Religious issues attracted the attention of the news media around the world in 1987—from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Washington, D.C., to Moscow.

Some Soviet watchers voiced hope that Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost (openness) would result in fewer restrictions on religious expression. And at home, the Supreme Court upheld free religious speech at the Los Angeles International Airport; supported a church’s right to discriminate on religious grounds in its hiring practices; and disallowed teaching of creation science in public schools.

Nineteen eighty-seven was also the year that television evangelists got a black eye, as reports of sexual immorality, extravagant lifestyles, and irresponsible fund-raising practices dominated the headlines.

1. Questions Of Accountability

Christians who support television religion would just as soon forget the year 1987. In January, Oral Roberts issued an appeal to his “prayer partners,” claiming God would “call him home” if, by the end of March, he had failed to raise the remaining $4.5 million needed to launch a medical missions program. The fund-raising campaign went over the top a week shy of the deadline, but Roberts paid a price. Criticism ranged from ridicule on late-night television programs to serious challenges related to the ethics of the appeal.

In the wake of the Roberts controversy, the PTL money-and-sex scandal further enlivened critics of televised religion. On March 19, PTL founder Jim Bakker announced his resignation. Admitting to an adulterous episode in 1980, Bakker turned PTL’S reins over to fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell. In May, the Assemblies of God withdrew Bakker’s ministerial credentials, amid charges ...

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