A survey of influential television writers and executives in Hollywood has shown they are far less religious than the general public and “diverge sharply from traditional values” on such issues as abortion, homosexual rights, and extramarital sex.

“They have moved toward a markedly more secular orientation,” according to the study published in Public Opinion, a magazine of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C. While nearly all of the 104 Hollywood professionals interviewed had a religious background, 45 percent now say they have no religion and of the other 55 percent, only 7 percent say they attend a religious service as much as once a month.

“This group has had a major role in shaping the shows whose themes and stars have become staples in our popular culture,” wrote the three authors of the study, Robert Lichter of George Washington University, Stanley Rothman of Smith College, and Linda Lichter of Columbia and George Washington Universities.

Their study was part of a series on leadership attitudes in various fields. A previous study found that key professionals in the news media are also much less religious by customary standards than the public. But the researchers said the gap in this latest survey was more marked. From the names of about 350 persons who were involved with two or more successful television programs, the researchers contacted 172, and 104 agreed to be interviewed. The latter included 26 writers, 18 executive producers, and various categories of influential executives.

Eighty percent of the respondents said they did not regard homosexual relations as wrong, and 51 percent did not deem adultery as wrong. Of the 49 percent who called extramarital affairs wrong, only 17 percent felt that way strongly, the study said. Nearly all—97 percent—favored the right of a woman to choose an abortion, 91 percent holding that view strongly.

By contrast, other surveys have shown 85 percent of Americans consider adultery wrong, 71 percent regard homosexual activity wrong and nearly three-fourths of the public want abortion limited to certain hard cases or banned altogether.

Very few of the entertainment leaders have roots in “Middle America,” the study said. Primarily from the Northeast or California, the television professionals are much better educated than their parents as a whole, three-fourths of them with at least one college degree and 31 percent with some graduate work. Those with Jewish backgrounds total 59 percent; Protestants, 25 percent; and Catholics, 12 percent, according to the survey.

Article continues below

Those surveyed were well paid, two-thirds of them with annual incomes above $200,000. But 75 percent also called themselves political liberals (compared to 27 percent of the public that does), and 10 percent believe government should substantially reduce the income gap between rich and poor. “Two out of three believe that TV should be a major force for social reform,” the report said. “According to television’s creators, they are not in it just for the money. They also seek to move their audience toward their own vision of the good society.”


A Christian College Steps Back From The Brink Of Closure

Life is difficult enough for any Christian liberal arts college these days. A school that cuts loose from its denominational ties to attract a broader student population has a doubly difficult task. For Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois, that strategy did not work. With a student body dropping from 1,000 to 500 in the last few years, the school nearly closed this spring. Only after radical surgery has the prognosis changed.

Trinity’s board of directors asked Kenneth Kantzer, formerly academic dean at the adjacent Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and most recently editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, to take over. He will become president in June. The long-time incumbent president, Harry Evans, is resigning.

Before agreeing to step in, Kantzer was accorded three requests:

• That the school reattach itself to the 100,000-member Evangelical Free Church, which founded it in 1897 and which still operates the seminary;

• That a controlling majority of Free Church pastors and laymen sit on the board;

• That the school adopt a more conservative Christian lifestyle, including a prohibition of alcohol on and off campus for both students and faculty. “You can’t sell a college to the Free Church without that rule,” Kantzer said.

Beyond that, Kantzer cut full-time faculty from 36 to about 20 and is making similiar deep cuts in the staff.

The Free Church’s Great Lakes conference, the largest body within the denomination, has voted to accept the school, to support it financially, and to encourage its youth to attend. The full denomination will address the issue in June. Kantzer is hopeful about the outcome of that meeting, and he looks to the Evangelical Free churches to supply the most critical need—students. Kantzer is further encouraged because about half of the pastors in the denomination are his own former students.

Article continues below
North American Scenes

Attorney General William French Smith has decided to steer clear of a court fight over officially sanctioned prayer in public schools. Smith decided against filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the two Alabama prayer cases now on appeal. Noting that President Reagan had proposed a constitutional amendment in support of school prayer, a Justice Department spokesman affirmed the administration’s commitment to prayer in schools. But he added that most advisers agreed “there were problems with making this case at this time the vehicle for the administration’s views.”

1982 was a record-setting year for the Southern Baptist Convention. Statistics reveal gains in all 10 of the reporting areas traditionally checked to gauge ministry efforts of the denomination. There were 411,554 baptisms in 1982, nearly 6,000 more than in 1981. Sunday school enrollment of 7,678,604 broke a record set in 1964. Membership in the convention increased by 1.5 percent to 13,998,252.

The Chicago-based Playboy Foundation has revealed that it makes significant financial contributions to People for the American Way, an organization headed by Norman Lear and dedicated to blunting the impact of conservative Christianity.

Should genetic screening tests be voluntary or compulsory? And what should they be used for? These are some of the questions being asked by a presidential ethics commission that has urged the nation to prepare counseling services to meet a likely “huge demand” for legal and moral guidance. The commission reported that the time can already be envisioned when all information about a person’s genes and chromosomes will be readily accessible. It added that the issue of genetic screening raises “important ethical and legal concerns.”

Evangelist James Robison has apologized to Southern Baptists he has criticized for liberal views and has asked for their forgiveness. Robison stated that a return to morality in America “will never happen unless Christians start loving each other.” In the past, the evangelist has fanned the flames of the inerrancy controversy within the convention. He said, “I’m not saying anyone else is wrong in their criticisms. I’m saying I was wrong.”

President Reagan has sent to Congress new tuition tax proposals, which, if approved, would grant parents of private and parochial students a tax credit of up to $300 when the plan is fully implemented. A similar proposal last year won the approval of the Senate Finance Committee before dying in the full Senate. Concern about the large federal deficit has done little to raise the hopes of supporters.

Article continues below

Two letters purportedly written by Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard have been submitted to a Los Angeles County court judge to demonstrate that Hubbard is alive and well. Church leaders are seeking the dismissal of a suit filed by Hubbard’s son, Ronald DeWolf, who has asked to be appointed trustee of his father’s estate (CT, February 18, p. 30). Attorneys for the church claim Hubbard is working on a novel and is too busy to appear.

Billy Graham was one of 12 prominent Americans chosen to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civil award of the U.S. government. In a ceremony at the White House, President Reagan described Graham as “one of the most inspirational spiritual leaders of the twentieth century. Since 1945, the medal has been awarded to 209 persons.

A United Methodist task force will recommend that the terms “Lord” and “King” no longer be used generally as synonyms for God since the words assume God has male characteristics. The task force may recommend the Aramaic word “Abba,” instead. “Abba,” which means “Daddy,” connotes an earthly image different from “father,” according to the task force. It was assigned in 1980 to revise guidelines for eliminating racism, sexism, and ageism in church materials.

World Scene

A relative of several of the “Siberian Seven” who was allowed to emigrate to West Germany last summer is in a strategic position to send them an official invitation. That is because family reunification is the only reason the Kremlin recognizes as legitimate for wanting to leave the country. Grigory Vaschenko was permitted to leave because he is married to an ethnic German. But he refused an appeal sent to him in September to issue his cousin, Peter Vaschenko, an invitation. Instead he wrote back to Peter’s daughter, Lyubov, outlining his many theological disputes with Peter, and declining to cooperate unless Peter concedes his errors.

Jerusalem’s Baptist congregation has experienced some remarkable responses to the destruction of its chapel by arson last October. Mayor Teddy Kollek launched a public fund for rebuilding the church by opening special accounts in several Jerusalem banks. The synagogue in the same block invited pastor Robert Lindsey to speak to a Sabbatheve service, and the rabbi then presented him a Hebrew pulpit Bible. Architects and a landscaper offered free services to aid in new construction.

Article continues below

The only top official in the Vatican Bank not publicly identified with last summer’s Banco Ambrosiano collapse scandal is now being investigated for suspected involvement in a customs tax avoidance scheme. He is Monsignor Donato de Bonis. Meanwhile, a member of the Vatican-appointed commission that has been studying the bank has advocated placing its operation in the hands of bankers rather than priests.

The modern-language Bible translation tide has reached Germany. Last year the German Bible Society produced the Bible in Today’s German. Next month Living Bibles International will publish its version, Hope for Everyone.

Two South African security policemen charged with murdering Lutheran lay preacher Tshifiwa Muofhe have been found not guilty. Muofhe was one of four clergymen arrested in 1981 in connection with the bombing of a police station. He died less than two days after his imprisonment. In the summer of 1982, an inquest court determined that the two who killed Muofhe were the same ones who tortured Dean T. Simon Farisani (CT, March 18, p. 34). The case attracted international interest, partly because it is widely held the clergymen were tortured because of their antiapartheid stands.

The new prime minister of Australia, Robert Hawke, is the son of a Congregational minister. But he and his wife do not attend church and characterize themselves as “nonspecific believers.”

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.