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Ben asked, “One thing I’ve wondered about is those pastors who were against television. When they said that television was the destruction of America’s families, did they mean just the sexiest, most vile things on today, or television in general (the latter meaning that it was an immorality and sin, no matter how much sex or violence there was)?”
Few Evangelicals these days are totally anti-television. In fact, I suspect most Evangelicals watch the same programs unsaved people do, albeit with a lot more fear and guilt. Evangelical preachers still preach against what they deem immoral on TV. Societal acceptance of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and living together alarms many Evangelicals. That these “sins” are portrayed as healthy and normal on countless TV programs concerns more than a few of God’s chosen ones, but come Sunday night, many of these same people will watch sexually perverse shows such as The Deuce or Game of Thrones. They might ask Jesus to forgive them for putting wicked things before their eyes, but come the next Sunday they will continue to imbibe in all things GOT and watch Eileen “Candy” Merrell (brilliantly played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) make porno flicks.
Groups such as the Parents Television Council, the American Family Association, and One Millions Moms are quite vocal about TV programming, but these fringe groups hardly represent the viewing habits of most American Christians. Generally, Evangelicals are quite conversant in modern culture. This reveals that they read the same books, visit the same websites (including YouPorn), and watch the same television programs as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.
I am sixty-one years old. I grew up in a day when Bonanza, Leave it to Beaver, The Rifleman, Gomer Pyle, and Bewitched, to name a few, were standard TV fare. I loved shows such as Rat Patrol, Hogan’s Heroes, and MASH. We have come a long way since these days. What was hidden subtly and or referenced with double entendres fifty years ago is now front and center. Evangelicals are correct when they say that things have changed and what was once only spoken of in secret is now on the TV screen for all to see. That said, we live in a day when TV programming is better than it ever has been. Thanks to companies such as HBO, Showtime, and AMC, we now have for our consumption thrilling first-rate programming. Yes, there’s a lot more sex and bloody violence, but that’s life, is it not? Hiding the fact that the character played by John Wayne had sex outside of the bond of marriage presents a warped view of the world. Humans have sex, lots of it. Heterosexuals and LGBTQ people alike have sex. Why not portray life as it is instead of pretending that everyone loves Jesus, is morally pure, and never says curse words?
What Evangelical preachers want is a return to the 1950s. They pine for the days of June and Ward Cleaver and their two sons. Fundamentalist to the core, these arbiters of morality want a black-and-white world where everything is defined by the teachings of the Bible. Those days are long gone, never to return. If Evangelicals don’t like what’s on hellivision, they can turn it off. It really is that simple. Or they can watch “Christian” television. There are scores of Evangelical/Catholic/Mormon television channels, yet most Christians never watch them. Why is that?
Let me conclude this post with an article I wrote in January of 2016. Titled, The Preacher and His TV, this post details the struggles and battles I had with television.
In the 1960s, when I was a child, my Dad would drop my siblings and me off at the Bryan Theater so we could watch the 25-cent Saturday afternoon matinee. But somewhere in my primary school years, going to movies became unacceptable. From that point forward, outside of attending a drive-in movie one time at age 18, I didn’t go to a movie theater again until I was in my late 30s. As a Christian, I believed that going to or renting movies was supporting Hollywood, an institution that I considered a den of iniquity.
In the late 1990s, having become more “liberal” in my thinking, I decided it was time for the Gerencser family to go to a movie. When I told Polly that we were all going to the drive-in to see a movie, she was appalled. She literally thought that God was going to strike us dead. Well here we are, all these years later, still among the living. Evidently, God didn’t seem to care about us going to the drive-in. By the way, the first hardcore, violent, nudity-laden movie we saw was George of the Jungle! The Second? Air Bud.
I grew up in a home that always had a television. My Mom told me one time that American Bandstand was my babysitter. The first memory I have about television is watching the Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I remember my Dad coming home with what I later in life called the “poor man’s color TV.” It was a colored, plastic sheet that Dad taped to the TV screen. The top of the sheet was blue and the bottom was green. Supposedly, the screen was meant to simulate sky and grass. Dad wasn’t impressed and we quickly went back to watching black and white TV. The Gerencser family didn’t own a color television until sometime in the 1970s.
My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.
To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our TV in the church yard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take it. How dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps. What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF when the man of God made an appearance at their home.
In the early 1990s, I would, from time to time, rent a television from a local rent-to-own business. Two times come to mind: the World Series and the 1991 Gulf War. Outside of that, my oldest three children grew up in a television-free home. They were teenagers: 18, 16, and 13, before they watched TV (except for watching Saturday cartoons when they were little). Well, this isn’t entirely true. When they visited their grandparents, they were permitted to watch TV (even though I wasn’t happy about them doing so). Like Amish children, they were mesmerized by Disney movies and cartoons.
After our family attended their first movie, I decided I would buy a television, setting in motion seven years of what any competent psychologist would call bizarre behavior. While what I am about to share will sound hilarious to those who never spent any time in Christian Fundamentalism, at the time, there was nothing humorous about my actions.
From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions? you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G or PG rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.
My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right God. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, never watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.
It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God?
I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life: “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.” Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of internet, brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the internet.
My three oldest children, now in their 30s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.
Where was Polly in all of this, you ask? She was the dutiful, submissive wife who believe her God-called, on-fire, sold-out Christian pastor of a husband knew best. Polly rarely watched TV, so having one didn’t matter to her. I was the one who “needed” to watch TV. As I now psychoanalyze this period of my life, I think watching TV was my way of being normal. Serving a sin-hating God and preaching to others a rigorous morality meant that I had to live a Christ-honoring, sin-free life. Again, in light of the atoning work of Jesus on my behalf, I thought that forsaking the pleasure of the “world” was but a small price to pay for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Yet, I wanted to be like everyone else, so I would come home after a long day of studying for my sermons and visiting church members, and leave God sitting on the front porch. Watching TV was my way of unwinding after work days which were often 12 hours long. While I still was selective about what I watched, my attempts to avoid “sinful” viewing rarely kept me from watching whatever I wanted to watch, especially after the children went to bed. Over time, my guilt levels would increase, ultimately leading to the behaviors outlined in this post.
In 2006, eighteen months before I deconverted, I finally put an end to my battle with the television. I decided, God be damned, I was going to own a TV and watch whatever I wanted to watch. From that point forward, we have owned a TV. While I have continued to buy televisions, my purchases are driven by resolution, refresh rate, and screen size, and not the thought that God was going to strike me dead for seeing a naked woman on TV. (We now own two televisions: a 43-inch and 32-inch LED Vizio TV.)
Several years ago, as we were watching an episode of True Blood, I turned to Polly and said, who would of thought that we would be sitting here watching bloody, naked vampires having sex? We laughed together, both grateful that the preacher had finally been delivered from the demon of TV.
List of article and videos about the sin of watching hellivision and going to the movies. This list was compiled by a devoted follower of the late Jack Hyles.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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