An important article by Dr Colin R. Nicholl has recently been published in The Spectator (24 November 2001). Dr Nicholl lectures in the Divinity Faculty of Cambridge University.
The article was entitled ‘For Christ’s Sake’ and concerned pressures brought to bear against Premier Radio, London’s Christian Radio Station.
Premier Radio reflects an Evangelical Alliance type of constituency, with speakers such as James Dobson, Joni Eareckson Tada, David Pawson, R. T. Kendall and Tony Campolo.
Dr Nicholl has uncovered a campaign to have the station’s licence removed by the Radio Authority.
This authority publishes a Quarterly Complaints Bulletin, which itemises subjects and themes that have given offence to listeners.
Of those who send in letters of complaint ‘there seem to be two main groups’, writes Dr Nicholl: ‘ad hoc complainers and professional complainers.
‘The former stumble inadvertently across material that genuinely offends them and therefore complain; the latter listen for material which they may exploit to promote their agenda.’
Premier Radio has been a target. The Radio Authority has received 14 complaints about Premier Radio’s programmes in the last 3 months, a figure in excess of any other radio station listed.
Every single complaint about this Christian station came from an organisation called The Mysticism and Occultism Federation (MOF).
If MOF’s website is visited one learns that it has five ‘unpaid volunteers’ who monitor the media looking for ‘unfair’ and ‘offensive’ comments which are exclusivistic or ‘intolerant’ of other ‘spiritualities’, such as Satanism, occultism, New Age, magic, astrology and divination.
So, we have this picture of five people taking it in turns during the hours of the night to listen to preachers on Premier Radio.
They note down any comment made about the exclusive nature of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, or any moral ‘judgement’ or sermonic faux pas – and then complain!
For example, there was a line (which Colin Nicholl rightly dubs a cheesy joke) that went – ‘Hinduism, Buddhism, rheumatism’. The Radio Authority was not amused, judging this to be ‘unacceptable’ and ‘serious’.
The MOF’s website despises ‘fundamentalism’, in which category it places Premier Radio.
‘Christian fundamentalists’, we learn, belong in the same camp as Marxists, Maoists and Nazis – they are all ‘fanatics’ and ‘scripture cultists’.
Indeed, they are ‘xenophobic blasphemers’ whose thoughts and ideas are ‘more sinister’ than racism in serving as an ‘impetus for persecution’.
Yet the pretext for MOF’s complaints about Christianity is in fact ‘pluralism’. MOF claims to be committed to value and respect the beliefs of others!
So, between July and September 2001, the Radio Authority received 64 complaints and upheld 17 of these. Eight of the 17 upheld related to Premier Radio. Six of these were upheld and two partially upheld.
As a result, the Christian station was warned that serious sanctions would be imposed if it continued to offend. From now on, the Radio Authority itself would join MOF in monitoring Premier Radio’s programmes.
But what ‘offensive’ remarks did the radio preachers make? Here are three of them.
‘In a sermon on the lame man at Bethesda, Dr Michael Youssef suggested that mainline churches were following a PC (politically correct) agenda and accommodating to secular culture instead of trusting in Jesus alone, “the true Redeemer, the true Saviour, the only one who can make them whole”.
‘He insisted that the only cure for our society was following the word of Jesus Christ. In addition, Dr Youssef expressed his conviction that it was “crazy” to claim that one can be a “practising homosexual” and a “good Christian” at the same time, in view of Paul’s teaching in Romans 1.’
The Radio Authority read MOF’s complaint about those remarks and agreed that they were ‘offensive’ because they ‘denigrated the beliefs of other people’ and so contravened the Programme Code.
Dr Colin Nicholl asks: ‘Is it now the case that only those Christians who interpret the Bible as permitting homosexual practice can air their views on radio?’
Dr Charles Swindoll warned Christians of the dangers of ‘dabbling in the occult’ and advised them to destroy any occult materials in their possession.
He was repeating the counsel of Acts 19:19: ‘A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly’.
Dr Nicholl comments that, ‘in a rather fascinating PC judgement, the Radio Authority asserted that “divination” was a part of some religious belief systems, and that Swindoll’s homily was tantamount to denigration of others’ beliefs.
‘This ruling raises a number of questions: since Satanists worship Satan, is it similarly offensive to portray Satan in negative terms?
‘Since the perpetrators of the 11 September attacks considered themselves to be obeying Allah, is it now denigration of others’ beliefs to denounce them and their British counterparts as “evil” and “deceived” and to pronounce that theirs is a “religion of terrorism”?’
Another preacher said of some sacred books of non-Christian religions: ‘I cannot pretend to have made a study of these books for myself but I can say, on the authority of reliable students who have, that their content, and the teaching of them, does not begin to compare to the Bible. They are full of superstition and absurdities’.
The MOF complained to the Radio Authority, who concluded that those words were ‘totally unacceptable’ and ‘a clear and serious breach’ of the Code and the Broadcasting Act (1990).
The Act states that programmes must not contain ‘abusive treatment of the religious views and beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion or religious denomination’.
Dr Nicholl says that he knows a significant number who would readily express a similarly negative view of the Bible. Should they be prevented from communicating their view by radio?
What of the fact that Premier Radio attracts an exclusively Evangelical audience? The Radio Authority sternly replies: ‘Stations must be vigilant not to abuse any religious beliefs whatsoever, regardless of whether the audience at whom the service was aimed might themselves be offended or not’.
What is Dr Nicholl’s assessment of these judgements? They are:
1. The Authority’s judgements fundamentally undermine freedom of expression for Christians.
2. That much mischief can be accomplished by just one group of occultists acting in the name of religious pluralism.
3. That it is time, perhaps, that the Radio Authority considered whether the warning it issued to Premier Radio was, after all, an embarrassing gaffe.
4. That ‘to avoid a repetition of the same, all future complaints relating to religious matters should be entrusted to a sub-committee consisting of trained theologians’.
5. That the Radio Authority should be kept more accountable to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
Was MOF’s denigration of Christian ‘fundamentalist’ broadcasting an incitement to religious hatred?
While impartiality might deduce that MOF was unreasonably biased and offensive towards Christians, the ITC/BBC central religious advisory committee congratulated the Radio Authority for its handling of the ‘Premier case’.
The nine members of that advisory committee, with its watching brief over the Radio’s Authority’s monitoring of ‘offensive’ Christian sermons, includes Muslims, Jews, agnostics and atheists.