This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a move by PBS relating to religious broadcasts on public television.

The Public Broadcasting Service agreed yesterday to ban its member stations from airing new religious TV programs, but permitted the handful of stations that already carry “sectarian” shows to continue doing so.

The vote by PBS’s board was a compromise from a proposed ban on all religious programming. Such a ban would have forced a few stations around the country to give up their PBS affiliation if they continued to broadcast local church services and religious lectures.

PBS has also prohibited sectarian broadcasts, but enforcement had all but disappeared. On several public stations, for example, church services had become part of the schedule. This week, PBS agreed to start enforcing its own rules again.

Some religious conservatives have said this amounts to discrimination against religion, but it’s a bogus charge. PBS’s news program about religion, “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly,” will continue unaffected, and news shows, documentaries, and specials about faith are still permitted. What’s more, individual stations will be grandfathered in, and will keep their spiritual programming.

My friend Rob Boston makes the case that the PBS compromise may not go quite far enough: “Anyone who channel surfs knows that there is no shortage of devotional programming on television. If you doubt this, bust out your remote and make the rounds. You’ll find evangelists of every stripe. There are entire cable and satellite channels devoted to religion, offering programs around the clock. That’s enough. There’s no need for PBS to get into the business of proselytizing.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Newsweek has a good piece in its new issue exploring military chaplains using their positions to encourage evangelism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Central Command’s General Order Number One forbids active-duty troops from trying to convert people to any religion, but the problem persists and it severely undermines U.S. efforts in the region.

* Liberty University, an evangelical school founded by Jerry Falwell, recently made national headlines when it withdrew support from College Democrats as an officially sanctioned student group. School officials, apparently embarrassed by the attention, have been involved in negotiations to reinstate the Democratic organization, but the talks haven’t gone well. (thanks to Blue Girl for the tip)

* And in South Carolina, a Christian ministry known as the Inspiration Network has lost its tax-exempt status after bringing in more than $39 million in profit between 2002 to 2006. David Cerullo, head of the Inspiration Network, receives a $1.5 million annual salary, and his wife and children are all on the ministry’s payroll. The Cerullos have also reportedly bought extravagant homes, including a $3.1 million lakefront house in Greenville, thanks to the success of their “non-profit” network. Ministry officials are planning to appeal the decision.