Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism

Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism

Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism

Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism


Through their constant television broadcasts, mass video distributions, and printed publications, African American religious broadcasters have a seemingly ubiquitous presence in popular culture. They are on par with popular entertainers and athletes in the African American community as cultural icons even as they are criticized by others for taking advantage of the devout in order to subsidize their lavish lifestyles.

For these reasons questions abound. Do televangelists proclaim the message of the gospel or a message of greed? Do they represent the "authentic" voice of the black church or the Christian Right in blackface? Does the phenomenon reflect orthodox "Christianity" or ethnocentric "Americaninity" wrapped in religious language?

Watch This! seeks to move beyond such polarizing debates by critically delving into the dominant messages and aesthetic styles of African American televangelists and evaluating their ethical implications.


There's room at the cross for you, There's room at the cross for you;
Tho' millions have come, There's still room for one—
Yes, there's room at the cross for you.

—“There's Room at the Cross for You,”
in African American Heritage Hymnal

Religious broadcasting is an essential proselytizing tool of American evangelical Christianity. This fact is undeniable. Many have addressed the intersections between the mass media and religion as they relate to the development of the Christian Right (read conservative, white evangelicalism). But televangelism in the African American community has been largely ignored. This is unfortunate. There is a widespread misconception among the dominant society that religious broadcasting in America was and remains the sole domain of white men with shellacked hair, the grin of a car salesman, and a gaudily adorned spouse. I have discovered this to be particularly the case among those in academe. In sharing the subject matter of this book with many of my progressive, credentialed, and mostly white colleagues, I often received responses like “Oh, I didn't know there were African American televangelists.” This comment was often followed by a head-scratching query: “I thought members of the black church opposed the Religious Right?”

Now I realize that such responses have to do, in part, with the prevailing image of televangelists in popular culture. The 1980s and 1990s introduced the larger American public to the subculture of Christian religious broadcasting in precipitous and problematic ways. The dramaladen world of Christian broadcasting supplied national news outlets . . .

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