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Televangelism is the use of television to communicate the Christian faith. The word is a blend 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.

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.

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.


Evangelical Christianity has always emphasised preaching the gospel to the whole world and attempting to convert as many people as possible. Historically, this was achieved by sending missionaries and the distribution of bibles and literature. 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 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. Another pioneer in television evangelism was Rex Humbard. But no early user of television for preaching could rival Oral Roberts, who put together a network 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.


Televangelists are the subject of considerable controversy. Both their methods and theology have received widespread criticism from both church and secular sources. Many televangelists are featured on discernment websites run by Christians that are concerned about what they see as departures from sound Christian faith. The following are amongst the issues that have been raised:

  • Lack of accountability. Many televangelists exist outside of established churches. They have little or no oversight from denominational structures and many are accountable to no-one. In cases where their ministry is run by a board of directors, this is frequently made up of family members and other people who will not challenge the televangelist. Other televangelists, however, are members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, an independent organisation which promotes high financial standards amongst Christian ministries.
  • Supernatural theology. Many televangelists hold charismatic or Pentecostal viewpoints, believing in spiritual gifts, divine healing, and other miracles. These subjects remain controversial within Christian thinking. In some instances, claims of miracles have been shown to be fraudulent.
  • Flamboyant lifestyles. Some televangelists have accumulated significant personal wealth from their ministries and own large properties, luxury cars, and even private jets. This is seen by critics to be contradictory to Christian principles. There is also frequently confusion between personal and ministry assets.
  • Financial emphasis. Televangelism requires substantial amounts of money to produce programs and purchase airtime on cable and satellite networks. Televangelists devote much time to fundraising activities. Products such as books, CDs, DVDs, and trinkets with supposedly miraculous powers, are aggressively promoted to viewers. Opponents regard such an emphasis as inappropriate and also question whether the money would be better used relieving poverty or employing traditional missionaries.
  • Personality cult. Traditional Christian teaching emphasises the following of Jesus and not a particular preacher, however televangelism tends to build a personality cult around the televangelist.
  • Health and wealth teaching. Many televangelists preach a prosperity gospel that promises material success to believers, subject to their generous donations to the “work of God”, which inevitably means the televangelist. This is regarded as a serious heresy by other Christians.
  • False prophecies. Numerous televangelists have issued false prophecies, for example Benny Hinn's claim that Fidel Castro would die in the 1990s, or Pat Robertson's claim that the War in Iraq would end in 2006. Other televangelists have made false prophecies of the Second Coming.
  • False teaching. Televangelists frequently depart from or add to traditional Christian doctrines.
  • Entertainment focus. The style of televangelism seems to mirror that of the secular entertainment industry, with emphasis on celebrity, slick production, and aggressive marketing.
  • Disputed success. 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. It has also been questioned whether non-believers actually watch Christian television.

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" in the 21st century.


Main article: Christian televangelist scandals

Numerous televangelists have been at the center of well-publicised scandals, including financial, sexual, and religious.

Many televangelists promote the doctrine of divine healing and would claim that God can heal people through them. Christian views on this subject vary, and it is seen as pseudoscience and charlatanry by non-Christians. A number of claims of healing miracles made by televangelists have been exposed as fraud, for example in the case of Peter Popoff.

A series of scandals in the 1980s resulted in the fall from grace of some famous televangelists, such as Jim Bakker, who served a prison sentence for financial improprieties associated with his ministry, and Jimmy Swaggart, who made a famous tearful confession to a dalliance with a prostitute. They have continued preaching, nonetheless, even though their audiences may be a small fraction of what they were at the height of their popularity.

Controversial claims have also been made by some, as when Oral Roberts told his television audience in 1987 that he had to raise $8 million in donations or "God would call him home". He ended up raising $9.1 million.[9]. Shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell said that it was divine retribution provoked by rampant sexual immorality. In 2005, Robertson announced on The 700 Club that Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez ought to be "taken out" by the US government. Many viewed this as a call for assassination. Later that year, in November, Robertson warned the town of Dover, Pennsylvania of a severe natural disaster following the defeat of the local school board for advocating intelligent design.

Brazil is also a country in which televangelists have found success, and some have faced accusations of improprieties. In 1992, Edir Macedo, a Brazilian televangelist and founder of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God was imprisoned for accusations of charlatanism, and spent some days in prison. More recently, in 2002, the Época magazine, controlled by Globo media group published two new articles making accusations at Igreja Renascer em Cristo. In 2006, Brazilian Justice blocked all goods of the Hernandes couple, leaders of the church because of accusations of money laundering, fraud and identity theft.

In Popular Culture

Televangelism has brought the relatively obscure culture of Pentecostal Christianity to a wider (and secular) audience.

  • In 2001 the German video artist Christian Jankowski collaborated with televangelist Pastor Peter Spencer to create a piece called "The Holy Artwork". In the video Jankowski collapses on the stage and the pastor delivers a long sermon about art, using Jankowski's work in video as a metaphor to explain Christian beliefs. While this video was a type of collaboration between the artist and pastor they each have separate objectives and it is ultimately not clear whether the piece is mocking the cultural phenomenon of televangelism or helping to promote it (or both).
  • Televangelism is a popular subject for parody and satire in popular culture. The Bloom County comic strip was one of the most notable and frequent spoofers, featuring a local Moral Majority leader and, later, Bill the Cat preaching as "Oral Bill". Films spoofing televangelism include Pray TV, Salvation!, Fletch Lives, Pass the Ammo, while the subject got a more serious if still farcical treatment in The People vs. Larry Flynt. Adult magazines including Flynt's Hustler have often spoofed televangelism. Many songs by Frank Zappa are sharp satires of televangelism, for example: "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing", "Dumb All Over", "Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk". In 1987, Bruce Hornsby composed an anti-televangelism song in response to the corruption of several TV preachers including Jimmy Swaggart and the Bakers, entitled "Jacob's Ladder", which became a #1 single for his friend and former producer Huey Lewis(Hornsby released his own version of the song on his 1989 album Scenes From The Southside).In 1991, Genesis released a song called "Jesus He Knows Me" that satirised televangelism. Also, The Mirrorball Man, a scandalous televangelist was one of the personas of U2's Bono during the American legs of their Zoo TV tour also was a parody of televangelists.
  • A critically acclaimed televangelist film is Robert Duvall's movie The Apostle, which he wrote, directed, financed and starred in. The Apostle includes sequences starring real televangelists in a tag-team revival meeting.
  • Elmer Gantry is a 1927 novel by Sinclair Lewis. It tells the story of a young, obnoxious, womanizing college athlete who, upon realizing the power, prestige, and easy money that being a preacher can bring, pursues his "religious" ambitions with relish, contributing to the downfall, even death, of key people around him as the years pass. Although he continues to womanize, is often exposed as a fraud, and frequently faces a complete downfall, Gantry is never fully discredited and always manages to emerge triumphant and to reach ever greater heights of social status. The novel ends as the Rev. Gantry prays for the USA to be a "moral nation" and simultaneously admires the legs of a new choir singer. The 1960 film of the same name starred Burt Lancaster as Gantry and Jean Simmons as Sister Sharon Falconer.
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Televangelism. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.