God comes from…..the TV?
Televangelist. At first glance, the word might seem to mean an angel from the television considering it has both “tele” and “angel” within it. However, upon further research, the word is defined as a preacher who conducts religious services on either television or radio. Knowing little about televangelists is fine if one does not regularly watch cable or practice religion, but for a majority of middle class Americans, televangelism has a large influence on political and social issues. Recently, John Oliver produced an expose on televangelism in which he expands on the numerous issues that arise from the actions of various televangelists. Known to many as con artists, televangelists take advantage of the fear of people in bad situations and advance their political agenda through manipulating the media.
Health, happiness, and financial stability. These are the few things that televangelists promise they can deliver if their viewers follow their guidance. As shown in the Oliver video, there are numerous examples by which televangelists are able to take advantage of the fear people have over various issues. One such example is cancer. Bonnie Parker, a woman who was suffering from the illness, chose to not receive medical treatment for the disease because of the preaching given by Kenneth and Gloria Copeland on how faith is a much stronger healer than anything else. This is a classic example of how televangelists are able to use people’s perceptions towards their benefit. As theorized by Ramji, ideas and images shown through mass media truly have an impact on viewers in that they believe what they are seeing and practicing is reflective of the world (Ramji, 68). Universally, religion can be seen as a symbol of confidence for most and can help most overcome certain personal issues. This, combined with the ideology of popular culture being that which is liked by people, can show how televangelism has been a favorable option for viewers who seek solutions for their problems (Parker, 150). Knowing this, televangelists are able to take full advantage of their viewers and scam them out of numerous amounts of money.
Manipulation of the media is a major tool in the hands of televangelists. Relating back to the TEDxTeen talk given by Sana Amnat, mass media has the power to influence people to believe in ideas and principles about others and themselves. In light of the recent election, one of television’s major televangelists Kenneth Copeland has made the claim that if the viewers of his program do not vote, they are going to be “guilty of murder” and be “guilty of an abomination of God” (Bailey). Seeing as these pertain to an opinion on the issue of abortion, Copeland encompasses the tactic of manipulating his output of media to advance his political agenda onto his viewers. Another example which is discussed in the Oliver video, pertains to the case of televangelists appealing to their audiences to try and convince them that a private jet is necessary to their organization. Certain claims include that the pastors are “too famous” and that commercial planes are “filled with demons” (Kanoy).
Essentially, as mentioned before by J.Z. Smith in an interview, religion is a human activity that interacts with divine entities and does so through cultural mechanisms. Encompassing religion as one large human activity, televangelists are able to take advantage of this and make it seem as if they are the experts. Even though it may seem that they are immune to the law, several televangelists over the years have been investigated for fraud and the news has started to paint a picture of televangelists as being scam artists and con-men.
1. Ramji, Rubina. “Representations of Islam in American News and Film: Becoming the ‘Other’.” In Mediating Religion: Conversations in Media, Religion, and Culture. Ed. Jolyon Mitchell and Sophia Marriage, 65–72. London: T&T Clark, 2003.
2. Parker, Holt N. “Toward A Definition Of Popular Culture.” History and Theory 50 (2011): 147–70.
3. Bailey, Sarah Pulliam. “Televangelist: Christians Who Don’t Vote Are ‘going to Be Guilty of Murder’.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 11 Oct. 2016. Web.
4. Kanoy, Liz. “5 Reasons a Televangelist Needs a Private Plane.” Crosswalk.com. N.p., 4 Jan. 2016. Web.
5. Amnat, Sana. “Myths, Misfits & Masks” TEDxTeen. 2014. Lecture