With a mixture of religious fervor tied to political issues, the 40th annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) came to Washington this week.
The convention, held at the Sheraton Washington Hotel, included a blitz of press conferences, preaching by television religious superstars, dozens of workshops, singing groups, exhibits in 250 booths and an appearance by President Reagan. Underlying it all was the conviction that America must repent and be spiritually reborn to be saved. About 3,500 persons attended portions of the convention.
The theme, "Christian Media Facing the Future With the Bible," was planned to coordinate with a proclamation signed Thursday by President Reagan designating 1983 as "the Year of the Bible."
On Monday President Reagan pledged to the gathering to continue working for anti-abortion legislation, school prayer legislation and tuition tax credits for parochial school children. Then the president ended with a sermon: "With His (Jesus') message, we can still move mountains. We can work to reach our dreams and make America a shining city on a hill."
On Tuesday about 50 members of Congress attended a congressional convention breakfast. At other events during the week, television preachers, including Pat Robertson and James Robison, preached or gave invocations to gatherings in the glittering hotel ballroom. Jim Bakker's PTL Club taped a TV show from a set in the ballroom.
Bill Bright, president of Campus Crusade for Christ, told one gathering that "history confirms that whenever men and women--and nations themselves--discover the power of God's word and apply its truths to their hearts, spiritual revitalization follows."
The Rev. Dr. James Draper, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told the broadcasters to resist the temptation of producing a "counterfeit gospel" that does not urge people to repent of wrongdoing. But, alluding to a continuing criticism of religious broadcasters, Draper also warned them to work with local churches. "Broadcasting must complement the local church," he said.
Downstairs in the hotel, 250 companies and religious organizations set up booths to promote everything from the ark to electronic equipment.
"Ask about Cinetron's wholesome family entertainment," one display read. "We syndicate movies, family oriented movies, to be separated from wiggle-and-giggle movies," said Dan Dunnigan.
There were booths marketing music, a booth set up by the Christian Church of the Republic of China showing the freedom of religion in Taiwan and the lack of it in communist China, and booths displaying backyard "dishes," or antennae, to receive Christian television programs from satellites. "Satellite technology for Christ," said the sign of one company.
The Rev. J. Richard Greene and his wife, Lottie, sat in a booth with pictures of their ark in Frostburg, Md. It's still being built after nine years of work since Greene dreamed dreams that he believes came from the Lord telling him to build it.
"Have you heard of the rebuilding of Noah's ark?" Greene asked a passing couple. "Wow," the woman murmured as Greene began a description. Greene's ark, following the exact dimensions as described in the Bible, is being built "to tell the people to come back to the Lord and to repent just as Noah was telling us to repent," said Lottie Greene.
Nearby sat a smiling Donald E. Wildmon, founder of of the Coalition for Better Television and the National Federation for Decency. He was promoting three-minute radio commentaries called "the Don Wildmon Report." He said he is hoping to sell them to radio stations to be used to report on companies that advertise in such magazines as Penthouse and Playboy. The commentaries "won't be preaching and praying and singing--no asking for money, none of that," he said.
But all were not welcome. John K. Ramsay III of New Bedford, Mass., was found wandering through the exhibits on Monday, munching popcorn, a smile on his face.
"I just finished praying," he explained later. He pulled out two boxes of literature and pamphlets from the back of a white-curtained booth. All around him booths were filled; tables held brochures and products.
Ramsay's table was empty. The tiny organization he works for, the Church of the Living Waters Branch from Waco, Tex., had just been ousted from the exhibiting organizations by the NRB board. "Several people (from the board) came down. They told us to go. They said they don't hold that the Holy Spirit is feminine," Ramsay explained. Ramsay's organization does.
"We're trinitarian in the doctrinal sense and we wouldn't allow a doctrinal position like that (a feminine holy spirit) to be promulgated here," E. Brandt Gustavson, president of the NRB, said.