This is one in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.
Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).
Televangelists and the Persuasive Tactics They Use to Recover from Scandals
By Cheyenne Woodall
Many people wonder what exactly makes Televangelism successful over other religious programs. The answer is simple; they use specific persuasive tactics to attract their audience and keep their interest by appealing to their wants and needs. But some may ask, what happens when there are scandals involving televangelists? Does this affect their audience base? How must they (televangelists) handle the repercussions of their actions? The televangelists must handle their situations very carefully in order to please their audience and to not push them away to the point where they lose viewers. Two televangelists that have been in a scandal or two, throughout their careers are Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. Both of these men handled their situation in similar ways but there were still some differences. The commonality between all televangelists, including Swaggart and Bakker, is their goal to spread the word of God to all people. For the purpose of this essay, only the element of persuasive tactics Swaggart and Bakker use to influence their audience will be analyzed. Overall, it is apparent that in order to come back from a “scandal”, televangelists must be very effective at using persuasive tactics to retain their viewer’s trust and to continue being successful.
Basics of Televangelism
A basic understanding of what televangelism is and how it is differs from tactics used by different churches is essential to understand. Televangelism is a form of television religious advertising that differs from mainline denominations in a couple ways but all groups do have some similarities. Both mainline and televangelists see the purpose of religious broadcasting to be to recruit converts but they are different in the ways in which they recruit these followers. According to Schmidt and Kess, televangelists differ from the mainline in the belief that they see media as “God’s provision of the means by which to carry out His Will.” (36) They also believe that every person should be able to hear the gospel, which makes television a very helpful tool in spreading this message. Another way Schmidt and Kess found that broadcasting televangelism and mainline churches differ is in the fact that televangelists must pay for their broadcasting time, while “television stations have traditionally donated the time used by these other denominations.” Since televangelists do not receive outside support and depend mainly on their viewers, it is very important to handle scandals appropriately so viewers are not lost.
Televangelist broadcasting has certain characteristics that make it different from other shows that are commonly watched. The shows have commonly been described as being generally fast-paced and highly entertaining. Schmidt and Kess characterize the broadcasts to be divided into a series of short segments, which include “songs, a variety of speakers, interviews, film clips, and in most cases, also a sermon.” Having fast-paced and entertaining aspects to the television broadcast are important because if the show cannot keep the attention of their audience, they will not be successful in getting support (funding) from their viewers. Kennedy captured the necessity of donations by the audience when he reported that, “A half-hour of television on cable network can cost more than $11,000, which is more than the Christian education budget for an entire year for many American churches.”
Throughout much research, there has been three common persuasive tactics that can be found in many sermons of televangelists. Those three tactics are manipulative persuasion, names as mini-advertisements, and saying things indirectly. Each of these tactics has helped televangelists be successful in receiving funding from their audience as well as sharing their message with the world.
Schmidt and Kess summarize the definition of manipulative persuasion as a frequent repetition of a name or product in order to get the audience to remember what the speaker is trying to get across. From analyzing telecasts, Schmidt and Kess found that most of the manipulative persuasion took place in sermons in order to get the audience to remember the names of who is being spoken about or the preacher themselves. By repeating the televangelists name multiple times, it will help the audience recognize the name within society and may influence their choice by unconsciously reflecting on what the preacher had said before. This is also a way to “brand” the televangelist and their broadcast.
Televangelists often use names as mini-advertisements in order to help spread the names of their greatest financial contributors. This tactic not only keeps the contributors happy but also gives them the opportunity to gain more customers from the televangelists spreading awareness of their company. As they gain more customers, they will be willing to donate more towards the televangelist.
The last tactic that will be analyzed is saying things indirectly. Schmidt and Kess describe this tactic as “conveying information that must be interpreted through processes of convention or conversational implicate.” An example of this could be when a televangelist uses specific word choice that could have multiple meanings and the audience is forced to decipher the meaning, which may influence their choices in the outside world. This tactic also helps the televangelist to be persuasive without coming right out to the public and saying it straightforward on topics that may be viewed as controversial by some.
The first televangelist who will be analyzed is Jim Bakker. Bakker is the founder of the first Christian talk show “The 700 Club”. He then founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network, which according to the jimbakkershowwebsite, “still beams around the world with 24-hour a day Christian programming.” After this accomplishment Jim Bakkerhelped create The PTL Club, The Inspirational Network, and Heritage USA.
In 1987 Bakker resigned as President of The PTL Club because of a scandal that was brought to light by the public. The scandal consisted of an affair with a woman in which Bakker attempted to pay the woman $265,000 to conceal the actions. The funding for this cover-up was said to come from “lifetime resort partnerships, “ and of course these funds were not supposed to be used for those purposes. As a result, Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Bakker only served five years of the sentenced years because his case was overturned and dismissed.
In order to handle the backlash of the situation, Bakker issued a public apology towards the mistress and his viewers. In his apology he stated that “It was a terrible mistake and I believe Christ has forgiven me.” When acknowledging the monies from the funds had been paid to the woman, Bakker said that he was not aware that any money had been set aside and he learned about it after his loved ones did what they could to protect the ministries name and Bakker himself.
While Bakker was in prison he wrote multiple books, which consist of “I Was Wrong”, “The Refuge”, “Prosperity and The coming Apocalypse” and “Time Has Come.”The overall theme of these books is one of “grace and total restoration.” Bakker is not afraid to speak of his past and try to help others going through similar struggles that he may have. Bakker promotes the idea of the “redemptive power of love” and believes if God is able to restore Bakker and his wife’s lives then God can do the same for anyone.
Bakker is currently preaching on The Jim Bakker Show, which is a daily broadcast that reaches audiences in the United States and Canada through Direct TV, Dish Network and other satellite providers. The fact that Bakker is still able to have an audience to broadcast to after his scandal shows that his public apologies and books had effective persuasive skills that kept parts of his audience still interested in his message. Kennedy reported that even though “the scandals took their toll on the televangelist audience and donor support, there has been a gradual recovery.” This gradual recovery is portrayed with Bakker’s current broadcast.
When reflecting on the previous persuasive tactics mentioned before, it is clear that two are embraced by Jim Bakker since his current telecast is named after himself; The Jim Bakker Show. The two tacticsused are names as mini-advertisements and manipulative persuasion. The example is a mixture of the two strategies because he uses his name as a recognizable characteristic that could catch his audience’s attention within society and it is repeated multiple times, which makes it a form of manipulative persuasion as well.
Jimmy Swaggart is another televangelist who has had a scandal and found a way to recover from the situation so he would not loose all of his followers. In the prime of his broadcasting days, Swaggart’s programming was “transmitted to over 3,000 stations and innumerable cable systems each week.” His telecasts were also seen by 500 million people worldwide, which made it the most widespread preaching of the Gospel.
Swaggart’s scandal is similar to Bakker’s in that it involves sexual scandal and a public apology. The difference between the two televangelist’s situations is how Swaggart addressed his apology. As a result of his infidelity to his wife, the Assemblies of God directed him to stop preaching for a year but he defied this order and returned to the airwaves for his apology. Instead of aiming his apology towards the audience as Bakker did, Swaggart made his directly towards his wife. He was “tearfully begging forgiveness from his wife,” reported Kennedy.
Instead of dwelling on his past mistakes, Swaggart sings of God’s mercy on his weekly telecast. This telecast is seen “nationwide and abroad on over 78 channels in 104 countries and live over the internet.” Swaggart’s apology contained specific persuasive skills that were very effective in order to retain most of his audience during his scandal.
When Swaggart appeared on the air, crying and begging for his wife’s forgiveness, this is an example of the persuasive tactic of “saying things indirectly.” Swaggarts actions are an example of this tactic because he is trying to convince the audience that he is truly sorry without publicly addressing just the audience about his actions. If Swaggart wanted to only address his wife and apologize to her only, he could have apologized in private with just his wife and no one else observing. His actions show that he acknowledged that this scandal could be detrimental to his number of viewers so he took action in order to try to keep their views.
American Society and Televangelism
From analyzing the actions taken by Swaggart and Bakker to appeal to their audiences after their indiscretions, it is clear that these televangelists understand the wants and needs of their viewers. Since both of these men were able to come back after such scandals and still have a following base to continue production, it is clear that the protestant ideals of forgiveness are very strong. The importance of the protestant belief in forgiveness is found within Martin Marty’s creencias. The creencias are deeply held protestant beliefs thatinfluenced the way Protestants shaped and continue to shape America. Both Swaggart and Bakker knew that in order to keep their funding from their audience, they had to publicly apologize for their actions, even though they did not directly affect the viewers. If their following base did not have these strong protestant ideals of forgiveness, then these televangelists may not have been able to come back and continue broadcasting. With the help of manipulative persuasion, names as mini-advertisements, and saying things indirectly, Swaggart and Bakker were able to continue receivingfunding from their audience, which led to a recovery with minimal amount of damage to their audience base.