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Phoenix, AZ: KPAZ-TV and KPHF-FM

I got to spend a few days in Scottsdale, Arizona last week, filling a child care gap while my wife was at a conference. As a result I got to sample the religious media landscape of the Phoenix-Tempe-Scottsdale metropolitan area. Here are some ah highlights.

I’ve gotten spoiled by the surprisingly diverse religious television offerings in the Albuquerque-Santa Fe area (KCHF, an independent, KNAT, a TBN affiliate, KAZQ, a LeSEA/3ABN affiliate, and EWTN available via cable) that when I got to the hotel in Scottsdale and found only KPAZ, the Phoenix TBN affiliate, I have to admit I was a little disappointed given that TBN is for the moment the Brand X of religious television. As a result I mostly ignore it, but this gave me a chance to sample TBN programming throughout the broadcast day. I had never really watched Rod Parsley before, having mostly confused him with Irish Presbyterian rabble-rouser Ian Paisley [link]. All I can say about Parsley is that he is somewhat telegenic, currently sports an oddly interesting haircut (sort of a close-cut coxcomb that looks like it might need product to stay put) that reminds me somewhat of the cartoon character Tintin, and has a voice that’s a little to loud, a delivery that’s a little too dramatic, and eyes that seem to open unnaturally wide. If I had a co-worker who behaved this way I’d be sure he was up to something. Of course I have no idea if Mr Parsley is up to something.

It’s also fall fund drive time on TBN, so the afternoons are dominated by a long-form broadcast of the standard TBN blue set. The hours they were repeating late last week featured neither Paul Crouch (Sr nor Jr), but mostly presented a preacher reading Bible verses with a special focus on “blessings” and “increase” while surrounded by people in chairs on the stage nodding their heads. I’m sure someone with a better sense of dramaturgy than I have could explain the meaning of having people other than the speaker on stage facing the audience. I’m guessing what I see on TBN is a continuation of the practices I saw in churches growing up, where some important people from the church (deacons, elders, assistant pastors, choir director, what-have-you) would flank the preacher during the sermon. I had no idea why they were there then either. Anyway, the TBN fund drive has added a wrinkle I didn’t remember seeing before: a crawler at the bottom of the screen repeating Bible verses about how so-and-so gave something to God and got something in return. I have to admit that it’s pretty clever; it sort of drowns pretty reasonable questions about why those verses should imply that a generic home viewer should send any money to TBN in repetition.

The Phoenix market is also served by a handful of religious radio stations, including one Family Life Radio affiliate, one K-LOVE affiliate, and KPHF, the Harold Camping/Family Stations/Family Radio affiliate [link]. KPHF has been owned by Family Radio since 1990, but only broadcasts Family Radio programming between 7:30PM and 5AM; the rest of the broadcast day the frequency is occupied by KNAI, which is owned by the National Farm Workers Service Center and plays Mexican pop music. To the unfamiliar the arrangement can be a bit jarring: I listened to part of Quiet Hours, a program of low-key selections of church music, between Camping’s Open Forum and about 10PM, then awoke at 5AM to Mexican wake-up music.

Open Forum is as best I can tell the centerpiece of Family Radio’s programming now and probably will be until the end of the world. All the calls I heard Wednesday night were devoted to Camping’s teaching on the Rapture, whether it will occur in May 2011, and whether Camping is qualified to say such a thing (and by the same token, whether the caller is allowed to question him). It’s easy to claim that there’s something unique about this phenomenon, and harder to remember that any time a preacher camps out on a single concept and decides to make it the centerpiece of his theology, around which everything else must revolve, this sort of thing almost necessarily follows. I’ve personally seen it happen regarding politics of a right-leaning persuasion, pastoral authority, and the End Times (again). My folks have attended churches where week after week the preacher held forth on the Five Points. I’ve heard stories about a church here in town that got caught up in some aspect of the Toronto Blessing and discussed almost nothing else for over a year, and another that got caught up in left-leaning politics for the better part of the latter Bush Administration.

I guess this sort of one-note samba is by itself just a warning sign, but I’m not sure it’s sufficient reason to leave a church all by itself. I suppose it depends on the doctrine, the preacher, and the church. Hint: if I found myself in a church where the preacher mentioned Harold Camping from the pulpit in an approving manner I’d be torn between bolting for the door and waiting to see what else he had to say, just for curiosity’s sake.

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