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Religious broadcasters under pressure

Religious broadcasters aren’t going postal, like their ecclesiastical print brethren. But they are under similar grinding pressure.

They’re squeezed between aging audiences, economy-driven declines in ad revenue and donations and competition from free, Web-based audio and video.

Paul Creasman, associate professor of communications at Southern Wesleyan University in Central, S.C. told the Religion News Service:

The industry is at a crossroads. The audience is dwindling, and they have to figure out what to do. But the Web is not the answer because older audiences don’t use the Internet . . . and younger audiences will go to the Web for content, but they’ll probably be less likely to donate.

So broadcasters are cutting back, postponing investment and otherwise trying to hold on. the Religion News Service reported:

  • Christian radio giant Salem Communications sold four stations, cut 10 percent of its workforce and trimmed 5% off all salaries. Salem’s stock prices still tumbled 74 percent last year to less than $1 per share.
  • Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the nation’s largest Christian TV network, has laid off workers and scrambled to fill programming holes as T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer and other big-name ministries cut costs by producing fewer shows.
  • Focus on the Family, which has produced James Dobson’s radio show since 1977, has eliminated about 450 jobs (30 percent of its workforce) since 2004, including 200 job cuts since November.

Content sources have also been drying up, and not just for TBN. Adelle Banks of Religion News Service wrote last month:

. . . fewer megachurches are involved in TV and radio ministry; the percentage of megachurches with a radio ministry dropped from 44 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2008. Likewise, the percentage with television ministries dropped from 38 percent to 23 percent.

For years, Christian broadcasters have speculated that part of the future inevitably lay in moving their content online. As with newspapers, the prevailing wisdom is adapt to the digital age or die. And as with print newspaper Web services, online isn’t paying current bills.

Otherwise, they’re experimenting with formats, launching new online ministries and hoping for enough in donations to keep them afloat.

Again from Religion News Service:

“You don’t find businesses making sacrifices to make sure advertising dollars are paid to broadcasters. That’s not part of their paradigm,” said Craig Parshall, senior vice president of the National Religious Broadcasters, a 1,400-member organization that held its annual convention last weekend (Feb. 7-10) in Nashville.

“But individual families are willing to be sacrificial because of the mission of Christian broadcasting.”

Are they? Still? Anyone who has worked at a newspaper until it closed its doors can recall that belief that things would somehow continue as in the past, until they didn’t.

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February 12, 2009 Posted by | Religion, WWW | , , , , | 1 Comment

‘Sightings’ ekes wisdom from WSJ headlines

Lutheran historian and theologian Martin Marty seeks perspective on our economic predicament by interleaving Wall Street Journal headlines with passages from the King James Bible.

His current Sightings column is complex, satisfying in its Psalm 146:3 warnings against “trust in princes,” and offres a hopeful postscript:

Reinhold Niebuhr, in The Irony of American History, comments about Psalm 2:4’s “sting of judgment upon our vanities,” that “if the [divine] laughter is truly ironic it must symbolize mercy as well as judgment. For whenever judgment defines the limits of human striving it creates the possibility of an humble acceptance of those limits. Within that humility mercy and peace find a lodging place.”

Read the rest here.

February 12, 2009 Posted by | Religion | , | Comments Off on ‘Sightings’ ekes wisdom from WSJ headlines

Charles Darwin, age seven

Charles Darwin, age 7, in 1816

Charles Darwin, age 7, in 1816

Spero News, writing of a planned Pontifical Gregorian University perspective on Darwin to take place in Rome on 3-7 March 2009, reports:

In reality from a theological perspective, illustrated by Fr Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, professor of fundamental theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, there is “a well established” tradition “that reconciles the notion of creation with the idea that the world evolves in time and history, a world where events which we consider causal are possible,” and “where catastrophes, extinctions and a certain opposition among species exists.”

February 12, 2009 Posted by | Science, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Charles Darwin, age seven

Legionaires in calculated denial

Legionaries of Christ

Legionaires face no intervention from the Vatican, CathNews reports. An official from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life told Catholic News Agency that it is “too early” to tell if the Legion of Christ leadership can work through the issue.

Besides, the Vatican is too busy with controversy over holocaust-denying Bishop Williamson – one of the four schismatic bishops whose excommunication was lifted by the pope.

John Desmond, a well-regarded and widely-published Catholic journalist, reports that the Legionaries carefully timed their admission of the sexually predatory behavior of founder Fr Marcial Maciel:

My contacts assert that the convergence of these two big news events–the outrage prompted by the Bishop Willliamson affair, followed shortly afterwards by the new revelations regarding Father Maciel’s “double life” — was no accident: the order’s superiors and their ecclesial allies took advantage of the crisis surrounding Bishop Williamson to minimize the impact of the new disclosures regarding Maciel. The Mexican superiors, I’m told, believe the present tempest will blow over and the Legion will pull itself together and go on as before.

If that strategy works Maciel accomplices will not be detected.

The transparency called for by Fr. Thomas Berg in his letter to the associated lay group, Regnum Christi, will not come to pass.

Instead there will be, and there already is, denial.

Denial reported by the American Papist who attended a Mass celebrated last Sunday in this country, a Mass led by the head of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr Alvaro Corcuera. Attended by members of Regnum Christi, the lay group associated with the Legion of Christ, that Mass Fr Corcuera said:

On the topic of abuse, Fr Alvaro said that he does not have any specific access to information, and one cannot know what is true and isn’t (here, and at other points I will note, the exact content of his meaning wasn’t always clear – I was listening very carefully for what would be admitted, etc., but coming away it’s still hazy to me exactly what was said. Things were said, but often not in a definitive way.)

We agree with Damian Thompson, who wrote in his blog Holy Smoke in The Telegraph, “I don’t believe that.”

The same Mass concluded with a prayer which included the words:

Since the Legion and the Movement will be vigorous and will flourish as long as the spirit of our founder is present and active in our lives and behavior, we ask you to open our eyes to the urgency of learning, assimilating and passing on the doctrine, spirit, apostolic methods, genuine traditions, discipline and lifestyle of the Legion and Regnum Christi, just as our founder has made them known to us, since this is our responsibility.

Maciel’s history of predation and cult leadership inevitably shaped the order’s culture. An outside investigation is required. Fr. Thomas Berg was right when he wrote to Regnum Christi members:

Finally, I encourage you to speak to Legionary leadership, and even in the form of petition letters, demand nothing less than full transparency regarding the case of Fr. Maciel.

Demand that [Legionaries General Director] Fr. Alvaro seek an independent third party investigation (perhaps in the form of a temporary review board or Visitation team from the Holy See) into uncovering any Legionaries who may have been accomplices to Maciel.

Demand that a similar body guide Legionary leadership in introducing any needed reforms into the internal culture, methods and religious discipline of the Legion.

February 12, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Religion | , | 10 Comments

Huckabee’s ‘anti-religious’ slander of the stimulus bill: Updated

The red meat claim from Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is that the stimulus bill is anti-religious.

Because it contains 46-year-old boilerplate [.pdf] prohibitions against spending the money for unconstitutionally religious purposes, as Steve Benen correctly explains.

What a delicious falsehood to toss out and lard with the throwaway line, “You would think the ACLU drafted this bill.”

“What can we do?” Huck asks.

Since he’s willing to try to whip us into a irrational frenzy over nothing, ignore him.

It is passing unlikely that a former governor was ignorant of this issue when he started laying it on us, but if so, it’s almost as bad to fail that egregiously to do one’s homework.

Addendum: Hucabee’s frenzy manufacturing began as a fund-raising ploy.

Last week, he sent an email calling Obama’s stimulus package “a real stink bomb,” and recommending his supporters donate to his political action committee in order to eventually “change the math” in Congress.

Or fuel his unfulfilled presidential aspirations?

February 12, 2009 Posted by | Law, Politics, Religion | , , , | 2 Comments