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Televangelism and Political Ideology: A Study of Content and Ideology in The 700 Club

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Televangelism and Political Ideology: A Study of Content and Ideology in The 700 Club
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Edwards, Keli
Leslie, Michael ( Reviewer )
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Gainesville, Fla.
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Televangelism and Political Ideology: A Study of Content and Ideology in
The 700 Club

Keli Edwards


INTRODUCTION


International Christian broadcasters play a significant role in the distribution of both ideological and

religious messages and have attracted significant scholarly attention.


By far, the international religious broadcaster that has received the most attention from scholars is the

Christian Broadcasting Network and its flagship program, The 700 Club. The program has been described as a

carrier of right-wing ideologies by several researchers who have examined its content (Gifford, 1991). Its creator,

Pat Robertson has skillfully combined religion with politics to form a show that disseminates conservative opinion
and news coverage on current events.


A framing analysis of this program reveals the conservative political bias of the news stories, while a content

analysis offers a numerical description of the extent to which program content deploys this ideology. This study

will attempt to answer the following questions:

1) What are the salient content categories of the 700 Club program?

2) What ideologies (political, economic, cultural, religious and social) are emphasized in the 700 Club?



METHOD


The first step included the viewing and analysis of the 700 Club program for recurring themes and to identify

the distinct segments of the show. Once these program segments were identified, a set of categories was

created into which each of the program segments could be classified.


One constructed sample week of 700 Club programming was selected and recorded for the pilot study.
This constructed week included shows aired from May to November 2002, taking care not to repeat any day in

the week. The sampled program dates were Monday, May 27; Tuesday, July 30; Wednesday, October 9;

Thursday, August 8, and Friday, November 8. A total of 304 minutes of programming was recorded and

analyzed. Program segments were not synonymous with content categories, as the researchers combined

some program segments to form a category. Finally, percentages were calculated for the content in each

program category.


UF I journal of UndergradUate Research University of Florida






FRAMING ANALYSIS



According to Robert Entman (2000) "frames highlight and link data selectively to tell more or less coherent

stories that define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments, and suggest remedies" (page 49).

This research sought to examine how recurrent themes in 700 Club programs may shape the way its

viewers understand world problems such as poverty, racism, and underdevelopment as well as the

solutions proposed to these problems. This was achieved by doing a qualitative analysis of the material in each of

the content categories. The researcher attempted to identify the salient perspectives, paying particular attention

to politics, culture and economic issues, asking the following questions of the content: What was most often

talked about? What were the most commonly invoked explanations for problems in world? What kinds of

appeals were made to viewers of the program? Who and what were singled out for praise and for blame?

What remedies were suggested? The findings from both the content analysis and the framing analysis are

presented in the next section.



Findings of the Content Analysis




Table 1
Results for 304 Minutes of Programming
(Show dates: 5/27, 7/30, 10/9, 8/8, and 11/8)

Segment Minutes Percent

Features 77:16 25

News 52:51 17

Guests 37:09 12

News
25:30 8
Commentary

Bring It On
(Q and A 24:54 8
session)

Commercials 19:24 6

Previews 14:24 5

Prayer /
Prayer 14:15 5
Report

Religious
12:51 4
Commentary

Product Plug 4:27 1

Closing
(no closing
3:06 1
on one
show)

Introduction 2:45 1

Fundraising
(direct
appeals; 2:12 1
seen on 3
shows)









One can conclude that news, features and guests are the principle vehicles for disseminating ideology on The

700 Club.



News about the United States government and politics constituted the majority of news content, with 12 such

stories in the sample. Non-political United States news stories were second with seven stories in the sample.

Next, was World News totaling six stories; World News on developing countries accounted for three stories.

There were four stories on health and scientific research findings, one of which was also a "Focus Report

Segment." Finally, there was one story about African countries, which was also tallied as a story on

developing countries, as this category comprised three stories.



Most of the commercials were CBN product promotions, totaling 14. Commercials with a missionary appeal, or

those that showed images of people of developing countries at worship or being helped, came in second with

three. Next, there were two commercials that were not produced by CBN. Both were Time/Life product offers.

Finally, there was one commercial with a general appeal to Christians. Clearly, commercials and promotions also

are a significant part of the 700 Club program.



There were five general features and all five focused on reporting missionary work. There were also 13 life

changing/miracle stories in the sample. This seemed to be the most frequent genre of feature story, reflecting

a robust appeal to the supernatural.



A variety of guests were seen in the program sample, but there were no celebrity guests. The researchers

counted two interviews with other evangelists. Last there were two interviews with professional guests,

which included segments with experts, authors, doctors and other professionals. The guests often promoted

books written about their Christian experiences, and testimonials on how they used Christianity to achieve success

in their careers or to overcome trials in their lives. There were two interviews with guests classified as "other,"

which did not fall into the previously mentioned categories.



RESULTS OF THE FRAMING ANALYSIS



WhileThe 700 Club frequently invokes the frame of individual sin and individual salvation. For example, in a

feature report on 5/27, "Monty" turns his life around. His alcoholic father had abused him as a child, and as he

grew up he began to drink and fell into a life of crime. He changed for the better and found God's love after a

man came to talk to him in jail. "Monty" later started "Cons for Christ" to help other convicts and he made

amends with his father before he passed away.


Another frame is that giving to the needy of the world will bring material prosperity to the giver. In a commercial

that aired on 11/8, host Terry Meeusen asks viewers to write or call and give their testimonials about the law

of reciprocity. The concept, promoted by Robertson and other televangelists, is that your riches will increase

when you give them to others via contributions to the Christian Broadcasting Network, rather than through

collective action for structural economic reform.


Another frame is Christianity is good, Islam is evil and Christians are being persecuted by Muslims. On 5/27, a






news story titled "Saudi's Deport Christians" reported that two Philippine Christians were deported when a Bible

and Christian music was found in their houses. The "Christians Persecuted" story on 8/8 told of a Jihad

terrorist striking in Indonesia. The "Muslim warriors" attacked a Christian community. Indeed, the 700

Club maintained an anti-Muslim stance almost consistently whenever Islam or Muslims are invoked in the sample.


Christians in the former communist states are in need of Christian revival. Revival is going on in countries around

the world and the 700 Club seems to feel the need is particularly acute in the C.I.S. and other "developing" areas.

A feature on 5/27 discussed how gypsies are accepting Christ "faster than any group." Revival, which began in

1951, has spread to Poland, Russia and Hungary. In the 10/9 show Robertson talks of his trip to the

Philippines where he ministered to 2.8 million at the "Jesus is Lord" Convention. He said, "God wants the

Philippines to be a blessing to Asia."


Miracles are happening for people in developing countries because of televangelism/missionary efforts and

programs. The 8/8 show featured a long interview with another televangelist, Reinhard Bonnke. He is introduced

as "bringing a message of hope in a dark world," as he discussed the success of his crusades in Africa. A

miracle happened at his huge revival meeting when a woman obeyed a message from God to bring her

dead, embalmed husband to Bonnke's revival meeting. According to Bonnke, the man came back to life,

proclaiming to others that he had seen heaven and hell and come back to tell others to be saved.


It is the responsibility of Christians to help people in developing countries. Many commercials showed images

of disadvantaged people being helped, all because of contributions to CBN. For example on 5/27, a commercial

shows emotional testimonials from doctors doing mission work with Indian people. It ends with "join us in sharing
Total 304 the gospel." Another commercial on 7/30 shows images of sad children, Indian people eating, people worshipping,

a sickly African boy in a hospital, and Middle Eastern women praying. The CBN logo is then shown, so it is

understood that CBN is helping these people. The theme of "Christian responsibility to help the

disadvantaged" frames encouraged viewers to support CBN financially. It is through this type of content

that Robertson has secured donations from viewers throughout the years.


Democratic policies and leaders are ineffective. In the 10/9 show, this frame is very clear. After a news story

about how the conservatives were denied judiciary nominations, Robertson says, "Democrats are violating, rules

and protocols and trampling the rights of Republicans. When we get the power, we'll show them the same

courtesy they showed us." On the same program, a story discussed how Republicans are pushing for changes in

the stock market by giving older investors more time to recover their losses. The reporter concluded by saying

"I don't think it will pass in a Democratic Senate." The controversy over removing the words "under God" from

the pledge has also been a frequent topic. In this show, the news reports that The House passed a Bill to keep

the phrase and Democrats placed the only five dissenting votes.




DISCUSSION

We can conclude that more than 20 years after Miller's 1988 study, Pat Robertson's 700 Club remains a

highly political show in which news and other content are framed within a reliably Christian conservative

perspective and where scripture is frequently used to justify conservative social and political ideology.

News discussions on the 700 Club promote a conservative ideology and a significant amount of program time is

spent on news of a political/governmental nature. Robertson organizes the news discussion within a number

of recurring themes to promote conservative views and reinforces this with his commentaries.






The frequency of references to problems in developing countries is apparent in a variety of segments. From

stories about tension between India and Pakistan to revival meetings in the Philippines and Africa and

missionary work, the 700 Club devotes significant program time to international issues. Government and

politics dominate the news content of the program. It is not surprising then that terrorism is frequently

discussed: what is noteworthy is that on the program aired 8/8/2002, Robertson recommends prayer while

endorsing "a surgical strike to attack Saddam and execute him," as a solution to the problem.


Limitations of this Study
The research was limited by having a small sample and difficulties in constructing a reliable
instrument to measure the exact number of times each theme or frame occurred. Future research
should be based on a larger sample and conduct a more exhaustive framing analysis.



REFERENCES
Babbie, Earl. (1992). The Practice of Social Research, 6th ed. Wadsworth: Belmont, CA.

Christian Broadcasting Network website (www.cbn.com). Accessed November 2002.

Entman, Robert M. and Andrew Rojecki (2000). The Black Image in the White Mind. University of
Chicago Press: Chicago.

Gifford (1991). The New Crusaders: Christianity and the New Right in Southern Africa. Pluto
Press: Concord.

Hoover, Stewart Mark. (1985). The "700 Club" as Religion and as Television: A Study of Reasons
and Effects. University Microfilms International: Ann Arbor.

Miller, Kennith W. (1983). Political Content in Two Religious Television Programs: The PTL Club
and. (Master's Thesis, University of Florida: Gainesville, FL.

Robertson, Pat. (1991). The New World Order. Word Publishing: Dallas.


REFERENCES


1. First


2. Second


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