What images leap into your mind when you hear the word “televangelist”?
If you are a certain age, you probably think of the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart weeping and choking out the words, “I … HAVE … SINNED!” For millions of other folks — especially journalists, like me, who once worked at The Charlotte Observer — this term will always be linked to the Rev. Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker.
But what does the word actually mean and is it the best term to describe the Rev. Pat Roberson? That’s one of the topics that came up during this week’s “Crossroads” podcast. Click here to tune that in, or head over to iTunes and sign up. The main topic we discussed this week? That would be Robertson’s headline-grabbing remarks about Alabama’s new abortion law:
"I think Alabama has gone too far," Robertson said Wednesday on "The 700 Club" before the bill was signed into law by Alabama's Republican Gov. Kay Ivey. "It's an extreme law."
The key question: Why did Robertson say what he said? What did readers need to know to understand what he was trying to say, whether they agreed with him or not? Hold that thought.
Meanwhile, back to that mild journalism curse word — “televangelist.” The pros at Merriam-Webster online offer a nice, logical definition:
… an evangelist who conducts regularly televised religious programs.
OK, that assumes that this person’s primary job is doing public, evangelistic events — like, for example, the Rev. Billy Graham.
The definition offered by the Cambridge Dictionary is a bit more candid:
… The activity of preaching (= giving religious speeches) on television in order to persuade people to become Christians and give money to religious organizations.
Ah, yes, raising money is crucial. But note that the primary goal remains winning people to Christian faith. Does that describe most of the work Robertson has done during his long media career?
I think the blunt offering at Dictionary.com — the source favored by Google — is precisely what most reporters are thinking when they use this term: