Archive: Taking On the TV Goliath

An exclusive interview with Rev. Don Wildmon, founder of the hard-hitting National Federation for Decency.

Q There has been some debate over how much influence TV exerts. What do you see as the nature and extent of this influence? How does it measure against principles and teachings of the Bible?

A Its influence is absolutely tremendous! Ask a five-year-old how you spell relief, he will reply ROLAIDS.

TV has such an influence that no politician would dare oppose it. Why? Television can make or break a candidate. We have seen that in our lifetime. So the politicians are not going to do anything about TV programming. The Federal Communications Commission is not going to do anything. They have let us know that they are not in the “moral” business. They are there to license the stations, not to influence the content of the programs.

How does TV’s influence measure against principles and teachings of the Bible? Basically TV is teaching principles totally opposite of those taught by the Bible. Inch-by-inch, little-by-little, TV programmers are moving us into an area where we will accept right as being wrong. In the Old Testament it says “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 16:25 RSV) Television is teaching America that adultery and pre-marital sex, homosexuality, violence, etc., are all acceptable … that profanity is normal … that the name of God can be casually used in vain like you would say, well, “have a coke.”

Ten years ago if you would have heard a “hell” or “damn” on television you would have been shocked. But now such words are commonplace. In fact, there are very few words of profanity which have not been used on prime time television.

Nine or ten years ago we would not have accepted the sexual contents of many present shows. But TV has de-sensitized us, little-by-little. The ultimate end of all of this is hard-core porno on television.

I made that statement over a year ago to a newspaper and they laughed. But about one month later a TV critic for the New York Daily News interviewed Tony Randall. He said they would put porno on tomorrow if they could get away with it. Tony Randall is a man who has been in the television industry for 20 years. He quit because he would not put more T & A’s in his program (T & A’s refer to the parts of the female anatomy).

So, little-by-little TV is teaching us to accept things we should not accept. Recently I saw a show with a man and woman undressing … getting into bed. Then I saw the man getting on top of the woman before the scene was cut. Little-by-little. Eventually they are going to show the whole thing.

Ninety percent of all sex shown on television is presented outside of marriage. Thus, the sacred side of sex—as it was intended by God to be a beautiful sharing experience between a husband and a wife—is rarely presented by television. Instead, sex on TV is usually exploitive, manipulative, perverted.

Homosexuality is hardly ever shown in a bad light. The public doesn’t realize that the organization which has the most influence on television, other than television itself, is the homosexual group. They pre-screen and approve every television script dealing with homosexuality. They spend 20 hours a week in an office in New York going over proposed television scripts. That is why you are not going to see homosexuals ever presented honestly on television. How contrary can you get to the Bible?

Q You have been quoted as saying that TV is a drug. Please explain.

A Check it out with your children. Set a child down, let him watch TV. Your son or daughter will watch, hour after hour. If there is not something on he or she really likes, then the child will find something and will watch that.

Television takes no effort. You don’t have to move a muscle; all you have to do is turn it on and sit. You don’t even have to use your mind; somebody else does your thinking for you. So you become addicted. You don’t have to relate to anybody. You don’t have to go through the necessary turmoil or exercise of learning how to relate or talk or do. You just sit there being entertained passively. That’s why TV is a drug. We become addicted to it and we have to watch it.

Q Some people are saying that Americans (and United Methodists) have lost the capacity to get angry about evil. Do you agree?

A Yes and no. You can’t say that about all UMs. But as an institutional church, we have lost much of our righteous indignation, our holy anger about personal sin. Because the moral changes in our society have come about little-by-little, inch-by-inch, we have been conditioned gradually to accept them without getting angry or very upset.

However, there are still United Methodist lay people, pastors, and local churches who do get angry at evil. The trouble is, they don’t have a channel to express that righteous anger adequately. Our church institution stifles that anger, sometimes because they say expressing it is negative and not loving.

Q What is your organization, the National Federation For Decency?

A At the current time NFD is spending 99 percent of its efforts trying to make TV a clean, wholesome, constructive influence in our society. We are almost two years old. We are not sponsored or affiliated with any particular church. I happen to be a UM minister, a member of the North Mississippi Annual Conference, under appointment to the NFD by my bishop. But that’s the only relationship between the N FD and my denomination. The NFD is independent, something like Good News, as I understand your movement. Working with us are Catholics and Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists, Mormons and Jews.

Q How did NFD begin?

A One night I was watching TV with my children during the Christmas holidays of ’76. The three choices on our three channels offered sex, violence, and profanity. I decided that I had had enough; I was not going to take any more without fighting back. I did not know what I could do, but I knew I had to do something, as a Christian and a parent.

It began with a “turn-the-TV-off week.” Then our efforts mushroomed. I felt increasingly that this was God’s will for my life, to give myself to trying to make TV a clean, wholesome, constructive influence for our families. So we founded NFD.

We are non-profit. My board is made primarily of UM members including ministers, housewives, a basketball coach, insurance people, and some others. I have had contact with these people for several years. On our board, we have no people with money, no well-known people, no national personalities.

Q How does NFD operate?

A On a basis of knowledge, facts. We have a process by which we monitor programs on prime-time TV. We invite people in different parts of the country to participate as evaluators. We train them to monitor for us. The results are sent back to us, tabulated, and put into a computer. This is how we know precisely what advertisers sponsored what shows, what the content of each show was, how much sex and how sex was presented. We get to know a tremendous amount about each particular show. As we compile data over a period of 12 weeks, this gives us a pretty good knowledge of the practice that an advertiser follows. Then, when we talk to that advertiser, we can talk from a basis of fact—not emotion. This is the reason for our success in dealing with Sears, Ford, and other large companies. They know what we are talking about, and we can back it up.

Q How is NFD financed?

A We began on faith—we had no money. For the first seven months while I was with NFD I received only $1,400 salary. I invested nearly $5,000 of my own money to get the NFD going. But for the last year we have been able to pay our own way.

We receive not one penny from the UM Church as an institution. We receive no money from our annual conference or any other conference. We receive no money from the government or any foundation. We have no “big money” on our board.

Our organization is financed entirely by individuals and local churches. Ninety-five percent of all our gifts are in the $10 or less class. We have a subscription fee of $10 a year to our NFD newsletter. It goes out once a month. From that money, basically, we survive. The biggest gift we have received from any church or individual was $300.

Q Boycotting your activities. How do you answer people who think that boycotting is not an appropriate strategy for Christians?

A When I started NFD, boycott was a very dirty word for me. Why? Because boycott was the method that the blacks had used indiscriminately against whites in our state. Some innocent people were hurt unjustly.

For the first few months of the N FDs existence, when we tried to get someone to boycott, it was nearly impossible.

My attitude about boycotting changed. One day I was sitting in a UM church at a meeting of the Board of Christian Social Concerns. We were discussing TV and its influence, and somebody said that the answer might be to boycott sponsors who help pay for this trash. I shuddered. But across the table from me was a young mother with two small children. She spoke up: “What’s wrong with boycotting? As a Christian and as a mother, I have not only the right but the responsibility NOT to spend my money with those companies that help destroy values that I believe in.”

For 20 years I had preached Christian stewardship from the pulpit. But now, for the first time, I suddenly realized in a new way that Christian stewardship goes beyond giving your tithe to the church. It also involves where you spend your money and who you help with your money.

Yes, boycotting is a very definite part of our strategy. Our boycotts are not directed against innocent people and innocent businesses that have no power to change anything. Instead, our boycotts are directed against companies which have complete control over their advertising policies and choose to sponsor harmful TV. Here is our philosophy: Where advertisers spend their advertising money is their own business. If they want to sponsor “Deep Throat,” it is their money. Likewise, where we spend our money is our business. We have the right to spend our money where we want. And certainly we have the right to say to any company, “If you want to sponsor ‘SOAP’ or ‘Charlie’s Angels’ or ‘Vegas’ or some filthy movie, go ahead. But if you do that, then we are going to make sure that we spend our money with your competitor.”

That is as American as apple pie. And I am convinced it is also thoroughly Christian. For the Christian has the positive responsibility to help promote clean, wholesome, constructive values. Also, there is an opposite and negative responsibility—Christians should refuse to support and encourage those who encourage the breaking of God’s laws. Remember—part of the money you spend on a product is used to pay for TV advertising. Will you thus be a party to promoting values which destroy the very foundation of the church and society?

Q How can individual United Methodists and/or churches tie in with your activities in behalf of wholesome TV?

A Write and tell us that you or your church want to become a part of NFD. Send $10 so we can send you our monthly NFD newsletter. It will show precisely what you can do … and it tells a lot about the world of television as it really is. This would make a good project for a Sunday school class, circle, prayer-sharing group, or council on ministries in your church.

Q Is there any overlap between your work in NFD and work being done by the official communications agency of our church?

A Yes and No. Our church helped to develop what I consider to be the finest teaching instrument about TV, Television Awareness Training workshops. This is a tremendous educational study of TV and we recommend it to everyone.

But as far as getting involved directly to change TV by putting pressure on somebody, we don’t see any overlap. I have to be perfectly honest (and it hurts me to have to say this) but I have been disappointed by the silence of our institutional church in this particular area of TV. And also as far as alcohol, drugs, and pornography.

Indeed, what good will it do if we provide a “Great Society ” with adequate housing, good medical care, food, clothing, etc., if our society becomes a moral pig pen?

If the church had been doing an effective job, I would never have begun the NFD. I try to work through the church where possible, but there is not an organization in our church that is doing the work that NFD seeks to do.

I wish that our church would do more. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t expect it will as an institution. Individuals in the church, and local churches, yes. And this is the reason for the NFD-to give you a place to tie in, so that many people can work together for the principles of Biblical morality.

Q If you had one wish concerning the UM Church, what would it be?

A I wish that we would find something that seemingly we have ignored if not lost entirely—awareness that sin is real, that sin can destroy us, and that in order to be saved from sin you have to be saved through Jesus Christ. This applies in every area of life, not only social but personal also. Salvation involves life transformed according to the righteousness of Christ, so I wish our church would speak to some of the personal and moral issues of our society. We do a pretty good job speaking about the Panama Canal and some of the other issues such as abortion, law of sea, and the Kent State killings, etc. But somewhere along the way, I wish we would say something also about the sacred worth of individuals … about pornography and how it degrades human worth … about TV that teaches profanity and immorality and violence. And it ought to have some kind of program to act for righteousness and justice in the realm of personal morality.


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