Why Colored Television?
People of color have been involved in religious broadcasting from early twentieth-century race records and live radio broadcasts to contemporary television shows and Internet podcasts. In the past two decades, however, African American religious broadcasters have become central to the making of religion in America and throughout the world. Black American televangelists such as T. D. Jakes and Creflo Dollar, with their savvy media ministries, sprawling congregations, and charismatic genius, have become household names, especially among Pentecostals and Charismatics across the global North and South. And while Juanita Bynum no longer enjoys the prominence she once had, her being the first African American female televangelist to garner national and international attention is significant.
In addition to these evangelists, people of African, Latin American, and Asian descent have worldwide followings as pastors and television personalities. Nigeria’s Enoch Adejare Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), William Kumuyi of Deeper Life Bible Church, and David Oyedepo of Winners’ Chapel (Living Faith Church Worldwide), as well as Ghana’s Mensa Otabil of the International Central Gospel Church and N. Duncan Williams of Action Chapel International, pastor five of the largest churches in Africa and have regularly broadcast television programs. Chris Oyakhilome, pastor of Believers’ LoveWorld Ministries (a.k.a. Christ Embassy), is also among the most popular televised ministers in Nigeria. He owns LoveWorld TV Network, which is reportedly the first Christian network in Africa to offer twenty-four-hour broadcasting to the rest of the world.1
In Seoul, South Korea, David Yonggi Cho serves as pastor emeritus of the largest church in the world, Yoido Full Gospel Church, with over one million members. A television studio was built in 1981 to help expand his ministry. Bishop Edir Macedo of the Universal Church in Brazil owns not only a church with branches in Latin America, Africa, and Asia but also a media conglomerate that runs Brazil’s second-largest television network, Rede Record de Televisão, placing him on a list of Forbes magazine’s billionaires.2 Religious broadcasting has thus changed dramatically from the days of white American Protestant male predominance.3
While the list of televangelists reflects one type of diversity, the increased presence of non-Western distributors of religious broadcasting, such as LOVE TV and Mercy and Truth Ministries in Jamaica and View Africa Network in South Africa, reflect another shift in the history of religious broadcasting. As scholars have well documented, the rise in Christian influence is coming from beyond the West.4 Colored Television presents this change as a context for taking seriously the influence that African American televangelists have within and outside the United States, particularly in the Caribbean.
The word “colored” harks back to a period in America’s history when signs placed above bathroom doors and water fountains signaled the social exclusion of an entire population of Americans. “Colored” speaks of a time when black people en masse were hindered in the pursuit of wealth and not allowed the dignity of full citizenship that make for the American dream. And it calls attention to the images of black people on television as maids, cooks, and farmhands, people all too often poor, uneducated, and excluded from the social mainstream. I want to build on readers’ discomfort with the terminology to explain how “colored” also signals something new in a multicultural and aggressively global society.
In this iteration of “colored,” therefore, I offer the old as a way of looking at, deciphering, and interpreting the new. I employ “colored” as a way of signaling the dramatic changes that have taken place in the United States over the past forty years, changes that have significantly altered the experiences of viewing and producing television—the triumphs of the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, and the opening up of international borders to steady immigration flows. The rapidity of globalization and free-market capitalism have forever unsettled any sense of stasis and familiarity. The predominance of neoliberal discourses, the immediacy of the markets, the split-second transmission of satellite broadcasting, and the realities of what David Harvey astutely theorizes as “time-space compression” have each contributed to the emergence of this new “colored” that I explore.
Colored Television: American Religion Gone Global is an attempt to make sense of a phenomenon that has emerged amid the predominantly white male voices of traditional religious broadcasting. Colored Television moves us from static conversations about the benefits and problems of religious broadcasting to a more nuanced discussion of the ways in which black Christian faith is made and unmade both in front of and behind the cameras.
I think of “colored” here as it relates to this present moment on four levels. “Colored” is first about the people, the ways in which African Americans and other people in the African Diaspora have become both producers and consumers of religious broadcasting. It is a corrective in many ways to the expansive literature that addresses predominantly white religious broadcasters and audiences. It is not only about the rise in African American male voices but also about the ways in which black and white women are speaking to the concerns of people of African descent—how the gendered power centers in religious broadcasting are shifting. Who would have guessed thirty years ago that the success of a white female evangelist would be based on the entrée given her by a black male televangelist, one to whom she pays public homage as her “father” in ministry? What does this say about the new politics of race and gender in religious broadcasting in the much ballyhooed postracial age of Obama? How does religious broadcasting effectively shift our understanding of what is meant by “black religion”?
Second, “colored” signifies the flamboyance and colorful style of the religious personalities who inhabit the media. At one time dominated by the overwhelmingly drab and structured rituals of mainline Protestantism, religious broadcasting today, black or white, is largely dominated by Pentecostal, Charismatic, Evangelical, and Word of Faith religious communities whose flare for the dramatic make the show as entertaining as it is informative. Furthermore, the historically flamboyant dress style of the televangelists, along with their elaborate stage designs, reframe the sometimes bland and austere style found in more formal religious settings.
Third, “colored” refers simply to progress in the broader world of electronic media, particularly television. From black-and-white pictures in knob-controlled, antenna-directed, bulky square boxes to sleek, flat-paneled, satellite-transmitted, digitally colored pictures, contemporary television has changed dramatically in both style and quality. And with the emergence of the Internet—YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Streaming Faith—religious broadcasting has also undergone dramatic changes in the twenty-first century.
Finally, and most important, “colored” refers to the competing and complementary interests that make up religious broadcasting. Colored Television is about the rainbow of interests, personalities, agendas, and outcomes that constitute religious broadcasting in this new multicultural world. It examines markets as competing, even among Christian programmers, as they attempt to expand globally while touting the benefits of localism. Beyond mere audience or content analysis, Colored Television takes a look at the triangulated nature of religious broadcasting, noting the intricate patterns and ruptures found in its making, selling, and consumption.
Colored Television takes us through the complex, changing world of contemporary religious broadcasting. It explores the movement and meaning of American televangelism beyond the United States, where it has experienced some of its greatest growth and most unsettling paradoxes but steady influence. It examines the global influence of women and people of color, as religious leaders and everyday believers, in the making of the contemporary religious world.
1. Mfonobong Nsehe, “The Five Richest Pastors in Nigeria,” Forbes, June 7, 2011, http://www.forbes.com/sites/mfonobongnsehe/2011/06/07/the-five-richest-pastors-in-nigeria/. LoveWorld TV broadcasts televangelists based in Africa and white American televangelists like Pat Robertson, Joyce Meyer, and Mike Murdock. Its headquarters are in the United Kingdom with outposts in the United States and South Africa. See Love-World TV, accessed August 27, 2014, http://loveworldtv.co.uk/.
2. Alex Cuadros, “Edir Macedo, Brazil’s Billionaire Bishop,” Bloomberg Business, April 25, 2013, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-04-25/edir-macedo-brazils-billionaire-bishop#p2. Not without controversy, Forbes magazine has created lists of the world’s wealthiest pastors, including a listing of the wealthiest pastors in Nigeria and Brazil. See Nsehe, “Five Richest Pastors”; Mfonobong Nsehe, “Wealthy Nigerians, Pastors Spend $225 Million on Private Jets,” Forbes, May 17, 2011, http://www.forbes.com/sites/mfonobongnsehe/2011/05/17/wealthy-nigerians-pastors-spend-225-million-on-private-jets/; and Anderson Antunes, “The Richest Pastors in Brazil,” Forbes, January 17, 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/andersonantunes/2013/01/17/the-richest-pastors-in-brazil/.
3. Pradip Thomas and Philip Lee discuss the many different iterations of religious televangelism taking hold around the globe with several articles focused on the growth of Islamic and Hindu televangelism. See Pradip Ninan Thomas and Philip Lee, Islamic Boutique: Global and Local Televangelism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). Several essays focus on the growth of Islamic and Hindu televangelism.
4. Scholars have been particularly concerned with the growth and influence of Pentecostalism around the world. Selected works exploring the global dimensions of the movement include Allan Anderson and Walter J. Hollenweger, eds., Pentecostals After a Century: Global Perspectives on a Movement in Transition (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999); Murray W. Dempster, Byron Klaus, and Douglas Petersen, eds., The Globalization of Pentecostalism: A Religion Made to Travel (Oxford: Regnum Books International, 1999); Simon Coleman, The Globalisation of Charismatic Christianity: Spreading the Gospel of Prosperity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Joel Robbins, “The Globalization of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity,” Annual Review of Anthropology 33 (2004): 117–143; Donald Earl Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Mark A. Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009); J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, Contemporary Pentecostal Christianity: Interpretations from an African Context (Oxford: Regnum Books International, 2013); and Allan Heaton Anderson, To the Ends of the Earth: Pentecostalism and the Transformation of World Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).