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Televangelism is the use of television to communicate the Christian faith. The word is a portmanteau of television and evangelism and was coined by Time magazine.[1] A televangelist is a Christian minister who devotes a large portion of his or her ministry to television broadcasting. The term is also used derisively by critics as an insinuation of aggrandizement by such a minister.



Televangelism began as a peculiarly American phenomenon, resulting from a largely deregulated media where access to television networks is open to virtually anyone who can afford it, combined with a large Christian population that is able to provide the necessary funding. However, the increasing globalisation of broadcasting has enabled some American televangelists to reach a wider audience through international broadcast networks, including some that are specifically Christian in nature, such as Trinity Broadcasting Network and The God Channel. Domestically produced televangelism is increasingly present in some other nations such as Brazil. Some countries have a more regulated media with either general restrictions on access or specific rules regarding religious broadcasting. In such countries, religious programming is typically produced by TV companies (sometimes as a regulatory or public service requirement) rather than private interest groups. Some televangelists are also regular pastors or ministers in their own places of worship (often a megachurch), but the majority of their followers come from their TV and radio audiences. Others do not have a conventional congregation as such and solely work through television.


S. Parkes Cadman, one of the first ministers to use radio, beginning in 1923

Christianity has always emphasised preaching the gospel to the whole world. Historically, this was achieved by sending missionaries and the distribution of bibles and literature. Some Christians realised that the rapid uptake of radio beginning in the 1920s provided a powerful new tool for this task, and they were amongst the first producers of radio programming. Radio broadcasts were seen as a complementary activity to traditional missionaries, enabling vast numbers to be reached at relatively low cost, but also enabling Christianity to be preached in countries where this was illegal and missionaries were banned. The aim of Christian radio was to both convert people to Christianity and to provide teaching and support to believers. These activities continue today, particularly in the developing world. Shortwave radio stations with a Christian format broadcast worldwide, such as HCJB in Quito, Ecuador, Family Radio's WYFR, and the Bible Broadcasting Network (BBN), among others.

In the U.S., the Great Depression of the 1930s saw a resurgence of revival-tent preaching in the Midwest and South, as itinerant traveling preachers drove from town to town, living off donations. Several preachers began radio shows as a result of their popularity. One of the first ministers to use radio extensively was S. Parkes Cadman, beginning in 1923.[2][3] By 1928, Cadman had a weekly Sunday afternoon radio broadcast on the NBC radio network, his powerful oratory reaching a nationwide audience of five million persons.[4]

In the 1930s, a famous radio evangelist of the period was Roman Catholic priest Father Charles Coughlin, whose strongly anti-Communist and anti-Semitic radio programs reached millions of listeners. Other early Christian radio programs broadcast nationwide in the U.S. beginning in the 1920s–1930s include (years of radio broadcast shown): Bob Jones, Sr. (1927–1962), Ralph W. Sockman (1928–1962), G. E. Lowman (1930–1965), The Lutheran Hour (1930–present), and Charles E. Fuller (1937–1968).[5][6] Time magazine reported in 1946 that Rev. Ralph Sockman's National Radio Pulpit on NBC received 4,000 letters weekly and Fulton J. Sheen received between 3,000–6,000 letters weekly. The total radio audience for radio ministers in the U.S. that year was estimated to be 10 million listeners.[7]

Although television also began in the 1930s, it did not become widespread until after World War II. The first television preacher of note was Fulton J. Sheen, a Roman Catholic archbishop who successfully switched to television in 1951 after two decades of popular radio broadcasts. Sheen would win numerous Emmy Awards for his program that ran from the early 1950s, until the late 1960s.

Another pioneer in television evangelism was Rex Humbard. Oral Roberts put together the largest broadcast of the time that, by 1957, reached 80% of the possible television audience through 135 of the possible 500 stations.[8] The 1960s and early 1970s saw television replace radio as the primary home entertainment medium, but also corresponded with a further rise in evangelical Protestant Christianity, particularly through the international television and radio ministry of Billy Graham. Many well-known televangelists began during this period, developing their own media networks, news exposure, and political influence. In the 21st century, the televised church services of Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, and Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, continue to attract large audiences.

Controversies & Criticism

Some televangelists are the subject of considerable controversy. A proportion of their methods and theology are held to be conflicting with Christian doctrine taught in long existing traditionalist congregations. Many televangelists are featured on so nick-named discernment websites run by other Christians that are concerned about what they perceive as departures from sound Christian doctrine. Many argue that the poor, are the most likely to not only convert, but fall prey to financial donation structures, many find not based on any spirituality or sincere religious ideology at all, but as merely tools to generate profits for the owners of the church, at the expense of a less educated and less financially-secure church/flock.

  • Many televangelists exist outside the control of established traditional churches, acquiring a distinct voice of their own. Some televangelists, however, are members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, an independent organization which promotes high financial standards amongst Christian ministries.
  • Many televangelists hold charismatic or Pentecostal viewpoints, believing in spiritual gifts, divine healing, the occurrence of miracles and a prosperity gospel, and propagate this message. This supernatural theology is opposed by some groups of Christians.
  • The prosperity gospel taught by many televangelists promises material, financial, physical, and spiritual success to believers, subject to their offerings to the “work of God”. This is regarded as a serious point of conflict by other Christians and those of the secular world.
  • Some televangelists have significant personal wealth and own large properties, luxury cars, and various transportation vehicles such as private aircraft or ministry aircraft. This is seen by critics to be contradictory to traditional Christian thinking.
  • Televangelism requires substantial amounts of money to produce programs and purchase airtime on cable and satellite networks. Televangelists devote time to fundraising activities. Products such as books, CDs, DVDs, and trinkets are promoted to viewers.
  • Televangelists claim to be reaching millions of people worldwide with the gospel and producing numerous converts to Christianity. However, such claims are difficult to verify independently.
  • Several televangelists are very active in the national or international political arena (e.g., Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, John Hagee), and often espouse conservative politics on their programs. Such televangelists may occasionally arouse controversy by making remarks deemed offensive on their programs or elsewhere, or by endorsing partisan political candidates on donor-paid airtime, at which point they may lose their tax-exempt status if they reside in the United States.

Televangelists often strongly dispute these criticisms and say they are doing God's work. They cite declining attendance at traditional church services and the growth of global mass media as factors necessitating the use of television to 'fulfill the "Great Commission" of the Gospel of Jesus to the generation of the 21st Century.'


The Kicking of the Saint episode

Main article: Kicking of the saint

On the dawn of October 12, 1995 - a national holiday in which Our Lady of Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil, is celebrated - televangelist Sérgio Von Helde repeatedly kicked an image of the saint for ten minutes, causing a considerable amount of controversy in the world's largest Catholic country [9][10].

See also


  1. ^ Time: 75th Anniversary issue, March 9, 1998
  2. ^ "S. Parkes Cadman dies in coma at 71". The New York Times. July 12, 1936. Retrieved 2009-01-26.  
  3. ^ "Radio Religion". Time magazine. January 21, 1946.,9171,934406,00.html. Retrieved 2007-12-16.  
  4. ^ "Air Worship". Time magazine. February 9, 1931.,9171,741032,00.html. Retrieved 2007-12-19.  
  5. ^ "Billy Graham Center archives". Wheaton College. Retrieved 2007-08-30.  
  6. ^ Thomas H. O'Connor (1985). Baltimore Broadcasting from A to Z. Baltimore, Maryland: O'Connor Communications.  
  7. ^ "Radio Religion". Time Magazine. January 21, 1946.,9171,934406,00.html. Retrieved 2007-12-16.  
  8. ^ David E. Harrell Jr. "Healers and Televengelists After World War II in Vinson Synan," The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal (Nashville: Nelson, 2001) 331
  9. ^ Epstein, Jack (1995-11-24). "Kicking of icon outrages Brazil Catholics". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved on January 6, 2009.
  10. ^ "Church makes airwaves". BBC. 2000-08-03. Retrieved 2009-01-06.  


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