By yesterday morning, Abe c. van Der Puy, the tall, patrician-looking president of the National Religious Broadcasters, had lost the joyful glint in his eye. He had looked exhilarated on Sunday night as Anita Bryant opened his convention with a bellowing version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Outside, demonstrators singing the same song, as well as "Amazing Grace," protested Bryant's appearance and her stance against homosexuals. But, at that point, the protest, as well as the array of born-again celebrities due at the convention, was exciting to the NRB members. The attention had made the convention itself "born-again."
But then came the mix-ups over two born-again superstars, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and black activist Eldridge Cleaver. By yesterday morning, Van Der Puy, clutching a briefcase and looking like a television sufferer of an Excedrin headache, was trying to explain the non-appearance of both.
Late Tuesday night, a film on the conversion of Cleaver, who emerged on the public scene in the 1960s as a founder of the Black Panther Party, was yanked off the schedule. Some members of the NRB board said they were upset by recent publicity over his fashion designs for men's pants. At a press conference yesterday, the NRB spokesmen could hardly bring themselves to discuss Cleaver's fashion designs, which include a codpiece for male genitals. They said he was "at a crossroads," a stage of uncertainty. "We are not against Eldridge," said Van Der Puy, wearily, "but we are concerned over his fashion designs and other issues."
Yet Van Der Puy, Bryant, Cleaver, Flynt, - and Charles Culson, La Belle Lance, Calcolm Muggeridge, Catherine Marshall, Andrae Crouch and Marabel Morgan - were only part of the parade of broadcasters and celebrities at the Washington Hilton Hotel this week. Five years ago, only 200 people attended the annual meeting of the NRB; this week 2,000 passed through. One new Christian radio station opens in the United States every week, and the spinoffs of the religious revival - books and records - are all prospering.
On opening night, in front of a yellow and red banner, "Sound Forth the Word," a speaker said, "Show me a person who needs a gimmick and I'll show you a person who needs a touch from God. Let us pray that the National Religious Broadcasters will never have any wobble."
But the wobbles, the gimmicks, the fervent speeches, the snafus, and the hymn-singing all were there.
Cleaver, a middle-aged spread creeping over the belt of his pin-striped pants, sipped some burgundy wine and said he didn't understand how his fashion designs had become the issue. Last year he had been accepted as a hero. "The newspapers have called them risque, which is just a fancy way of saying obscene, so some of the people around here are excited," said Cleaver, in his hotel room. He was defensive but not angry, and he definitely didn't seem repentent about his designs.
Later, Cleaver went to see Ohio evangelist Howard O. Jones, one of the few blacks on the NRB board. Thirty years ago Jones was a jazz musician, dreaming of the high life of Duke Ellington, when God called. "Last year I gave Eldridge my book, "White Questions to a Black Christian," and he said that helped him because he didn't know how to relate to the whites in the evangelical movement," Jones, a colleague of Billy Graham, said yesterday morning.
They talked, said jones, for one hour and 15 minutes, about Cleaver's ministry, his forthcoming book "Soul on Fire," and about Christian life styles. Cleaver told Jones, before they got on their knees and prayed, "I want God's will to be done."
In this crowd of blue polyester suits and modest, wash-and-wear dresses, Mary Dorr stands out. She looks very Hollywood, with long, black, false eyelashes and a bouffant hairdo the color of Christmas tinsel but not as soft. And she is Hollywood, where she is executive director of Religion in the Media Association (RIM).
She is tough, a widow who raised her five children, and experienced in many aspects of the media since her days at Berkeley in the '30s. "Oh, Los Angeles is the pronographic center of the world but it's a good market for RIM. In the last five years RIM, which distributes and produces alternative programs, has gone from programming $1 million in public-service time to $50 million.
Recently RIM had its own awards show at the Century Plaza Hotel, with Dean Jones, Dale Evans, Roy Rogers, Pat Boone, Debbie Boone and Patty Andrews giving bronze angels to the winners. "Oh, our born-again community is strong. Bonnie Green, the wife of the composer, Johnny Green, has baptisms in her pool. There are Bible groups. We are all united."
Keith Miller, a star on the Christian publishing circuit, has been accused of being anti church by one Southern Baptist, investigated for heresy by the Episcopalians, and has irritated other Christian sensibilities with the rape scene in his new book, "Please Love Me."
But not as much as another chapter, which has a woman seduced by a minister she is seeking advice from.
He comes into a room, his thick, graying hair flying, like a rumpled but fresh wind from Waco, Tex. His new book, written from a woman's point of view, has orders for 60,000 copies in its first six weeks, according to the publishers, Word Books. His first book, "Taste of Wine," influenced the born-again Charles Colson.
"It's dramatic stuff, what I'm saying," says Miller, who worked in the oil industry in Oklahoma and has degress in business. Theology and psychology. His fervor led to a breakup of his marriage of 27 years but didn't lead to the expected ostracism among his fellow marriage counselors.
The counterculture has met, enjoyed, and, in some cases, profited from the old-time religion.
Nellie Shriver, a reporter from the American Vegetarian Information Service, studiously attended all the press conferences, asked the proper questions about the food crises, and was jubilant to find vegetarians, like Malcolm Muggeridge and Rev. John Daley of St. Louis. "You know both St. Martin de Porres and St. Francis Assisi were vegetarians," she announced.
Ten years ago, Larry Black, 34, was a serious hard rock/acid rock/soul rock deejay. Now he lives in Freeville, N.Y., outside Ithaca, where he produces a Jesus rock show that has been picked up by 125 stations. "I kind of like communicating a positive life style. I have to face the fact that it's not always going to be popular to be a Christian," said Black, "but Christ said words are seeds to be sown, and something will stay."
Flint, surrounded by 50 people, was holding an impromptu press conference by the escalators. At the same time Bert and LaBelle Lance were holding hands, scanning the magazine rack. Just then, Dick Gregory, who has given his forumula for fasting to Flynt, jogged by, on his way to the taxi stand. Flynt, looking trimmer and more conservative than his pre-conversion days, was saying, "I go places to learn. I'm an authority on sex and violence. These guys could have learned from me."
And hours later, Van Der Puy was still whirling from all the questions, wondering aloud just what Flynt intended to do with a nude spread he was considering on Mary Magdalene.