The Gospel - According to 60 Minutes

September 25, 2007

Acknowledging McCarthyism's dangers, Safer did some red-baiting of his own.
"...critics feel tha and World Council [
lean toward Karl A
comes to giving cer
support. Among the
object to: money to
North American Con
tin America based
Money from the
Hunger Program he
publish this book, Ag
the Americas, an i
capitalism and Amer
tural corporations."
On Sunday even
23, 60 Minutes, the
watched TV news p
United States, featur
the National Counci
the World Council
and several major U
denominations. The
Mar/Apr 1983
t the National called The Gospel According To
of Churches] Whom?, and the message was
larx when it simple: money from the Sunday
tain financial offering plate is going to support
e things they left-wing-implicitly anti-Ameri-
NACLA, the can-causes. Further, this is hap-
igress on La- pening behind the backs of mil-
in New York. lions of churchgoing Americans.
Presbyterian For Protestant church leader-
'lped NACLA ship, these kinds of charges are
agribusiness in not new. In the early 1960s, main-
ndictment of stream Protestantism-the United
rican agricul- Methodist Church, the United
Presbyterian Church, the Episco-
Morley Safer palian Church, the United Church
60 Minutes of Christ-pledged support to the
civil rights and anti-war move-
ning, January ments. Since then, there have
most widely been frequent cries from religious
rogram in the and political forces on the right
ed a report on that the established church lead-
I of Churches, ership has fallen under leftist influ-
of Churches ence. As a consequence, the
1.S. Protestant church's traditional ministry to the
program was spiritual needs of individual Chris-
tians has been abandoned in fa-
vor of social action. Responding
that the Gospel of Jesus Christ
requires a commitment to the sal-
vation of both individuals and the
societies in which they live, church
leaders have set about educating
2 Christians to this different sense
of mission.
CBS's 60 Minutes, with its audi-
ence of 40 million, was a major
step-up of this attack. It followed
by only a few weeks a similar ef-
fort in another of the organs of
mass culture, Reader's Digest.
Leaning Toward Marx
The church community had
been waiting for weeks for the 60
Minutes report. Many who had
been interviewed feared a hatchet
job. They were not disappointed.
In the best tradition of the sen-
sationalist tabloid press, 60 Min-
utes offered a one-sided picture
of complex and fundamental con-
flicts within the U.S. Christian
church, within the United States
over foreign policy and within the
world about the relationship of the
developing to the developed world.
In the on-going cultural war over
what is acceptable discourse in
this country. the program ratified
the Cold War ideology of the Rea-
gan Administration.
The focus of 60 Minutes' inquiry
was certain governments, political
movements and organizations to
which the various church bodies
had given money: specifically
those which correspondent Mor-
ley Safer variously described as
"terrorist," "anti-capitalist," or
"leaning toward Marx and/or the
Soviet Union and/or Cuba," sug-
gesting that the terms were inter-
changeable. Recipients included
Vietnam, Nicaragua and African
liberation movements in Zimbab-
we, Mozambique, Angola and
Namibia as well as U.S. organiza-
tions like the Ecumenical Program
39update . update . update * update
for Interamerican Communication
and Action (EPICA), the Commit-
tee in Solidarity with the People of
El Salvador (CISPES), the Wash-
ington Office on Latin America
(WOLA), the Cuba Resource
Center and, closer to home,
NACLA.
In preparing its report, 60 Min-
utes might have chosen to exam-
ine critically why church organi-
zations give money to such proj-
ects, a journey that would have
led them into serious philosophi-
cal and theological discussions
about Christian mission, the mean-
ing of religious salvation, the na-
ture of the modern world. But 60
Minutes' muckracking style pre-
cludes such examination. The pro-
ducers appear to have decided
beforehand what they were going
to say and edited the facts to those
conclusions. More to the point,
they didn't even feel compelled to
argue their own position, opting
instead for groundless red-baiting
and fear-mongering through emo-
tionally charged language.
Doing Fidel's Work
Innuendo is a basic technique
of yellow journalism-borrowed
occasionally by demagogic politi-
cians like Sen. Joseph McCarthy--
and 60 Minutes exploited it
shamelesly. From an unsubstan-
tiated statement that church
money buys Soviet assault rifles,
to the repeated use of words like
"terrorist," "Soviet," "Cuban-
backed," "violent," the cumula-
tive effect blurred distinctions,
linking fundamental criticism of
U.S. foreign policy with extremism
and communism. The calumny
reached its zenith with the sug-
gestion of Rev. Richard Neuhaus,
a representative of the conserva-
tive Institute on Religion and
Democracy, and 60 Minutes' cho-
sen expert on church funding, that
church support of these causes 40
was somehow "evil."
The opening shot set the tone:
Fidel Castro exhorting a crowd.
"What if some of that money is
doing this man's work?" Safer
asks ominously, trusting 20 years
of conditioning that Castro equals
evil. The snake has crept into the
garden; Satan walks in the House
of the Lord.
The Gospel According to Whom? was prototypical 60 Min-
utes: frustrated Indiana preacher
turns to crusading reporter to find out what the big city sharpies and
bureaucrats of the National and
World Council of Churches are
doing with his parishoners' hard-
earned money. The segment ex- ploited a familiar U.S. stereotype
of small town Midwesterners:
honest, hymn-singing folk conned
by smooth-talking Eastern sophis-
ticates.
Since the days of William Ran-
dolph Hearst, U.S. journalism has
waxed sentimental about simple
virtues and the downtrodden little
guy even as the media have be-
come exemplary institutions of
monopoly capitalism. One can
legitimately denounce powerful
persons and institutions that abuse
power but never is it permissable
to criticize the system itself. Those
that do are to be discredited, ridi-
culed, scorned.
Un-American Activities
An organization like EPICA was
"leaning toward Karl Marx" be-
cause it published a book-one
of the few to date-on "Cuba-
supported" Grenada. The pro- gram's heroes, meanwhile, were
sentimentalized. With his son on
the local baseball team, the In-
diana preacher was presented as
the "mainstream" church. Yet a
resolution-to pull the United
Methodists out of the World Coun-
cil because of its support for Afri-
can liberation movements-that
he is shown presenting to a re-
gional church conference is over-
whelmingly defeated, a fact that
60 Minutes notes very much in
passing.
With those whose views it
champions, 60 Minutes is notice-
ably sycophantic. The Reverends
Ed Robb and Richard Neuhaus of
the Institute on Religion and
Democracy are presented as
concerned citizens, thoughtful
men whom Safer treats courte-
ously, allowing them to develop
their arguments free from inter-
ruption, quips and provocation.
IRD's Neo-Conservatlves
In the third year of Ronald Rea-
gan's presidency, the promised
overhaul of the U.S. economy has
been pronounced a failure, but
the battle for the return of tradi-
tional ideas, the struggle for domi-
nance within the cultural institu-
tions of American society conti-
nues. An actor of growing impor-
tance in that struggle is the Insti-
tute on Religion and Democracy,
(IRD) whose representatives 60
Minutes consulted for The Gospel
According to Whom?
Founded in 1981 by an amal-
60 Minutes Sends NACLA New Reader
"Well 60 Minutes sure did a hatchet job on you," wrote Paul Lucic of Mansfield, OH shortly af- ter CBS aired The Gospel Accord- ing to Whom?. "For a number of years now I have noticed that many of the au- thors I read have been quoting NACLA as an authoritative source. I think the time has come for me to support your organization. "Do you accept donations from the public or do you have mem- berships or what? Please send in- formation." Yes, Paul, we do accept dona- tions, and welcome to our reader- ship. We hope 60 Minutes will send a few more readers our way.
NACLA Reportupdate . update * update * update
The Institute on Religion and Democracy's theological voice, Lutheran pastor, Rev. Richard Neuhaus.
gam of ministers and rightist in-
tellectuals and political activists,
the IRD exists, according to its
literature, to "combat leftist bias"
within the major Protestant de-
nominations. Its objectives are "to
promote democratic values" with-
in the established churches and
"to restore a needed emphasis on
spiritual concerns." Carefully dis-
tinguishing itself from the Moral
Majority, it offers itself as the
"middle" between Jerry Falwell's
"Right" and the National Council's
"Left."
IRD argues that Christians
should support the West in the
Cold War; that capitalism pro-
motes democracy and socialism,
dictatorship; that the democratic
values of the United States are
part of "God's promises and pur-
poses" and that church bureau-
crats, especially of the mainline
Mar/Aprl 1983
churches, have a leftist bias.
Rev. Ed Robb, a Methodist
evangelist from Marshall, Texas,
heads the IRD executive commit-
tee. He has been a leader of the
Good News Movement within the
United Methodist Church, formed
to combat theological liberalism.
The IRD's most effective theologi-
cal voice is Richard Neuhaus, a
Lutheran pastor who worked ac-
tively in the civil rights and anti-
war movements. His opposition to
Vietnam's post-war government
caused him to re-think earlier loy-
alties. Michael Novak, resident
scholar at the American Enter-
prise Institute and author of The
Spirit of Democratic Capitalism is
a founding member of the IRD as
are Penn Kemble and David Jes-
sup, both active in the Social
Democrats, U.S.A., a small anti-
communist political party influen-
tial with the leadership of the AFL-
CIO.
Despite attempts to distance it-
self from the Right, 90% of IRD
funding, according to a recent ar-
ticle in the National Catholic Re-
porter, comes from foundations
that have been active in the sup-
port of rightist causes, including
the Sarah Scaife Foundation and
the Smith Richardson Foundation.
Its annual budget is approximate-
ly $300,000.
Well-Financed War of Ideas
But the IRD and many of its
leaders are also part of a larger
movement within U.S. politics and
culture, a growing network of in-
tellectual institutions whose func-
tion, according to Peter Steinfels,
editor of the Catholic magazine
Commonweal and an IRD critic, is
"to dampen fundamental criticism." 41update . update * update * update
Dubbed "neo-conservatism" by
the media, its theory postulates
the existence of a new class of
educated "brain workers" who
are infected with what neo-con-
servative intellectuals describe
as the "adversary culture." That
culture is a product, in Steinfels'
sarcastic phrase, of the "hundred
toxic residues of the New Left and
the counterculture." Neo-conser-
vatives fear that this culture will
sap the foundations of U.S. foreign
policy and the domestic econo-
my-"unless, that is, this new
class can be isolated, browbeaten,
discredited, lured or taught its true
interests in a well-financed 'war of
ideas' ".*
For the neo-conservative, Stein-
fels charges, "Every logical link
must be made between opposi-
tion and extremism; radical criti-
cism and anti-Americanism; pov-
erty programs and looting; wo-
men's liberation and gay rights
and the destruction of the family;
criticism of defense spending and
communism; the Left and terror-
ism. ...
Though most reject the label,
the neo-conservatives are a re-
markably self-conscious group,
and their activities, like the Insti-
tute on Religion and Democracy,
more planned than one might sup-
pose. It is not paranoid to say that
an important battleground in their
"war of ideas" is the mainline Prot-
estant churches. Speaking of the
IRD, Claire Randall, general sec-
retary of the National Council of
*The quote is from Peter Steinfels' book
The Neo-Conservatives (New York: Simon
& Schuster, 1979), an excellent introduc-
tion to the neo-conservatives; his periodic
articles in Commonweal are a good way to
keep up with their activities. Neo-conser-
vative sources in-their-own-words include
Commentary magazine; The Public In-
terest, a political journal; This World, a
new religious journal; and The New
Criterion, an arts magazine. Politically,
neo-conservatives can be found among
the Social Democrats, U.S.A. and the
Coalition For A Democratic Majority.
42
Churches told the New York Times,
"They have set out to do us in, and
they must be taken seriously."
In the weeks following the 60
Minutes broadcast, the offices of
the National Council of Churches
were a flurry of activity as person-
nel responded to inquiries from
member churches and their par-
ishoners. The World Council of
Churches sought equal time from
CBS-TV, but in mid-February, the
network refused. In a statement
responding to both the television
program and the IRD accusations,
the National Council charged that
such emphasis on a few contro-
versial projects ignored the mil-
lions of dollars that Protestant
churches spend to feed the hun-
gry and help the poor-a respon-
sibility even more demanding
since Reagan budget cuts--as
well as dollars spent on economic
development and support for hu-
man rights.
Opportunity To Be Heard
Criticizing 60 Minutes for its fail-
ure to produce even a "shred of
evidence" to substantiate its sug-
gestions that church money had
gone to the Cubans and Soviets,
the National Council also charged
that despite its talk about demo-
cratic values, the IRD would have
the church censor points of view
which were controversial or un-
popular. Defending its support of
groups like EPICA and NACLA,
the church body declared that the
ideas presented by these groups,
though not necessarily accepted
in this country, are widely held "by
people in Central America and
Latin America who are express-
ing deep concern for human need
and calling for change to meet
that need."
"The opponents of change have
center stage in the media today,"
said Harriet Ziegler of the National
Council. "We are trying to give a
balance by giving those who are
calling for change an opportunity
to be heard."
What the effect will be of this
latest controversy within the Prot-
estant churches is not clear. The
attacks will undoubtedly create
new tensions and open old wounds
within congregations, between
congregations and the national
leadership and within the national
leadership itself.
But U.S. Protestantism is no
stranger to controversy and its
leadership in no sense unwitting
dupes of sinister forces, as 60
Minutes suggested. Protestant
churches have long been in the
vanguard of struggles for human
rights and social justice in the
United States as well as the Third
World. That commitment springs
from the belief that Christian faith
requires more than prayer, atten-
dance at Sunday service and five
dollars in the offering plate. For
millions it also means a commit-
ment to change the economic and
political structures which inhibit
social justice. Salvation, for these
believers, is collective as well as
personal.
Within Protestant Christianity
this view is not universal, though
by no means is it limited to an elite
few in New York City. Church lead-
ers acknowledge that at times they
have been remiss in not fully ex-
plaining how this belief is trans-
formed into money for a particular
project. But throughout the coun-
try, there are many churchgoers
who not only understand, but en-
dorse these priorities.
Soup and soap, as Rev. Dr.
Philip A. Potter, secretary general
of the World Council, told 60 Min-
utes in a reference to the Salva-
tion Army's emphasis on "soup,
soap and salvation," is "not
enough. The causes for the need
for soup and soap are deeply
important."

Tags: 60 minutes, religion, Revolution, communications, charity


Like this article? Support our work. Donate now.