By Tara Isabella Burton
In the 1980s, TV producer Terry Heaton was at the helm of one of the most influential media properties of the decade. As executive producer for the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)’s Pat Robertson — one of the world’s most famous televangelists — Heaton spent the 1980s and early ’90s transforming the network’s flagship show, The 700 Club, into a pioneer of conservative opinion journalism.
But decades after The 700 Club’s massive success paved the way for an alliance between the Christian right and GOP party politics, Heaton has more mixed feelings about his role in the “culture wars.” In his new book The Gospel of the Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP, Heaton reflects on his years working alongside Robertson, and how the advertising strategies he brought to CBN helped transform and politicize a generation of Christians. Heaton presents Robertson and his team as well-meaning idealists whose desire to use the power of the media to bring people to Jesus morphed into a need to hold on to power for its own sake.
Often, Heaton writes, the desire to put on a convincing “show” for their audience meant eliding the truth in favor of a more marketable approach: casting only conventionally attractive and “successful”-looking Christians in their segments, exclusively focusing on the positive aspects of Christianity, and hinting that faith could bring temporal as well as spiritual rewards. In other words, the Bible became a “self-help manual” advertised as something to be valued because of its impact on one’s own life, what Heaton now calls “the gospel of the self.”
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