A major black Baptist denomination took steps in its annual meeting here this week to enter the arena of religious television.
Charles W. Butler, 61, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., named a task force to evaluate proposals aleady before the church and recommend how the 22-year-old denomination can use the medium effectively and with integrity.
Without naming names, Butler, a Detroit pastor, asserted that "some of the programs" now on religious television are "exploitative, and denigrate both religion and the media. But that's all the more reason that we ought to have access to it, if we can develop quality programs, to offer options that are better."
The task force is to present its recommendations to the January meeting of the denomination's board, Butler said, with the hope that next year's convention can move forward on the project.
More than 5,000 ministers, lay men and women and young people gathered here this week at the Sheraton Washington and Shoreham hotels for the church convention.
It featured, in addition to business and worship sessions, separate sections for women, laymen and youth.
Each day's session began at 7:30 a.m. with a 2 1/2-hour educational program of more than 100 courses ranging from Bible study to techniques of church ushering to narcotics and drug abuse.
Butler characterized Progressive National Baptists as a a church which "considers religion as much a tool for enhancing the quality of life here as getting us ready for life there," he said in an interview. "We're fairly aware of the basic social issues that confront our people."
Progressive Baptists split off from the larger National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., in 1961 because of differences over two issues: tenure of officers and the civil rights movement.
Joseph H. Jackson, who headed the National Baptists for decades until he was voted out of office last year, adamantly opposed the idea of civil disobedience espoused by Martin Luther King Jr. and many of the younger black clergy. The combination of Jackson's refusal to brook challenges for the presidency of the church, plus his opposition to the burgeoning civil rights movement prompted a substantial number of the younger, activist ministers to withdraw and establish, in 1961, the Progressive Baptists.
The best-known was King, who, Butler recalled, "was at the eye of the storm" that precipitated the split.
Today his denomination has more than 1 million members, Butler said, with its major strength in the urban centers of the Northeast corridor of the United States, the Great Lakes cities and the upper South, Butler said.
"We're generally a working-class people," said Butler, who taught at Morehouse College in Atlanta before entering the pastorate.
"But we're bound by culture and heritage more than economic class. It's not uncommon to find a judge or other professionals in our congreations."
In addition to its spiritual mission, Butler said the church he leads is committed to "addressing the substantive issues for black people."
He said the convention attacks a range of issues--"everything from opposition to apartheid in South Africa to opposition to tuition tax credits."
The denomination is also launching a year-long voter-registration campaign, he said.
"We're asking each pastor to take the responsibility to make sure that every eligible person is registered," Butler said.
In general, the Detroit pastor, who has one more year to serve of his two-year term as denominational president, gave his church a reasonably sound bill of health, but at the same time he cited areas for improvement.
"We do a good job of inspiring and encouraging our people," he said, "but don't always prepare them to use their resources--in the sense that religion be used in a comprehensive manner."
Butler's view of religion does not fit any stereotype of neat categories. "We tend to interpret religion more comprehensively," he said.
"There's less and less distinction between the secular and the sacred. Whatever enhances life, whatever affirms life" is valued, he said.
"A good game of baseball sometimes enhances life more than going to church."