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Donald Wildmon, A Voice Crying for Decency (Part 2 of 4)
By Dr. David Reagan
The Challenge of Decency
It all began on a December evening in 1976. Don Wildmon’s children wanted to watch TV, and when they took a look at what the three main networks had to offer, they could not find anything decent. The first program was sexually inappropriate, the second was full of foul language, and the third featured a man being beaten to death with a hammer!14
That night, after he went to bed, Don began thinking about how he could get the attention of the networks in order to impress upon them the need for wholesome programming. That’s when he got an idea that would prove to be revolutionary — he would call on Christians to turn off their TV sets for a week. The next day, he drew up a press release and sent it out to all the media in Memphis. To his total shock, the Associated Press picked up his proposal, and before he could grasp what had happened, he started receiving inquiries from all across the nation.
He was 39 years old. He had no money. He had no connections with the powerful. But far more important, he had been anointed by God to take a stand for righteousness.
The “Turn the Television Off Week” was held during the week of July 24-30, 1977.15 As soon as it was over, Wildmon resigned his pastorate, moved back to Tupelo and established his new ministry which he initially called The National Federation for Decency (the name was changed to the American Family Association in 1988). As he later put it, “I had a vision; God had a plan.”16
A year later in 1978 his volunteers, who were monitoring television programming on the major networks, made a surprising discovery — that Sears was one of the major advertisers on programs Wildmon considered to be morally unacceptable. This led to a major crusade against Sears, and the corporation responded positively by cutting its sponsorship of the programs.17
This spectacular success propelled Wildmon into the focus of the secular, hostile media. It also led to many important speaking invitations.
The Crusader Becomes a Prophet
When Wildmon first started his ministry, his only goal was to fight profanity, sex and violence on TV. But as the years passed, he realized that he was in a battle for Western Civilization and that God had called him to speak out in behalf of basic Christian values wherever they might be attacked. His response was to broaden his scope from simply a focus on television to a defense of America’s Judeo-Christian consensus wherever it was assaulted by the aggressive forces of Humanism.
This broadened scope was revealed in a very important speech that he was invited to deliver to the prestigious and influential Los Angeles World Affairs Council in April of 1982. In this speech, Wildmon began speaking as a prophet, pointing to the sins of our nation and warning of their consequences.
Although his audience was a thoroughly secular one, Wildmon began by quoting Scripture:18
Years ago a simple Jewish tentmaker spoke these words, “Whatsoever a man sows, that will he also reap.” That truth is as valid for a nation as it is for an individual. The truth of the words of Paul of Tarsus is evident in our country today. For more than a generation now our society has been sowing seeds which are today bringing forth their fruit. Truth can be rejected, but it cannot be avoided.
He launched into a brief review of the religious heritage of our nation, arguing that “underneath the heart of America there was always abiding a strong belief in the guiding hand of a Divine Being.”19 He then asserted, “Today, belief appears to be slowly dying, pushed aside by those whose religion is self-interest and self-indulgence.”20
He pointed out that an “anti-religious attitude” had arisen in the nation that “no one would have dared to predict a generation ago.”21 He continued:22
So strong is this anti-religious attitude that in today’s atmosphere it would be impossible for Congress to make Christmas a legal holiday; to place “In God We Trust” on our coins; to include in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag the phrase “One nation under God;” to have a chaplain open the sessions of Congress with a prayer or even to allow our armed forces to have chaplains.
At this point, Wildmon zeroed in on the fundamental problem:23
Atheism and agnosticism, with their stepchildren of humanism, hedonism, and materialism, may not be the official religions of our country, but they have become the accepted practical religion by many in key positions of influence.
He continued with the observation that “any religion or philosophy which teaches us to use people and love things is a natural enemy of the Christian faith, which teaches us to love people and use things.”24
Wildmon explained that in his opinion, “the greatest threat to the existence of our society” is “mind pollution,” and the greatest instrument of such pollution is television.25
He asserted that his ideas were “dangerous” and have been for two thousand years. He explained that they are the ideas that resulted in Jesus being nailed to a cross and the Roman Empire killing those who held such ideas. He then presented his audience with a list of the “dangerous ideas” he was talking about:26
1. Sex is a beautiful gift given by God to be shared between husband and wife.
2. Violence is not God’s way of resolving conflict.
3. The elderly are an important part of society to be honored and respected for their wisdom and experience.
4. Intelligent and thoughtful people can express themselves without resorting to vulgar, crude and filthy language.
5. Religion is a vital part of life.
He brought this powerful and insightful presentation to a close by speaking of the inevitable consequences of abandoning our Judeo-Christian heritage:27
What is at stake is whether we will remain a country accepting the Judeo-Christian concept of right and wrong, or turn our back on centuries of progress to embrace practical atheism…
We can have a society that recognizes God and His moral standards, or we can have a society that recognizes the “make-it-up-as-you-go moral standards of Hollywood.” We cannot, however, have both as equals.
He then concluded as he began, reminding his audience that “a nation which turns its back on God and His moral standards will reap what it sows… We are beginning to learn the party is over. It is time to pay the fiddler.”28
In the third segment of this series on the prophetic voice of Donald Wildmon, we’ll look at how both the secular world and pastors responded to Don’s call to purity.