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

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