The electronic communications revolution has played a critical role in transforming life on this tiny planet during the twentieth century. Indeed, electronic communications would be high on almost everybody's short list of the most important developments of the century.
Shortly before the conclusion of the nineteenth century (l896) Guglielmo Marconi discovered how to transmit a message without a wire. We entered the twentieth century with a few people experimenting with a primitive instrument that could transmit electronic impulses a short distance without a wire. As we approach the beginning of a new century, electonic communication is global, virtually instantaneous, and literally hundreds of millions can be simultaneously recipients of broadcast communications. Marconi could not have imagined the advancements in communications technology during the coming century. Nor could any one else.
Perhaps no group of people were so quick to realize and embrace the potential of electonic communications as Evangelical Christians. Almost from the beginning, Evangelical Christians viewed the ability to communicate over the air waves as a gift of God intended to be used to fulfill the Great Commission: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" [Mark 16:15].
The first transmission of the human voice over the air was a religious communication (December 24, 1906). At the turn of the century, the prevailing theological perspective of Evangelicals postulated that the Second Coming of Christ was near at hand. Thus, from the beginning, Evangelicals embraced this incredible new technology as an instrument of their appointed mission.
Gaining acess to this technology has been marked with controversy and scandal from the beginning. Evangelicals struggled first for a seat at the microphone as radio spread across the nation during the first half of the twentieth century. The dawning of television, with much more restricted outlets that could be accessed, created a new set of problems.
There have been moments of great glory as exemplified by the radio broadcasts of the crusades of Billy Graham. And there have been moments of shame and despair; most recently the scandals of the late 1980s that brought down two of the largest television ministries in the world.
Other religious groups, Christian as well as other faith traditions, have seen the possibilities for utilizing the air waves to communicate their message, but none have used the air waves so effectively as Evangelicals. Indeed, one way of writing the great success story of Fundamentalists and Pentecostals during this century is to focus on their successful embracing of broadcasting as a key method for spreading their message.
Now comes the Internet, perhaps the ultimate form of electronic communication. To date, religious broadcasters have not embraced the Internet to the degree they rushed to radio and then to television. The reason may be very simple - their natural constituency has been slow to come to the Internet. Whatever the reasons, almost all religious broadcasters have now staked a claim on the Internet.
This Religious Broadcast Page seeks to achieve several objectives.
First, it seeks to provide a gateway to Internet resources about religious broadcasting. We will begin with the simple goal of creating easy access links to the resources that broadcasters themselves have created. When that task is accomplished, we will attempt to identify other Internet commentary about religious broadcasting.
Second, it will attempt to develop analytical resources that can contribute to serious study of religious broadcasting. Why have Evangelicals been so much more successful than any other group in the utilization of broadcasting? How did it happen? What has been the role of broadcasting in the development of Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism, the two most important religious movements of the twentieth century? What will be the likely impact of religious broadcasting as the world becomes increasingly one global community?
Toward the end of developing resources to address these and other important questions, we are interested in locating and archiving documents that help tell the history of religious broadcasting. The creator of this page has been scholar of religious broadcasting for more than two decades, and his writing on the subject are considerable. The task of creating an archive will begin with placing his writings on line. As we locate and gain permission to include other materials, we will do so. When scholarly articles cannot be placed on the site because of copyright restrictions, we will develop bibliographies, including where rare documents may be accessed. We are particularly eager to communicate with those who have access to, or know the whereabouts of, documents that should be a part to the archive of religious broadcasting.
This analytical portion of the Religious Broadcast Page seeks, above all else, objective analysis.
A third objective is to create a forum for commentary about religious broadcasting. From the beginning, religious broadcasters have been controversial and that is unlikely to change. Coverage of religious broadcasting would not be comprehensive unless the controversy were addressed. We will present the sharp criticisms that both adversaries and sympathetic critics of broadcasters have leveled. In creating links to religious broadcasters, we are presenting religious broadcasting as broadcasters see themselves. In doing so we are not more an apologetic instrument for religious broadcasters than we are an advocate to their critics. We reserve the right to occasionally weight in on controversies, but our goal is not to take sides.
This Religious Broadcasting Page is a companion page to two other sites. One deals with religious movements, groups that are usually identified in the mass media as "cults," or sometimes "sects." The other companion page deals with religious freedom.
Some religious broadcasters may feel uncomfortable being placed on the same general web site as groups they believe to be apostolic or heretical of their perspective. We hope they will feel more comfortable in the knowledge that this site seeks also to promote and protect religious freedom. If they do not, then they need to be reminded that the evangelical traditions that most religious broadcasters represent have been deeply suspect by the broader culture. Religious freedom is one of the most cherished of human freedoms.
The Religious Movements Page grew out of the author's years of teaching a course at the University of Virginia called New Religious Movements. The site seeks to provide objective information about many of the lesser known religious of our time, but it also seeks to make the point that all religious were once new. The Religious Freedom Page documents the critical role of religious freedom as the first and indispensable human liberty. It also provides resources for assessing the relationship between religious freedom and the emergence of universal human rights.
Like the Religious Movement and Religious Freedom pages, this page would not be possible without the volunteer efforts of students. A word of special thanks is extended Jonathan Kwon for creating the infrastructure of this Religious Freedom Page and to Young Woo for the Religious Freedom Page. their creative talents speak for themselves. Grateful acknowledgement also to Craig Hirsh, my webmaster from the onset of the Religious Movements Page. His creative hand is present on this and the other pages.
We welcome feedback, especially constructive criticism and suggestions for additional resources that will help improve this site. We know that there are vast resources on the Internet about many dimensions of religious broadcasting that have not yet come to our attention. If you know of something that is not accessible from this page, we urge you to send us a note with the URL and we'll check it out.
About the Graphics on This Page
The graphics on three of the Level One pages of this site were created by Jonathan Kwon, an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia. Each of them plays upon the single most famous segment of Michelangelo's celebrated frescoes in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican -- God's extended finger to Adam.
On the Radio Page, God's finger extends to the antenna of of early model radio. On the Televangelism Page, God touches Adam through the cathode ray tube of the television screen. On the front page of the Religious Broadcasting Page, the same image is created symbolically by the satellite beaming down to earth. The background image for all three pages is Michelangelo's Last Judgment painting which is also in the Sistine Chapel. Combined, these graphics depict how God has used technology to assist humankind in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The Last Judgment is particularly important because the mainstream of evangelicalism believes the Second Coming and ensuing Last Judgment are near at hand.