defrauding his mother and others like her. The advent of computers, coupled with high-pressure tactics, makes it possible for susceptible people to become the prey of such TV evangelists, said Cheney.
Not coincidentally, a television documentary describing Cheney’s case in detail was aired the night before his presentation, and it highlighted his testimony. ABC’s movie Pray TV, which premiered just as the hearings closed, served to underscore the issue. Also interviewed in the documentary exposé of TV evangelists was David Mainse, founder and host of “100 Huntley Street,” the Crossroads production. Although the interviewer observed that the Mainse program does not go in for “the vulgar excesses” of many of the TV evangelists, his success in Canada has caused concern among many of those present at the hearings.
So it was not surprising that the Crossroads brief became the focus of considerable attention. Calling for neither status quo nor deregulation of individual station licensing, the Crossroads team presented a model for a Christian TV network with round-the-clock spiritual content. It would, they maintained, be open to denominational productions from all elements of the Christian faith. But just who would control the content of the programs, or which groups would be acceptable, was vague, at best.
The Crossroads brief did make an impressive case for what one Toronto paper termed simply “clean television.” Included would be “clean music, good kids, good advice, and even a respectable soap opera.” Their logic concerning the need for such fare was certainly easier to follow than that put forward by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB). In their brief, the CAB insisted that soaps full of drug dealers and shysters contribute to the moral fiber of the land by encouraging viewers to hate such characters! “Religious stations,” argued the CAB, “just aren’t needed.”
It is unlikely the CRTC will find an easy solution to the problem of religious broadcasting in Canada as it weighs the evidence brought before it. But while it considers the issue in general, it will have to come to grips with those specific and thorny questions raised during the hearings: What constitutes “religious” broadcasting? What must be its aims (whether to evangelize or merely explore religion)? Can—or even should—balance be regulated within a single station or across the system? How can access to religious broadcasting be equitably distributed (recognizing majority wishes and minority rights)? How might abuses, especially fund-raising abuses, be controlled?
The answer will have far-reaching consequences for the direction of religious broadcasting in Canada for years to come, but it will not, at any rate, be immediately forthcoming. A spokesman for the commission, asked when a ruling might be announced, replied simply, “God only knows!” The rest of us wait and wonder.
Christianity Grows In Nepal; So Do Arrests
More than 50 Christians have been arrested in Nepal over the last several months, according to visitors to the Christian Conference of Asia held in Singapore. Indiscreet literature distribution touched off the latest round of repression in the Hindu kingdom.
Behind these is the probability that rulers are apprehensive over the spread of Christianity. Three factors are significant. First, Nepalese Christian leaders estimate that the 4,000 Christians in the country in 1979 have tripled since then—largely through an informal network of house fellowships.
Second, the Nepal Christian Fellowship (NCF), a national body established 20 years ago, opened the Nepal Bible Institute last May on NCF property outside Kathmandu, the capital city. It began with nine students, with and without previous education.
Third, an NCF conference last April, attended by 400 from at least 80 of the 200-plus congregations in mountainous Nepal, increased unity in a fellowship that, due to poor roads and communications, had developed eastern and western components with some resulting rivalries. Adon Rongong, Nepalese director of Campus Crusade for Christ, was elected president of a more united NCF.
The NCF, however, does not have a working relationship with the 28-year-old United Mission to Nepal, which concentrates on educational, medical, and economic projects in the country (CT, July 18, 1980, p.56). In accordance with local law, it does not evangelize openly.
Singh said an American missionary friend who wanted to work in Nepal was told by UMN that he would have to adhere to its service contract and only share his faith with those who came to him and inquired about his faith. The missionary reportedly felt that such an arrangement was unsatisfactory, and he decided to go elsewhere.
Surprise! God Is Alive And Well In Dayton, Ohio
Is “God Among Us”? An Ohio newspaper asked that question in an intensive eight-month study, and published a six-part series by that title. The answer: God is not only alive, but quite well in southwestern Ohio.
The Dayton Journal Herald found some surprising things when it went on the trail of God in its city. Critics of television evangelists claim contributions to TV preachers siphon off funds that would otherwise go to local congregations. But the Dayton reporters found that most viewers of TV preaching are also churchgoers. Most contribute to their church but not to the TV preacher, and those who do give to TV ministries give even more to their home church.
The series concluded that “religion is woven into the fabric of our lives.” Reporters surmised that being born again was a common condition before ex-President Jimmy Carter. (A poll done for the series showed 40 percent of the Dayton church members call themselves “born again.”)
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