The presence of women and African Americans not simply as viewers, but also as televangelists and station owners in their own right has dramatically changed the face of American religious broadcasting in recent decades. Colored Television looks at the influence of these ministries beyond the United States, where complex gospels of prosperity and gospels of sexual redemption mutually inform one another while offering hopeful yet socially contested narratives of personal uplift. As an ethnography, Colored Television illuminates the phenomenal international success of American TV preachers like T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, and Juanita Bynum. Focusing particularly on Jamaica and the Caribbean, it also explores why the genre has resonated so powerfully around the world. Investigating the roles of producers, consumers, and distributors, Marla Frederick takes a unique look at the ministries, the communities they enter, and the global markets of competition that buffer them.
About the Author
Marla F. Frederick is Professor of African and African American Studies and of the Study of Religion at Harvard University.
Read an Excerpt
American Religion Gone Global
By Marla F. Frederick
STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2016 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
"JAMAICA, LAND WE LOVE"
Eternal Father, Bless our Land,
Guard us with thy mighty hand,
Keep us free from evil powers,
Be our light through countless hours,
To our leaders, great defender,
Grant true wisdom from above,
Justice, truth be ours forever,
Jamaica, land we love,
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica, land we love.
The words to the national anthem/national prayer came forth full-throated and passionately as folks stood for the opening of the pastors' and leaders' conference shortly after the death of the Brown family. There was urgency in the air. I sat in the bleachers, listening attentively. The opening ceremony painted a picture of the change these faith leaders envisioned for their country. As the conference commenced, a stunning cascade of bodies waving gold, green, and black sheets moved seamlessly through the aisles toward center stage of the auditorium. Intertwining the cloth into the most exquisite formations symbolizing a strong and unified Jamaica, the dancers glided rhythmically with the music. Love of Jamaica, dedication to Jamaica, and a fierce loyalty to the faith of the Christians gathered set the tone for the opening ceremony. This conference was billed as a coming together of faith communities to intercede on behalf of their troubled land, asking God to help them. Toward the end of the opening performance, attendees sang the second stanza:
Teach us true respect for all
Stir response to duty's call
Strengthen us the weak to cherish
Give us vision lest we perish
Knowledge send us, Heavenly Father,
Grant true wisdom from above
Justice, truth be ours forever
Jamaica, land we love
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica, land we love.
It wasn't the first time that I had heard the song, nor would it be the last. Jamaicans across the island prayed for God to intervene on behalf of what the speakers that day described as a country losing touch with its roots. The growing tide of violence, an escalating population of single mothers, lack of economic resources, and a government at odds with one another and the community served to complicate the work of faith leaders. Ministers and state officials rue the irony of the popular report that Jamaica has both the highest number of churches per capita of any country in the world and the highest murder rate per capita of any country not at war. Such a dubious distinction was only exacerbated by the repeated mantra that the country also has the highest number of out-of-wedlock births at roughly 90 percent of the population, 95 percent in Kingston alone. The reasons for these striking statistics are debated. Structural reasons include the rise and fall of socialist leadership in the twentieth century; the overpopulation of the cities and resultant unemployment as rural migrants relocated for work during the postwar era; the struggling democratic process with ongoing political violence and intimidation from the two leading political parties, the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP); and the economic policies in the late twentieth century that left Jamaica, like other Caribbean nations, indebted to organizations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) through heavy interest-bearing loans. More conservative voices fault a decline in moral leadership; cultures of corruption in politics and business; and a move away from God's laws.
To address such concerns, Rev. Al Miller, pastor of one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Kingston and organizer of the conference, brought in two international speakers, Dr. Sunday Adelaja and the late Dr. Myles Munroe, whose private plane crashed in the Bahamas in the fall of 2014, killing him, his wife, and seven other passengers. Munroe was president/CEO/chairman of Bahamas Faith Ministries International, a nonprofit organization that serves as a "Christian Growth and Resource Centre, a charismatic teaching fellowship, and an International Outreach Centre." Like a number of leading televangelists today, Munroe was trained under the preeminent televangelist Oral Roberts at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There, he grew close to the school's founder: "Papa Roberts," as Munroe called his former mentor, gave him his first television appearance. After his training in the United States, Munroe became one of the, if not the most popular, religious voices from the Caribbean. Sunday Adelaja is the Nigerian-born founding pastor of the Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations in Kyiv, Ukraine, which claims to be the largest Charismatic church in Eastern Europe, reporting more than one hundred thousand members. While both Pentecostal ministers have been influential in their own right as religious leaders in their respective countries, they gained international recognition as a result of their large and ever- expanding media ministries.
During the opening ceremony, each man spoke passionately about what is required for Jamaica to succeed and experience God's promise for the country. One of the first limitations that believers needed to conquer was their own fear. Drawing on their own experiences of divine favor, the pastors encouraged audience members to be bold and courageous in their fight for Jamaica. Only then could they implement an agenda that would set the stage for the return of Jamaica's greatness. Thus, Munroe and Adelaja tasked their listeners with ambitious programs of social change, insisting that the ministers present must, in Munroe's words, "lead the way in bringing a reconstruction and a renewal to the great nation of Jamaica." To that end, both pastors suggested that the challenge for audience members was to ensure that "church" transcended Sunday-morning worship spaces to encompass the bar, the mall, and the grocery store. Their preaching emphasized human problems and human solutions: they located the cause of social disorder in faithlessness rather than demonic activity and called for solutions that relied on the resolve and initiative of the men and women gathered at the conference.
Munroe began by praising Jamaica's natural richness — its beautiful mountains, rivers, and beaches — and by challenging listeners to remember that Jamaica was a product of divine providence. He asked those present to lead Jamaica to live up to its providential origins by educating the country's citizens about the word of God: "Our purpose in this country as the church is to turn the entire country into a classroom, and we are the teacher." He argued that God was not after a church but a nation and Christians must accordingly draw upon God's instructions "for nation building" and scripture, which he argued contained penal codes, social norms, standards of hygiene, and property laws — in short, "everything to run a country."
Munroe's rousing remarks repeatedly struck a positive note: he radiated confidence that Jamaican believers could renew their nation in the light of God's will. Yet implicit in Munroe's narrative about Jamaica's bright future was a clear subtext that all was not well in the Jamaican present. Sunday Adelaja developed this subtext at length. Unlike Munroe, Adelaja repeatedly referenced crime, violence, and political instability in Jamaica. And the "state of the church" on the island, Adelaja bluntly asserted, was one of "groping in darkness," of attempting to move forward while believers' "eyes are closed." Yet Adelaja also voiced conviction that Jamaicans could find the light, in this case by cultivating a religious commitment that transcended personal piety and political quietism: "Nobody has a calling to sit in pews and in church. We all have a calling to change the world." Thus, Adelaja called on listeners to transform themselves in order to transform Jamaican society: "What we pastors are supposed to be doing is raisin' up people that God could trust with Jamaica." By converting believers from "children of God" into "sons of God," the pastors present could claim the masculinist authority necessary to end violence, crime, and other features of moral and political disorder.
As evidence for the efficacy of this kind of transformation, Adelaja spoke of the accomplishments of his church in the Ukraine. He detailed how all individual members were responsible for an "area of life they are claiming back for God," be it art, sports, education, business, or politics. And referring to larger signs of the times, Adelaja discerned in the triumph of democracy over communism evidence that God indeed was working on behalf of the Ukrainian people. Not only were they now able to vote, participate in public decisions, and freely worship God without fear of retaliation, but they were also able to enjoy the fruits of hard labor offered by the entrepreneurial spirit of capitalism. In his church an entrepreneur's ministry had started and was now thriving as Christians used their ostensibly God-inspired drives to create capital for the families and communities that had struggled under communism. Jamaicans needed this emboldened spirit of purpose and destiny, he declared. They simply needed to seize the many opportunities that God was opening up to them.
Months earlier, at another event, Pastor Robb of New Life Assemblies of God church in Kingston brought in a speaker from abroad to address the concerns of Jamaicans. Streamed in via live satellite broadcast, the famed African American televangelist Bishop T. D. Jakes spoke to a crowd of thousands outside Robb's church. Touted by Time magazine as possibly the "next Billy Graham," Jakes is the pastor of Potter's House in Dallas, Texas, with a congregation of more than thirty thousand. He has drawn hundreds of thousands to his "Woman Thou Art Loosed," "Man Power," and "MegaFest" conferences. In 1999 his first Mega-Fest conference drew more than 560,000 people over a four-day period to the Atlanta Convention Center. By 2005, Jakes's website claims, the same event was broadcast live via satellite to over 350 US prisons and more than two-thirds of the world's population.
Sitting both on the ground and in the chairs provided, the crowd gathered at Robb's church watched one of T. D. Jakes's penultimate MegaFest gatherings in the United States before making its first international appearance in South Africa in 2008. (The conference returned to the States shortly thereafter.) The open-air gathering in Kingston was not simply for pastors and leaders but also for the larger community. People came from across Kingston and the surrounding area. Jakes's message that day, though directed at the people in the United States gathered in the Atlanta Dome, served as a message equally relevant to the people in Jamaica. At times Jakes broke from his scheduled program and addressed those viewing via satellite from church communities in Australia, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. Instantaneously, his message, understood by his followers to be one of hope and possibility, became a message for the world.
Religion, Globalization, and Market Logics
These moments dramatically suggest the extent to which local religious communities have become global. Such moments mark the sharing of "religious" ideas as well as the exchange of ideas about how religious communities should engage society in response to issues such as political unrest, economic instability, gender, sexuality, and consumerism. When religious figures speak, they pass along a set of social and cultural values along with spiritual values. While religious messages in the Christian tradition have historically crossed borders primarily through missionary efforts across Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, this new moment marks an extraordinary expansion of these efforts. Pastors Munroe and Adelaja spoke in Kingston not only about "accepting Jesus" but also about confronting the powers of government, responding to the conditions of poverty, and amassing courage to engage the current of violence sweeping Jamaica. When Jakes broadcast his message, he was already well known across Jamaica for his discourses on how to "heal" broken and disempowered women. These ideas about social, political, and economic transformation travel as quickly as messages of salvation, eternal life, and sanctification. The messages of contemporary evangelists are as much about how to overcome abuse, get out of debt, and secure a home as they are about how to reach heaven. If nothing else, these messages demonstrate the porous borders between the "sacred" and "profane." Under democratic liberalism, theologies like the Trinity pass as fluidly over borders as ideologies like American capitalism.
Conversations between religious communities across the African Diaspora are not new. This is keenly highlighted in Randy Matory's Black Atlantic Religions and plays out more assiduously for the purposes of this text in the context of Christian missions. In his compelling critique of transnationalism, Matory argues that all religions are integrally transnational; thus, the new focus on globalization and transnationalism in the social sciences indicates a quantitative rather than qualitative difference in practice. Matory contends that the focus on "Abrahamic" traditions causes scholars to privilege analysis from a nation-state, territorialized perspective without considering the ways in which "spirit possession" traditions, like Yoruba, have always embodied translocal flows. In Three Eyes for the Journey: African Dimensions of the Jamaican Religious Experience, Dianne Stewart offers an important rendering of these types of flows as they relate specifically to religious life in Jamaica. Further demonstrating that these conversations are not new, the contemporary study of global Christianity, especially among people in the African Diaspora, draws heavily on a history of missions.
Black religion in the United States, for example, has historically been engaged in international dialogue with religious leaders and laypersons throughout West Africa, South Africa, Europe, India, and Latin America. Well-established mission work by black Baptists through organizations such as the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention and the women's missionary association of the Methodist Church helped black Christians set sail to spread the gospel, particularly to African countries like Liberia. Individual missionaries, such as Betsey Stockton, Lucy Henry Coles, Jane Sharp, Harriette Presley, Julia Smith, Nancy Jones, Henriette Ousley, Mrs. M. H. Garnett Barboza, Nora Gordon, Clara Howard, Anna E. Hall, Dr. Francis Davis, and Susan Collins, were some of the first black women missionaries sent to Africa from the United States. Historian Bettye Collier-Thomas contends that even while encumbered by their own ethnocentrism, the two primary concerns of the black missionary boards were "the need for uplifting and improving the status of Africans in the motherland, and countering a white Protestant missionary theology emphasizing paternalism and racial superiority."
Long-standing debates about religion and how to best uplift the race have been carried out in legendary Pan-African dialogues and dialogues between African Americans such as Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary McLeod Bethune, Benjamin Elijah Mays, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Howard Thurman, and international leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey, and Mohandas Gandhi. In discussing the life of Benjamin Elijah Mays, historian Randal Jelks opines that "arguably, the black religious diaspora has lasted longer than many other social networks described by scholars between black Americans and those in Africa and Latin America. Though black internationalism had roots in Protestant missions, it has received far less scholarly attention than the diasporic links rooted in political radicalism."
Embedded in these conversations have been broad questions about the role of Christianity in the social and economic plight of a people, the possibilities for strategic ecumenical alliances, and the potential for peaceful civil disobedience. The history of America as a Christian nation built on the economic exploitation and enslavement of African Americans long served as a critique of American Christianity from the time of the earliest enslaved people, to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century black religious leaders and abolitionists, to twentieth- and twenty-first-century civil rights leaders. Given the predominance of Christianity in the United States and the brutal exploitation of Blacks under slavery and Jim Crow, the questions these leaders posed forced them to consider how race and economic privilege operated together to form what Cornel West more recently and quite aptly calls "Constantinian Christianity," an unholy alliance of religious interests with state and economic interests. These international dialogues reflect a history in which religion was critical of the expansions and abuses of the market even as, historian Albert Raboteau points out, it was at times implicated: for example, when black emigrationists weighed the noble cause of returning to Africa to offer missionary-type assistance with the opportunities that such a return might yield in economic gain through the opening up of new markets.
Excerpted from Colored Television by Marla F. Frederick. Copyright © 2016 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
Contents and Abstracts
The introduction includes a statement on the methodology used to complete this ethnography as well as an outline of individual chapters. It further highlights the three theoretical interventions of this text. These include firstly, the insistence that the web of religious broadcasting cannot be understood without a full appreciation of the aims, motivations and desires of all those involved – producers, consumers and distributors. Secondly, Colored Television takes seriously the discourse of intersectionality, arguing that the issues of race, class and gender explored in this book help explain elements present in the rise of both gospels of prosperity and increasingly important discourses around sexuality. Finally, while not reducing religion solely to market forces, this work argues that the business of broadcasting fundamentally alters religion and the experiences of the faithful.
1"Jamaica, Land We Love"
Chapter one frames the discussion of religious broadcasting in terms of globalization, neoliberalism and the history of American religious media. Exploring briefly the history of African American religious missions, it argues that religious globalization is not new. However, in the hyper-mediated form of religious broadcasting, new elements of globalization, more resonate with neoliberal market logics, take precedence. In articulating these moves, the chapter outlines the history of American religious broadcasting, explaining the significance of the switch to paid time broadcasting that ultimately catapulted religious broadcasting into the world of religious media competition.
2"Religious Dandyism: Prosperity and Performance in Black Televangelism"
Given the emergence of popular images of televangelists as wealthy, status-driven media personalities who embody the prototypical, rags-to-riches American success story, Chapter Two explores the history of the emergence African Americans as televangelists. The chapter argues that race and American racism played as much a part in the development of these character types as the theologies of Word of Faith or neo-Pentecostal personalities. In many ways the presentation of "Americanness" through the acquisition of the American dream – fine cars, tailored suits, lavish lifestyles – provided an image of racial uplift that was missing from black protest religion. The story of Rev. Frederick Eikenrenkoetter and other leading black televangelists contextualize the ways in which the flamboyant dress style, or "religious dandyism" of ministers was as much about creating a narrative of possibility for colored people as it was about the fashion and egoism of the preacher.
3"Relative Prosperity: Lived Religion in the "Dying Field"
Chapter three explores how American theologies of prosperity are appropriated by viewers in Jamaica. As neoliberalism exports the utopian ideal of the "free market" to countries around the globe, developing countries are often confined by the realities of their local often underdeveloped and/or exploited (exploitable) markets. Living under challenging economic pressures, local Jamaicans make sense of imported gospels of prosperity by developing more complicated, relative understandings of the nature of prosperity. Those in the viewing audience who receive messages of health and wealth in the face of poverty and affliction often interpret prosperity as relative in terms of time, space and constitution.
4"Female Televangelists and the Gospel of Sexual Redemption"
Chapter four looks at the phenomenal influence of women televangelists. It argues that women's ascendance in religious broadcasting is often influenced by their personal testimonies of sexual trauma and God's power to redeem and restore their lives. Their "gospels of sexual redemption" recalling experiences of rape, incest, early pregnancy, divorce and sexual promiscuity opens up important, though limited, discursive space for the discussion of sexuality among female religious viewers. The chapter discusses evangelists Paula White and Joyce Meyer, giving particular attention to the influence of Juanita Bynum, an African American woman whose testimony of abuse and sexual promiscuity garnered her tremendous popularity in the US and abroad.
Chapter five examines how the social and economic conditions in which Jamaican women find themselves often inform their experiences of sexuality. These experiences in turn influence how women relate to the messages of sexual redemption preached by televangelists. The chapter argues that while religious broadcasting offers a conservative approach to the practice of sexuality, confining sexual activity to marriage and offering a masculinist narrative of female submission to male authority, it also offers women an opportunity to redefine their sexual histories and make sense of personal tragedy. For women from traditional religious backgrounds, the personal theodicies of women evangelists who share their stories of abuse, out of wedlock childbirth and sexual promiscuity offer viewers opportunities to recast their own sexual histories in light of redemptive narratives.
6"Distributing the Message: Globalization and the Spread of Black Televangelism"
Chapter six explores the power of distributors and the meanings of race in the global market. Scholars of religious broadcasting have long discussed the influence of politically and theologically conservative Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the largest religious cable network in the world. This chapter explores the emergence of black owned networks and networks which cater to "urban" African American markets, such as TV One in the United States and Mercy and Truth Ministries and Love TV in Jamaica, which make room for a different kind of religious broadcasting format, presumably informed by different social commitments. It asks how these new outlets for religious broadcasting negotiate the demands of the neoliberal marketplace and attempt to create an alternative vision of the intersection of religion and the market in a post-civil rights, post-apartheid, post-colonialist historical moment.
7"Conclusion: Voices of the Next Generation"
The Conclusion focuses on the increasing influence of the Internet, over and against religious television broadcasting. Here questions are raised as to how the emergence of the Internet, like the shift to paid time broadcasting in the 1960s, might ultimately reshape religious broadcasting. Focused on the success of a ministry in Atlanta, Ga that has grown largely through internet broadcasting, the final chapter wonders whether, given the changes in technology, whether the the contours of what we have come to understand as popular religion will eventually shift to something that moves beyond prosperity messages and self help proclamations? As the democratization of religious media through the internet and social media sites takes full shape, it is likely that popular religious media narratives will be disrupted by people from across the globe and the theological spectrum, not just those savvy and wealthy enough to survive on religious television.