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ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--"All television is educational television," observed Nicholas Johnson, former head of the Federal Communications Commission. "The question is: what is it teaching?"
If TV content is any indicator of what the medium is seeking to advance, then homosexuality is in and Christianity is out.
As previously reported in Baptist Press, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) released Aug. 6 its first-ever "Network Responsibility Index" which examined the inclusion of "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender" themes or characters on TV.
The index found that 15 percent of all of ABC's primetime programming hours during a 12-month span contained either homosexual characters or the discussion of homosexuality. The CW was second at 12 percent, followed by CBS (9 percent), NBC (7 percent) and Fox (6 percent). For their content ABC was rated "good," the CW, CBS and NBC "fair" and Fox "poor."
If you include the non-prime-time programs and cable shows that are friendly to GLAAD's cause, there are positive portrayals of homosexuality 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Does all this positive programming have an impact on the perception of homosexuality? GLAAD sure believes it does. In issuing the report, GLAAD acknowledge the persuasive power of television. "The power of the broadcast medium to shape culture and collective consciousness is indisputable," GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano said.
While no network received an "excellent" rating from GLAAD, you can be assured that the organization will use the study to pressure TV executives to include even more homosexuality-friendly fare.
Even though positive portrayals of homosexuals on network television are on the rise, sympathetic characterizations of Christian characters are practically non-existent.
"One of the most talked-about new TV characters this season appears on Aaron Sorkin's little-watched but much-hyped 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip' [on NBC]," wrote The Boston Globe's Matthew Gilbert concerning the 2006 network television season. "Her name is Harriet Hayes, she's as sweet as apple pie, and she is openly Christian. And on series TV, practicing Christians -- she's Southern Baptist, to be specific -- are about as common as ghost whisperers."
When a writer for a daily newspaper, and one not noted for its conservatism, admits there is a dearth of Christian characters on prime-time television, you know there is a significant shortage.
Programming that does include Christian characters usually portrays them in a less than flattering light. When was the last time you saw network television -- any television, for that matter -- portray a Christian character as intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate or caring? It's been awhile, hasn't it?
The closest thing to a positive portrayal of Christianity that I can come up with is the The CW's "7th Heaven," which is a family drama about a minister, his wife and their seven children. The show, however, is Bible-light and leans toward liberal problem solving. Prayer is rarely practiced and the Bible rarely referenced. The impression one gets from "7th Heaven" is that "positive" Christians don't use, or need, biblical instruction.
Does television impact the perception? Recent polls indicate that acceptance of homosexuality in America is at an all-time high. A recent Gallup poll found that a record 57 percent of U.S. adults say homosexuality "should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle." Some polls indicate that support among young people in their teens and 20s is even higher.
Television's positive portrayal has certainly contributed to the rise in the acceptance of homosexuality as natural, normal and healthy. If trends continue expect the embrace of homosexuality to continue to increase.
Will television's treatment of Christian characters have similar effect on the public perception of Christianity? Only time will tell. "Television is teaching all the time," Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan once observed. "It does more educating than the schools and all the institutions of higher learning."
If the Canadian philosopher is correct, then what Americans are learning about Christianity is anything but positive.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each week in Baptist Press, is editor of the Baptist Message, the newspaper of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.