The 700 Club is the flagship program of the Family Channel (previously
the Christian Broadcasting Network). Conservative Christian minister
Pat Robertson lay the foundations for the Christian Broadcasting
Network in 1960 when he purchased a run-down UHF station in Portsmouth,
Virginia, where he developed a talk show format combining interviews,
music, teaching, prayer and healing. The 700 Club was named in honor
of the first 700 people who pledged $10 per month in support of
the station's core operations budget. With the rise of cable television
in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Robertson positioned his local
station as a superstation targetting fundamentalist and other Christian
viewers. The network helped to fuel and in turn responded to the
growth of a Christian political movement in the United States and
Robertson would eventually become a Republican candidate for president
in 1986, only to be defeated by George Bush. In 1988, the network
changed its name to the Family Channel, but the agreement which
established this new network contained a requirement that the network
would broadcast the 700 Club program in perpetuity.
In her book, Tele-Advising: Therapeutic Discourse in American
Television (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1992), Mimi White describes the program's format and goals: "Adopting
a news magazine format, it includes reports on current events, lifestyle
features, human interest stories, and celebrity and expert guests,
along with prayer, healing rituals, religious teaching, appeals
to conversion, and fund-raising. With this combination, The 700
Club represents one version of a model media system from the perspective
of the Christian Right. Fully integrated in the discursive and institutional
practices of contemporary American television, it aims to provide
an overarching, morally correct perspective on the world in concert
with the evangelical call to save souls." At first glance, the program
might look like any other cable news broadcast, but the news has
been framed for a niche market of conservative Christians. It often
depicts contemporary social problems which it ascribes to the moral
ills of the society and offers solutions, which most often depend
upon religious redemption.
The following exchange between Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson
occurred during the program's discussion of the WTC tragedy on Thursday,
13 September, sparking fresh debates about the relationship between
religious and political discourses on the show:
||And I agree totally with you that the Lord has protected us
so wonderfully these 225 years. And since 1812, this is the
first time that we've been attacked on our soil and by far the
worst results. And I fear, as Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary
of Defense, said yesterday, that this is only the beginning.
And with biological warfare available to these monsters - the
Husseins, the Bin Ladens, the Arafats - what we saw on Tuesday,
as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact - if,
in fact - God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies
of America to give us probably what we deserve.
||Jerry, that's my feeling. I think we've just seen the antechamber
to terror. We haven't even begun to see what they can do to
the major population.
||The ACLU's got to take a lot of blame for this.
||And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing
God out successfully with the help of the federal court system,
throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The
abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God
will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent
babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and
the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians
who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle,
the ACLU, People For the American Way - all of them who have
tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face
and say "you helped this happen."
||Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted
that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so
we're responsible as a free society for what the top people
do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.
||Pat, did you notice yesterday the ACLU, and all the Christ-haters,
People For the American Way, NOW, etc. were totally disregarded
by the Democrats and the Republicans in both houses of Congress
as they went out on the steps and called out on to God in prayer
and sang "God Bless America" and said "let the ACLU be hanged"?
In other words, when the nation is on its knees, the only normal
and natural and spiritual thing to do is what we ought to be
doing all the time - calling upon God.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Lorri L.
Jean offered this response: "The terrible tragedy that has befallen
our nation, and indeed the entire global community, is the sad byproduct
of fanaticism. It has its roots in the same fanaticism that enables
people like Jerry Falwell preach hate against those who do not think,
live, or love in the exact same way he does. The tragedies that
have occurred this week did not occur because someone made God mad,
as Mr. Falwell asserts. They occurred because of hate, pure and
simple. It is time to move beyond a place of hate and to a place
of healing. We hope that Mr. Falwell will apologize to the U.S.
and world communities."
A White House spokesman repudiated the statement as "inappropriate".
Falwell subsequently apologized during a CNN broadcast: "I would
never blame any human being except the terrorists, and if I left
that impression with gays or lesbians or anyone else, I apologize."
Questions to Consider
- Does this incident reveal a potential tension between the desire
to mimic the formats and content of mainstream news coverage and
the desire to express a conservative religious perspective on
the day's events?
- How do we reconcile the statement which Falwell made during
the broadcast with his subsequent apology on CNN? Was Falwell
"blaming" gays, civil libertarians, and other progressive groups
for the bombing in his original statement? Why might he feel otherwise?
- How do we compare the religious views expressed by Falwell and
Robertson with, for example, the use of Biblical quotations in
George W. Bush's addresses to the nation or in the various local
church services and prayer gatherings around the nation? What
functions can/should religion play in our public commerations
of tragedy? How can religious faith be expressed in a multicultural
society without causing frictions between different religious
denominations? Can you point to ways that church groups in your
community have helped to foster respect and understanding between
- An atmosphere of "moral panic" often shifts attention away from
the actual causes of societal harm and towards groups which are
already viewed negatively by the speaker and their intended audience.
As such, the language of blame in a public debate sheds light
on points of tension within a particular community. What can we
learn by reviewing the groups whom Falwell and Robertson hold
accountable for the "moral decline" of America? How might such
language translate into acts of aggression against members of
those groups Falwell has identified?
- How do you think those groups should respond to Falwell and
Robertson's negative depictions of them? How do you evaluate the
responses offered by the Gay and Lesbian Task Force and People
for the American Way?
Apologizes to Gays, Lesbians, and Feminists, CNN, 09/14/2001
Gave Us "What We Deserve," Falwell Says by John Harris, Washington
Robertson's Statement Regarding Terrorist Attack, CBN, 09/14/2001
Robertson Comments on Falwell Interview, CBN, 09/14/2001
from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
from People for the American Way
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