By Michele Rosenthal (auth.)
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Additional info for American Protestants and TV in the 1950s: Responses to a New Medium
While it should not be considered as the sole representative of mainline or liberal Protestantism, the BFC of these early years certainly reflected a significant section of the liberal Protestant leadership. As a national ecumenical institution, the BFC’s approaches may have certainly been different than a particular denomination’s (such as Methodist’s Mainline Religious Broadcasting 39 Television, Radio, and Film Commission (TRAFCO) of the Methodist Church), but precisely because it operated in such a national capacity and worked with the national television networks, the BFC’s approach would be disproportionately influential upon mainline Protestantism.
The old Federal Council had lost its credibility amongst lay Protestants—it was seen as modernizing and radical and too far removed from the concerns of everyday Christians. The National Council was to be far more embracing, if far more limiting in its potential scope. The main aim was to forge a consensus amongst the divided Protestant ranks. A brief look at the commemorative volume of the constituting convention of the National Council shows the centrality of this agenda. On the cover of the book is a picture of the assembly—delegates sitting at tables in the shape of a cross looking toward a stage, where the theme—“This Nation Under God”—hangs from above: On stage and around the room, clusters of flags—the American, the church, and the UN—are found at regular intervals.
In hindsight these positions seem clearly to reflect Protestant theology, but in the 1950s the mainliners found it difficult to distinguish American from Protestant. The Secular Threat After Catholicism the next enemy was secularism. The commercialization of the sacred holidays was a disturbing phenomenon to The Christian Century, and the editors were quick to blame the TV for its part in this process. Programming on Easter of 1952, for example, was condemned by The Christian Century as deceiving and nonrepresentative: Last year as our readers will recall, they prostituted this day supposedly sacred to the most important triumphant festival of the Christian year to commercial and theatrical exploitation so crass that it revolted every decent viewer.