THE THREAT TO CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING
An important article was recently written by Dr Colin R. Nicholl who lectures at the Faculty of Divinity of the University of Cambridge in the "Spectator" (24 November 2001) entitled "For Christ's Sake." It concerned the pressures now being brought to bear on Premier Radio, London's Christian Radio Station, to have its licence removed by the Radio Authority, which organisation publishes a "Quarterly Complaints Bulletin" which gives the subjects and themes that have given offence to listeners.
Of those who send letters of complaint to the Radio Authority "there seem to be two main groups," writes Dr. Nicholl, "ad hoc complainers and professional complainers. The former inadvertently stumble across material which genuinely offends them and therefore complain; the latter listen for material which they may exploit to promote their agenda." It is Premier Radio that has been the target of complainers far more than any other station. The Radio Authority received 14 complaints about the station's programmes in the last three months, which was far in excess of any other station listed. Every single complaint about this Christian station came from an organisation called the 'Mysticism and Occultism Federation.'
If this federation's website is visited one learns that it has five 'unpaid volunteers' who monitor the media, particularly Christian media, such as Premier Radio, looking for 'unfair' and 'offensive' comments which are exclusivistic or 'intolerant' of other 'spiritualities', such as Satanism, occultism, New Age, magic, astrology and divination.
So we have this picture of five people taking it in turns during the hours of the night to listen to the preachers on Premier Radio and noting down any comment made about the exclusive nature of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, or some moral judgment, of some sermonic faux pas. For example there was one line (which Colin Nicholl rightly dubs a cheesy joke), 'Hinduism. Buddhism, rheumatism.' The Radio Authority were not amused, judging that line to be 'unacceptable' and 'serious.'
The Mysticism and Occultism Federation's website despise 'fundamentalism', in which category it places Premier Radio. "'Christian fundamentalists', we learn, belong in the same camp as Marxists, Maoists and Nazis - they are all 'fanatics' and 'scripture cultists.' Indeed, they are xenophobic blasphemers whose thoughts and ideas are 'more sinister' than 'racism' in serving as the 'impetus for persecution.'" Yet the pretext for the M & O Fed.'s complaints about Christianity is in fact 'pluralism.' They claim to be committed to value and respect the beliefs of others.
So between July and September 2001 the Radio Authority received 64 complaints and it upheld 17 of these. Eight of the seventeen were related to Premier Radio, six being upheld and two partially upheld. As a result our friends on the Christian station were warned that serious sanctions would be imposed on them if they continued to offend. They were told by the Radio Authority that from now on they themselves would be joining the M & O Fed. in monitoring what Christian programmes Premier Radio broadcast.
What remarks did radio preachers make to have a yellow card shown to the Premier Radio? Let us look at three:
1. MICHAEL YOUSSEF'S SERMON.
"In a sermon on the lame man at Bethesda, Dr Michael Youssef suggested that mainline churches were following a PC agenda and accommodating to secular culture instead of trusting in Jesus alone, 'the true Redeemer, the true Saviour, the only one who can make them whole.' He insisted that the only cure for our society was following the word of Jesus Christ. In addition, Dr Youssef expressed his conviction that it was 'crazy' to claim that one can be a 'practising homosexual' and a 'good Christian' at the same time, in view of Paul's teaching in Romans 1."
The Radio Authority read the complaint that the M & O Fed. brought again those remarks and agreed that they were 'offensive' because they 'denigrated the beliefs of other people' and so contravened the Programme Code. Dr Colin Nicholl asks, "Is it now the case that only those Christians who interpret the Bible as permitting homosexual practice can air their views on radio?"
2. CHUCK SWINDOLL'S SERMON.
Dr Charles Swindoll warned Christians of the dangers of 'dabbling in the occult' and advised them to destroy any occult materials in their possession. He was repeating the counsel of Acts 19:19, "A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly." Dr Colin R. Nicholl comments, that "in a rather fascinating PC judgment, the Radio Authority asserted that 'divination' was a part of some religious belief systems, and that Swindoll's homily was tantamount to denigration of others' beliefs. This ruling raises a number of questions: since Satanists worship Satan, is it similarly offensive to portray Satan in negative terms. Since the perpetrators of the 11 September attacks considered themselves to be obeying Allah, is it now denigration of others' beliefs to denounce them and their British counterparts as 'evil' and 'deceived' and to pronounce that theirs is a 'religion of terrorism'?"
3. ANOTHER PREACHER.
Another preacher spoke of some sacred books of non-Christian religions: "I cannot pretend to have made a study of these books for myself but I can say, on the authority of reliable students who have, that their content, and the teaching of them, does not begin to compare to the Bible. They are full of superstition and absurdities." The Mysticism and Occultism Federation complained of this remark to the Radio Authority who concluded that those words were 'totally unacceptable' and 'a clear and serious breach' of the Code and the Broadcasting Act (1990), which states that programmes must not contain 'abusive treatment of the religious views and beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion or religious denomination'.
Dr Nicholl says that he knows a significant number who would readily express a similarly negative view of the Bible. Should they be prevented from communicating their view by radio? What of the fact that Premier Radio attracts an exclusively evangelical audience? The Radio Authority sternly replies, "Stations must be vigilant not to abuse any religious beliefs whatsoever, regardless of whether the audience at whom the service was aimed might themselves be offended or not."
What is Dr Nicholl's assessment of these judgements of the Radio Authority?
1. Its judgements fundamentally undermine the freedom of expression for Christians. 2. How much mischief can be accomplished by one group of occultists acting in the name of religious pluralism who conspire to look for trouble and report every statement which is capable of being construed as exclusivist. 3. Perhaps it is time that the Radio Authority considered whether the warning it issued to Premier Radio was in fact an embarrassing gaffe. 4. "To avoid a repetition of the same, all future complaints relating to religious matters should be entrusted to a sub-committee consisting of trained theologians." 5. The Radio Authority must be kept more accountable by the Secretary of State of Culture, Media and Sport. 6. In the light of how the broadcasting legislation is being interpreted what will be made of part five of the government's anti-terrorism laws, which outlaws with the threat of up to seven years' imprisonment 'insulting words or behaviour likely to stir up hatred against a group of people because of their religious belief'?
Is the Mysticism and Occultism Federation's attempts to stir up hatred against what it dubs Christian 'fundamentalists' in breach of that?