No aspect of the American culture fares as poorly on television as organized religion. The economics of the medium, the secular mood of writers and producers, and the lack of evangelical zeal in the vocational dimension—these combine to effect an ecclesiastical blackout on our living room screens.

To the liberal mainstream of American Christendom, this is of little concern. Many a modern prophet does not regard the Christian message as distinctive and is not quite sure what the Church is for. His causes are championed aggressively enough in the mass media by revolutionary politicians and new-morality entertainers. So who needs the Church on television?

To the concerned evangelical, however, lack of visibility on the cultural frontiers should be a vital issue. He is under a biblical mandate to spread the word. He sees the potential to confront every man, woman, and child with the claims of Jesus Christ. And he feels that as a taxpayer and loyal citizen he deserves equal time in governmentally regulated media to present ideological options to the happiness-is-things or action-is-everything philosophies that pervade so much of today’s viewing. But all he gets is an occasional Billy Graham crusade and a small assortment of Sunday-morning services.

On page three of this issue, the reader will find a pioneering article in which Ronn Spargur seeks to insert a wedge for religious interests. Mr. Spargur presents a well-thought-out proposal that takes account of all sides of the problem. What he suggests is for the good of the country and the industry as well as the Church, and we feel it merits serious consideration.

Let one thing be clear. CHRISTIANITY TODAY is not launching an anti-media campaign, as Spiro T. Agnew has been accused of doing. Mr. Spargur’s article was written before the Vice-President raised the issue. We are part of the American media, and we recognize that although little of what Mr. Agnew said can be challenged directly, he never quite got to the heart of the problems involved. The role of journalism in a free society must be analyzed on a level higher than David Brinkley’s raised eyebrows. If there is an anti-administration consensus among Washington newsmen, the reason is surely something other than the similarity of their reading matter. As the Washington Post, one of the media attacked, acknowledged, “there is a decent and respectable case to be made that ‘a tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men’ represent ‘a concentration in power over American public opinion unknown in history,’ but Mr. Agnew has not made it.”

On the other hand, if Mr. Agnew’s indictment occasions a penetrating self-examination by the television industry, he will have done the nation a service. Such a rethinking is long overdue. Television programming is still patterned after that of radio in its heyday, though radio has long since shed its original format. The television industry will do itself a favor if it begins to move in fresh directions before the public begins to demand changes through some Ralph Nader.

Surely one of the first items on the reorientation agenda is the religious question. The ultimate solution may lie outside the inherent capabilities of the industry. The initiative of the religious community may well be more determinative, for the networks simply cannot be expected to hand over big blocks of precious time without compensation. Indeed, the free-time public-service policy that has been advocated by many leading churchmen and has been in partial effect on both radio and television for many years seems to be an utter failure. What it has meant in practice is that insignificant programs are aired when few people are tuned in.

But network executives need to be willing to bend some, and to offer some new counsel to the religious community. Some of them should sense their responsibility because they themselves are part of the religious community. One particularly useful framework for discussion is available in the National Religious Broadcasters, a strong organization of evangelical producers and station-owners that is holding its annual convention in Washington this month.

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There are some—churchmen among them—who will claim that television is really not a suitable medium for the dissemination of Christian truth. It is primarily an avenue for home entertainment, they say, and the attempt to appropriate it for use as a religious conduit is hopeless.

One problem with that attitude is that it assumes that present TV programming is religiously neutral. But not even in entertainment is bias avoidable. Even the blandest kind usually makes some impact upon the mind, for good or evil. For all his self-sacrifice, no one can ever accuse Bob Hope of encouraging biblical morality.

Furthermore, we challenge the idea that television is merely an entertainment medium. Its greatest asset is immediacy. Regrettably, this great boon figures little in current programming. Only a fraction of the day’s fare is live, and much of what is live could just as well be taped. Except for sports events and an occasional development of great historic significance, we seldom get to see anything as it happens when it happens. Surely there are important things happening every day that are of enough general interest to warrant coverage by one network. Must there be entertainment on every channel every night?

Only as we raise such questions will we begin to open possibilities for a more authentic and useful portrayal of religious concerns. We agree with Mr. Agnew that television “consumers” need to speak up, but we feel that the religious question is infinitely more important than the political.

From the evangelical perspective, communications is never an end in itself. Prayer and the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit are essential in any spiritual penetration of the human mind. But the Holy Spirit uses communication to bring conviction. Is not our neglect of a prime communications opportunity a sign of our unwillingness to be led by the Spirit?

The Mafia

Newark, New Jersey, hit the headlines months ago when the Negro ghetto exploded violently and fire swept through the community, the direct result of Negro frustration and rage. Now the city has hit the headlines again, but for another reason. This time the white leadership of the city has been accused of malfeasance and indicted by the federal government for an assortment of crimes ranging from extortion and income-tax violations to willful failure to enforce anti-gambling laws. Behind it all lies the omnipresent Mafia, La Cosa Nostra, an organized crime syndicate that beggars description.

Anyone who condemns radical groups like the Black Panthers cannot overlook the even more unlawful and far more obnoxious gangsters who parade around in Cadillac limousines and winter in the plush spas of Florida. These are the people who are responsible for the peddling of dope in Harlem. They are right in the middle of the gambling rackets. And wherever prostitution flourishes, these vermin are around collecting their fees, soliciting policemen by bribery, and consorting with politicians who are anxious to do their bidding. They are the big fry who work seven days a week to spread their skeins of wickedness and to exploit the weak, the sinful, and the simple.

The battle against the Mafia is never won. They continue to multiply their species despite the strongest efforts of local and federal crime-busting agents. Money is their god and murder, if need be, their means to control the vice rackets, the gambling industry, and even the lawful businesses they engage in as a cover for their nefarious activities. If any sort of righteousness is to prevail in the nation, the wings of, the Mafia must be clipped and the bird itself made extinct if at all possible.

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Panthers And ‘Pigs’

It is a popular sport in the present climate to defend lawbreakers and damn the police. That the raids on the hideouts of the Black Panthers should produce such a reaction is no surprise. “Police brutality,” “planned genocide,” “a conspiracy by law-enforcement agencies”—these are among the gentler charges mouthed by Black Panther sympathizers.

Some policemen are as reprehensible as the criminals they are supposed to curb. Some of them violate the canons of the law with impunity. These malefactors should be prosecuted as vigorously as any other lawbreakers. Arrogant, prejudiced policemen should be dismissed from their jobs. Unfortunately, the misconduct of this minority has served to give policemen in general a bad image. Yet tens of thousands of them are functioning creditably, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude.

Those whose hearts bleed for the Black Panthers (see News, page 32) should take a hard look at what they profess to be and what they are actually doing. They are collecting guns and ammunition in violation of local laws. They are engaged in a conspiracy to destroy the existing order. They have repeatedly made threats that, for want of evidence to the contrary, must be taken seriously by the police. They have stated that they intend to kill the “pigs” (the police) and have encouraged others to do the same. There is every reason to believe that they have coordinated their efforts around the country so that they represent a movement, not simply a number of isolated and unrelated gangs. Why there should not be a nationally coordinated effort to meet a nationally coordinated challenge remains to be shown.

If it can be shown to the satisfaction of a jury that the recent killings of Black Panthers were premeditated murders committed by policemen in violation of law, these policemen should be convicted and penalized. But this does not legitimatize the Black Panther organization nor justify the notion that law-enforcement agencies should regard the Panthers as respectable and leave them to their illegal devices.

It is true that the Black Panthers are a small minority and do not have the approval of the majority of the Negro community. Indeed, great numbers of Negroes are terrorized by them and will be glad to see their activities curtailed. At the same time it is quite proper for the police to watch them carefully and to make certain that they stay within the bounds of the law.

Beleaguered Israel

The Arab-Israeli pot continues to boil. It reached new intensity recently after the United States issued its new Mideast peace plan and the Arabs held a summit conference. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir sharply and almost completely rejected the U. S. proposal. The meeting of Arab leaders was less than a success, also; disaffection and disagreement exists among them as to what course the Arab world should pursue. It is clear that the Arabs and the Israelis are still poles apart, and it may be that the world will have to live with this impasse for decades to come. Already references have been made to the possibility of another hundred years’ war.

No one can remain unmoved by the plight of Jerusalem, a holy city for both Arab and Jew. The United States’ proposal to unify that city, guaranteeing free traffic through all parts of it, with Jordan and Israel “sharing in civic and economic responsibilities of city government,” is an ideal solution in a dream world free from sin. But given the innate sinfulness of men, it offers little prospect of success. Jerusalem signifies the nightmare that haunts the world. Israel has possession of the city and is hardly likely to yield to any demands to give it up. But both the Arabs and the Jews feel the city is theirs. Joint rule would only accentuate the hatreds that exist; yet to give one party control over the city would be an act of injustice to the other one.

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The whole imbroglio leaves most of us frustrated, hopelessly wringing our hands over a grim problem for which there are no apparent answers. At least Christians know that men do not determine history. Once again we must look to God for some way out.

Bucking The Blue Laws

Sabbath-day observance has become almost a joke in contemporary society. This fact became especially apparent when recently two major department-store chains, Sears, Roebuck and Company and the J. C. Penney Company, broke a long-standing policy by opening some of their stores on Sundays. Other companies are entertaining thoughts of following suit. Sunday blue laws have been dropped in many places, and it is likely that these laws will be severely tested in other areas where a number of merchants have been arrested for selling “unnecessary” merchandise on Sunday.

Some have seen in these recent decisions movement toward a complete takeover of Sunday by the retail merchants. And it is feared that such a trend will seriously hamper the work of the churches. This may be true to some extent, but it is probable that laxity toward Sunday closing laws is a result rather than a cause of ineffectiveness in the Church. Many churches hold special services on other days in order to free parishioners for Sunday travel and recreation. The problem must be dealt with among those who claim to be God’s people rather than among those who may claim no allegiance to God’s will.

In a 1961 Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of three Sunday closing statutes, the decision was made on the basis that Sunday laws are now intended to encourage, not religious observance, but rather the purely secular pursuits of rest, relaxation, and family togetherness. Certainly the observance of “blue laws” is not an indication of good spiritual health in our national life. Although we strongly advocate observance of the Lord’s day in obedience to Scripture, we cannot realistically expect from an ungodly society a genuine desire to follow the will of God at this point. Men must be brought to Jesus Christ as a basis for obedience to God’s will—and this must be our major concern.

A prohibition of Sunday “business as usual” may not be possible in our secular society; nevertheless, those whose convictions rule out Sunday work are protected by the law. The 1964 Civil Rights Act provides for the excusing of every employee from labor on his day of worship. In June of 1969 a United States District Court required a large company to rehire an employee who was discharged for refusing to work on his day of worship or to find a replacement. The court also required the company to reimburse him for the compensation he had lost. Christians can express their conviction about Sabbath-day observance by declining to work, and certainly Christian businessmen can demonstrate their obedience by shutting their places of business on Sunday and by refraining from requiring others to labor on their day of worship.

The Helplessly Hungry

Some people bring hunger on themselves, and even toward these the Christian must exercise compassion. But what of those in our affluent land who always go to bed hungry through no fault of their own—or worse yet, because of someone else’s avarice?

For the last several years there has been a concerted effort to get the U. S. government to do away with hunger in America. So far, it seems, this effort has been pretty much of a failure. The struggles and frustrations are documented comprehensively in a new book by reporter Nick Kotz, Let Them Eat Promises—The Politics of Hunger in America. Mr. Kotz writes, “The politics of hunger in America is a dismal story of human greed and callousness, of immorality sanctioned and aided by the government of the United States.”

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So acute are the problems in achieving a political solution that it is surprising to find Mr. Kotz still trying at the end of the book. He surely recognizes the difficulty: “The nation has deluded itself repeatedly by assuming that passing laws with noble preambles or issuing well-meaning Presidential proclamations has actually solved problems. The nation discovers a problem, debates it fiercely, declares finally its decision to solve the problem, and then rushes off to a new concern with the apparent belief that wishes are automatically self-fulfilling in American government. Such, sadly, is not the case and the hunger issue is but the latest illustration of this point.”

We wonder if it ever occurred to Mr. Kotz that the answer may lie outside political institutions? Perhaps it is simply impossible to work effectively through voteconscious legislators and career-sensitive administrators. Maybe there is just enough evil in government that a program with no strings attached has no reasonable chance. Might there not be at least some hope in looking instead to some part of the private sector for a solution?

The hunger problem on the international scale is an infinitely greater problem, and the political obstacles loom comparably larger. What national leader wants to admit that his people are starving? Yet the problem has to be faced: is there then any way to transcend the political dimension?

Some experts say that if present growth continues, the mass of humanity in a few centuries will exceed the entire mass of the earth. That may be a little hard to comprehend, but it should not be hard to understand that we are running out of resources. The world is already beginning to experience a shortage of materials of great importance to a technological society, such as mercury, tin, silver, and cobalt. In food production, there is also uncertainty.

There are things, of course, that can be done. We need not be witnesses to the extinction of humanity. Triticale, a superior new species of grain, believed to be the first ever devised by man, is just one example of steps that can be taken. What is needed more than anything else is the right kind of motivation, and it becomes increasingly evident that politics cannot provide it.

This is where the Church comes in, and where the principle of love is brought to bear. Only in the Christian faith is pure incentive found. Some churchmen have had blind spots, some have been hypocrites, some have exploited religious position for ulterior ends. But the fact remains that over the historical sweep of the last two thousand years the most humane movements have grown out of Christian roots. The scriptural charge to each believer is the highest ideal, and only when we refocus upon the Christian dynamic will we find the best motivation for tackling and resolving the great problems of our time.

The Clergy Discount: Boon Or Bane?

In many communities and in some industries, the practice of clergy discounts continues. For the many ministers with low incomes (see page 26 of our December 5 issue), these discounts can be an important help in making ends at least come close together. However, a better way is for full-time ministers to be supported adequately by the people of God so that they can conduct their affairs in the world of commerce in the normal way.

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Many business and professional men cannot help thinking they do God a favor when they give clergy discounts. Accordingly, the subconscious feeling is likely to be present that God will “discount” his standards when he examines their lives; they may consider themselves virtuous because of their beneficence to men of the cloth. Moreover, the pastor who accepts discounts leaves open the possibility that this will influence the content of his preaching; we do not wish to irritate those who bestow favors on us.

Rather than give discounts, Christian businessmen should increase their giving to the church so that ministerial salaries can be raised. To be sure, members of a congregation might insist on rendering their vocational services at low or no cost as one of their ways of contributing to the Lord’s work. Also, certain businesses might give discounts to various classes of customers as a means of generating trade, and in cases like this ministers might gratefully accept the discount. But in general the better way is for ministerial incomes to be adequate so that clergy discounts can be discontinued.

The Autonomous Man

Nebuchadnezzar the mighty king of Babylon was a man of consummate pride. He had it made as head of the greatest empire of his day. Responsible only to himself, with all nations lying prostrate before his feet, he could do as he pleased—or so he thought. He was a prototype of the autonomous man, the one who walks in independence and feels no need to look up to anyone else or to bow before any king or power.

God sent Nebuchadnezzar a dream, one that neither he nor his underlings could interpret. Only Daniel, God’s prophet, was able to tell him its meaning. Boldly Daniel dared to add to the interpretation a word of spiritual counsel for the king. Having said that the king would be driven from among men and live like an animal with his mind clouded, Daniel offered him a way out if he resisted pride and looked to God. “Let my counsel be acceptable to you” said Daniel. “Break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your tranquillity.”

Nebuchadnezzar spurned Daniel’s advice and at last proclaimed, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power?” The words had barely fallen from his lips when judgment came. He lost his senses, was driven from among men, and ate grass like an animal.

The time came when Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way the lesson he refused to learn when he was riding high. At last he discovered that pride goes before a fall and that the man who fails to give God his due place is always the loser. Then it was that he forsook pride, perhaps the source of most sin, and acknowledged what he should have known in the first place—that God stands above even the highest king and brings to dust all who exhibit pride. His reason returned to him and he exclaimed: “I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives for ever; for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing.… None can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What doest thou?’ ”

We are small, and there is nothing in any of us to commend us to God. We are dependent, not autonomous. What place is there for pride? God hates it, and its wages is death. Buy therefore humility, a precious jewel that shines like the sun and adorns its possessor with beauty and God’s approval.

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