FM radio is up for grabs, and TV access looms ahead.
The broadcast media in France have done a gigantic flip-flop over the last year and a half. Evangelistic broadcasting, until then all but impossible because of strict government control, is now a distinct possibility. Evangelicals are scrambling to realize the new potential. But they are finding out that communicating to the typical Monsieur and Madame Français will remain a formidable challenge.
In May 1981, François Mitterand was installed as president of a socialist government. With this change of administrations came major social and economic upheavals, including changes in access to the airwaves.
The Socialist party had advocated relative freedom for France’s broadcast industry. In fulfillment of a campaign pledge, President Mitterand, in a law enacted last November and effective last February, released the government’s monopoly on radio. Any nonprofit and nonpolitical group may now apply for low-power (500-watt maximum) FM radio stations, covering listening areas with a radius of from 3 to 18 miles.
Now for the catches:
• Commercial advertising is not permitted, and not more than 25 percent of the total budget may come from a single source.
• Networking is not allowed. No organization may own or finance more than one radio station.
• A frequency must be on the air for a minimum of 84 hours a week (although two or more stations may share the frequency). Programming must be 80 percent produced by station personnel. No succession of pretaped programs is permitted.
• Competition will be keen for the restricted number of frequencies to be allocated. In the Paris area alone, more than 600 applications have been filed for the alloted frequencies: 48 for a 3-mile radius, and 16 for an 18-mile radius.
Prior to release of the radio monopoly, religious radio stations inside France did not exist. For all practical purposes, the radio market was controlled by four major radio stations, dubbed the “gang of four”: France Inter and Europe 1 inside the country; Radio Monte-Carlo, and Radio Luxembourg outside. Programming was staid, and competition sluggish.
Now stations are sprouting everywhere. They are illegal until licenses are granted, but they are tolerated by the government. About 100 are transmitting around Paris, and there are hundreds nationwide. Suddenly the gang of four is confronted with intense competition for listeners, and support of the local community by listeners is not in their favor.
The challenges for evangelicals are daunting:
• Creating programming with appeal for the average Frenchman will almost certainly dictate moving beyond a Christian-content-only format to a mixed format. Except for concentrations in Paris, Alsace, and the Mediterranean coast, the 1.5 percent of the French who are Protestants are spread out too thin for it to work any other way.
• Producing 68 hours a week of programming for a given frequency will require staff professionalism unmatched by a majority of North American Christian stations.
• Financing on a shared basis will require unprecedented cooperation. Each congregation under French law is a single association, so churches in a listening area could jointly help finance a station. But can they work together and agree on a programming format?
Success is likely to depend on community service and support—involving membership contributions and/or advertising revenue from printed schedules.
Evangelicals believe they would reap important benefits. People who had casually encountered the gospel message in their homes on radio or television would be alerted to an evangelical presence in their community and should have their prejudices moderated. This would decrease resistance to evangelistic outreach efforts.
So they are gearing up for a broadcasting impact. A Protestant group called Radio Contact is operating two of the mini-stations in Paris; and the Seventh-day Adventists have a third. An evangelical association called Frequence-Espoir (Frequency Hope) has recently been organized for establishing a maxi-station in Paris; plans are being weighed for a second one in the southern suburbs.
In Lyon, France’s second largest city, an ecumencial Protestant group has begun broadcasting; so have the Adventists. A small Protestant station is beaming to the Let-et-Garonne area.
Television, too, is opening up, and should get livelier and more competitive within the government controls that will be retained. Several independent stations are already broadcasting in the Paris region. Until this summer, they were illegal but protected by a National Federation of Independent Broadcasters in France. A new law, enacted this summer, reorganizes the state television structure and makes the independent stations legal.
Forseeing the opening up of television, Jean-Pierre and Chantal Barry formed the evangelical Euro Media Productions (EMP), based in Melun Cedex, south of Paris, in 1976. They began producing television-oriented programs, airing them over Monte Carlo and Luxembourg stations, and distributing them as video cassettes and 16 mm. films. They put together a team of communications specialists from Prance, Switzerland, Belgium, and the U.S. A state-of-the-art, three-camera mobile televison unit the team designed and built—only the second or third in France—is so well done that it was featured on the cover of a French trade magazine for engineers.
Some milestones to date:
• The charismatic (or evangelically inclined) wing of the Roman Catholic church in France asked to distribute EMP cassettes, and is placing video monitors in many of its parishes. Cardinal Jean-Marc Lustiger of Paris has given the cassettes his endorsement.
• An EMP “Witness Today” program, which features before-and-after conversion stories shot on location in the “PM America” documentary style, aired on state television’s “Protestant Hour” in January, heretofore the exclusive preserve of the liberal Reformed church.
• EMP has sold to state television a documentary on French medical missionaries serving in the Bebalem, Chad, hospital of The Evangelical Alliance Mission. The emp team portrayed the meeting of physical needs, but also worked in staff members’ testimonies.
EMP is thus winning acceptance with state television executives, and plans to continue to concentrate on program production. It should be possible to place more programs with some evangelical content on the screen. For one thing, the broadcasting day, which typically began around noon and continued to midnight, is being extended to the around-the-clock pattern familiar in North America. There is also talk of adding a fourth state channel.
Between expanded state channels and the new independent stations, there are sure to be ways that creative evangelistic programming can make it on to the tube.
North American Scene
A cinematic extravaganza financed by a Sun Myung Moon film production company is being released nationwide. Inchon portrays General Douglas MacArthur’s Korean struggles and stars Sir Laurence Olivier, Jacqueline Bisset, and Ben Gazzara. It is slated to show in 1,000 American theaters carrying “Reverend Moon’s key message of love and god and humanity, and a strong message against communism,” a Moonie spokesman said. Moon’s production company is reported to have spent between $40 and $70 million on the film, an industry record. It premiered in Washington, D.C., in May 1981, but was panned by film critics. The Inchon advertising campaign includes a “million dollar sweepstakes” with an opportunity to win a Rolls Royce.
The National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., the nation’s third largest Protestant denomination, elected a new president at its annual meeting. J. H. Jackson, pastor of Chicago’s Olivet Baptist Church, was ousted from the presidential seat after 29 years. Newly elected was T. J. Jemison of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There had been several previous attempts to unseat Jackson, sparked by his political conservatism and opposition to the civil rights protests of Martin Luther King, Jr. The National Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest black religious organization, is now expected to “become more aggressive in the areas of Christian evangelism, civil rights, black colleges, and the education of black students in general,” a spokesman said. At a press conference, new president Jemison said black churches “must become a nationwide welfare organization to help our people.”
Billy Graham completed two successful August crusades in Boise, Idaho, and Spokane, Washington. He spoke to capacity audiences in both cities and received what publicist Don Bailey called “exceptional” press coverage. The Spokane Chronicle editorialized that area people would have an opportunity “to see a legendary man, to hear a legendary message. The chance will probably not come again. It has taken him 34 years to return. Welcome back to Spokane, Billy.” Not all went well for the evangelist in Spokane, however. He slipped and fell while climbing on a mountain outside Spokane. No bones were broken, but cartilage and muscle were injured in Graham’s lower back. He finished the crusade, but increasing pain led to a doctor’s order that Graham spend two weeks in bed. Among his canceled engagements was a night at the White House.
Financial problems have caused the PTL television complex to close its printing division and lay off 18 employees. PTL head Jim Bakker said other divisions may have to be phased out. Several planned projects at the 1,400-acre Heritage USA center, near Fort Hill, South Carolina, will be delayed. Work on a 98-unit motel will stop. The building of a Family Teaching Center will be done in stages as money becomes available.
The pastor of a Nebraska church operating an unapproved school has been jailed for contempt of court. Preacher Everett Sileven led the Faith Baptist Church of Louisville in defying a court order and reopening the church’s school this fall. Sileven has refused to use state-certified teachers, saying that requirement infringes on the church’s religious liberty. He is faced with a four-month jail term.
Two biology textbooks said to downplay Darwinism were rejected by the New York City Board of Education. Studies of biology texts in the last 20 years were said to show “a clear reduction in the number of words used to cover evolution, natural selection, and related topics that deal with the general theme of evolution.…” Board members were disturbed by that trend. They concluded one of the rejected books should have stated that evolution is accepted by most contemporary scientists, and that special creation is “a supernatural explanation that is outside the domain of science.” The board objected to the other book because it stated that “another hypothesis about the creation of the universe with all its life forms is special creation, which gives God the critical role in creation.…”
The Coalition for Better Television’s boycott of the NBC television network appears to be failing, but television critics note all three networks’ fall schedules include less sex and violence than usual. The coalition’s Donald Wildmon said it is still too early to judge the impact of the boycott. But RCA, NBC’S parent company, reports no “impact at all on our sales in any division.” Chicago Tribune television critic Ron Alridge believes the networks are defusing the boycott by cleaning up their programs. He notes a decrease in gratuitous sex and an increase in the number of positive role models in this fall’s new shows. NBC has outlawed the use of jokes that imply that drugs are “in” or “cool,” Alridge writes.
Kathy Dances Body And Soul Before Communist Judges
The International Ballet Competition has been called the “Olympics” of the ballet world. It is the foremost ballet competition, and its winners are regarded as the world’s best dancers. Held annually, it rotates from Varna, Bulgaria, to Moscow, Tokyo, and Jackson, Mississippi. This summer’s event was in Jackson, and among the 19 judges was Robert Joffrey, director of the famed Joffrey Ballet of New York City. Seven judges were from Communist countries.
The concentration of Communist judges set the stage for an attention-grabbing gamble by 25-year-old Kathy Thibodeaux, a devout Christian. Thibodeaux insisted that if she made the third and final round of competition, she would dance to “We Shall Behold Him,” a contemporary Christian song written by Dottie Rambo. Thibodeaux’s selection was opposed by several Jackson ballet officials, who argued that Communist judges would eliminate her after the first round because of her religious intentions. The dancer, who joined the Jackson Ballet School at age 9, was resolute: “I’m not the best at talking, so God gave me dancing to witness to people.”
Thibodeaux did advance to the third round, and by that time the local newspaper had reported fears the Christian accompaniment would hurt her score. The competition’s only sellout crowd was on hand for the final round, with many of the seats filled by local churchgoers who came only to see Thibodeaux. Many stood to applaud the solo, but she cut short a curtain call because “I wanted God to get the glory.”
By a number of accounts, the solo was a moving moment. One Bostonian who regularly attends ballet competitions said it was the first time he had ever cried at such an event, and a fellow competitor told Thibodeaux, “The next time I see you, we might be dancing in heaven.”
Whether or not the dance was fit for heaven may have to be left to the angels, but judges in Jackson—communism to the contrary—thought Thibodeaux good enough to award her a silver medal and a $5,000 prize in the senior women’s division, ages 20 through 28.
A number of medalists from previous competitions have made their way to major ballet companies, but stardom is not the foremost of Thibodeaux’s aspirations. The anything-but-prima-donna dancer, who often blushes when complimented, wants to remain in Jackson and dance in churches. Ballet, she believes, “can be a way of praising God. For me, it’s the best way to express a message. I use my whole body and soul.”
Thibodeaux’s career aim is not the only difference between her and other dancers. Prior to each performance at Jackson, while other competitors were practicing turns and doing other warm-up exercises, Thibodeaux and two Christian friends were praying in a corner. “Prayer was my warm-up,” she said. While performing, “I could feel his presence, a calming presence.”
A film crew chanced on part of one prayer session, and it may be included in a documentary on the competition to be aired over ABC’S cable cultural channel, ARTS, later this year.
Another avenue of witness for Thibodeaux and her friends was providing a Bible to each judge and competitor in his or her native language. More than 150 Bibles were distributed. The trio also organized a Christian coffee shop. But, they said, the coffee shop did not attract enough guests to remain open.
Kathy is married to Keith Thibodeaux, who was “little Ricky” on “I Love Lucy” during the 1950s. He is now a drummer for David and the Giants, a contemporary Christian band that played rock music during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Thibodeaux was the first of its members to embrace Christianity in 1974. The group’s initial Christian album on a major label was released earlier this year by CBS’S Priority.
in Jackson, Mississippi
Episcopalians Take To New Hymnal, Minus Martial Airs
Meeting in New Orleans, the nurturing womb of America’s only original musical form, the Episcopal church general convention decided last month to make some new music of its own. New Orleans jazz will not be included in the church’s new hymnal, and neither will lines by Rudyard Kipling, but poetry by W. H. Auden, George Herbert, and John Donne will be. The Hymnal 1982 is the first revision of the Episcopalian hymnal in 42 years.
The new book will not actually be published until 1985, and even then individual parishes may still use the old hymnal if they desire. But, with only minor changes, nearly 600 proposed hymn texts were approved for the new hymnal by the denomination’s 908-member House of Deputies (composed of clergy and laity) and its 263-member House of Bishops. The approval followed nine years of work by musicians, scholars, and writers.
The convention also saw a tongue-in-cheek resolution reminiscent of the recent post office guarantee that the mail will go through, even in the event of nuclear war. The resolution suggested that, should nuclear war occur, unordained persons be allowed to administer Communion and officiate at marriages.
With irony, the resolution added that local churches should carry on after a holocaust “as best they are able even though a quorum may not be present for meetings thereof.” The intent of the proposal was to encourage Episcopalians to ponder the nuclear war issue. The bishops later released a 2,500-word pastoral letter denouncing the nuclear arms race. It declared the arms race “immoral and unjust,” and said the United States should disavow a “massive first strike against whole cities and land areas.”
The denomination did approve additional funds for peace ministries, increasing the budget for those programs from $40,000 to $150,000. The programs will expand efforts to educate Episcopalians about the ethics of modern warfare and to assist conscientious objectors.
A concern about militarism was reflected in some changes planned for the hymnal. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was among the songs in the 1940 hymnal that were omitted from the new one. A total of 347 hymn texts were saved for the 1982 hymnal.
Most deletions were made for theological reasons. James Russell Lowell’s “Once to Every Man and Nation” was cut because it seems to deny the Christian teaching that God gives people many chances to repent and be forgiven. A hymn text by Rudyard Kipling was dropped because it was seen as “uncomfortably imperialistic.”
Leaders of the commission that prepared the proposed hymnal dropped many Victorian-era hymns, saying that the 1940 book has a “disproportionately large number of texts from the nineteenth century.”
In their place, the commission added classic English writers such as John Donne, George Herbert, Isaac Watts, and Charles Wesley.
Changes were also made to guard against “sexist” language and that which might offend handicapped persons. One hymn exhorting Christians to “join hands, then, brothers of the faith,” was changed to “join hands, disciples of the faith.” And “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” had its reference to “dumb” (meaning mute) altered to “voiceless ones.”
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