The God Pumpers: Religion in the Electronic Age

The God Pumpers: Religion in the Electronic Age

The God Pumpers: Religion in the Electronic Age

The God Pumpers: Religion in the Electronic Age


The rituals of religion these days as practiced in the United States on television, have become big theatre, a big show. Televangelism is big business, amounting to billions of dollars each year. Televangelists discussed are Billy Graham, Jimmy Swaggert, Jerry Falwell, Jim and Tammy Bakker, Terry Cole-Whittaker, Marilyn Hickey, Danuto Rylko Soderman, and Beverly LaHaye.


If the God Pumpers have God Fathers, Oral Roberts is surely one of them. For two generations he has canvassed the land, by tent, auditorium, radio, television. in 1954 his "old time" television set a new style. Twelve years later he left the air, worked out a new "cooler" variety show format, and produced a 1970 Thanksgiving Special that reached 27 million viewers. With him, televangelism came of age.

But there was more. in 1987 he announced that God had appeared and told him he would "take Oral home" if he failed to raise another eight million dollars for his financially-troubled City of Faith in Tulsa. Celestial blackmail! Even some of Oral's staunch admirers gasped at the implications—pay up or drop dead. Some stations even refused to carry future programs that used this tactic. Once again, Oral was exploring new turf.

So was Pat Robertson, who announced that he would not run for the office of President of the United States in 1988 unless three million people petitioned him to do so, and save the Republic. a few years earlier this might have seemed like a regional joke; but by 1987 it was national news, with major newspapers, magazines, and talk shows featuring it. the Iran arms scandal greatly aided his case—the godless would lead us to ruin. For the first time in history two ordained hell-fire preachers— Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson—were seen as major stars in the political heaven, power brokers who might even sway elections.

Other once-obscure televangelists came center stage. Newsweek carried a long story on Jim and Tammy Baker's Heritage, usa, a 2,300 acres Christian theme park just south of Charlotte, N.C., which intended to be a Disneyland for the Devout. in centuries past Christian pilgrims had headed for Canterbury or Lourdes; but today's Bible-hugging Christians choose Heritage usa, with family entertainment courtesy of the Holy Spirit. There are baptisms every Tuesday in the hotel swimming pool; a high-tech Passion play in the amphitheater; and (for night owls) a 2 a.m. daily wafers-and-grapejuice communion service. There is also a water park featuring the world's largest wave pool and a 52-foot water slide that sends Christians careering at 40 mph. and there was more: a full-scale flaming scandal, complete with adultery, wife-swapping, corruption, and blackmail. Televangelism jumped off the religious channels into prime time news. the fires are still raging as we put this book together in the summer of 1987.

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