Defection by Television

Forty Autumns, the story of East Germany and Germans inside and out of that dystopian regime is worth the read. It illustrates why the most effective way of undermining an Iron Curtain is not an effective way for spreading the Gospel. The ubiquity of Zoom services and Facebook streaming not withstanding.

The author, living in the West, details how radio signals reached into the benighted land of East Germany, but how exponentially greater was the impact of TV. It was so effective and so damaging from the East German authoritarian state’s viewpoint that they coined the phrase “Defection by Television.” That name in and of itself tells you why it’s problematic to stream video of services.

When you do audio only, you do what good old Ozzie Hoffman’s Lutheran Hour claimed: You bring Christ to the nations. Via the Word Christ enters the time, space, and  Sitz im Leben of the individual regardless of where they might be. Dale Meyer followed the venerable Ozzie of the 44, and it was definitely a step down. Think Medes and Persians sliver to Nebuchadnezzar’s gold. He had a genius for marketing, a penchant would be a more accurate term, changed the Lutheran Hour forever and probably irrecoverably when he added “and the nations to the church.”

Do you see what Dale did there? He turned radio into something it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a delivery vehicle not a pick-up vehicle.

But what about “Defection by Television” it was called this because TV did what radio can’t. Video brings you to where the video is coming from. Hence, you defect to a Western World View, the author speaks of them being agog at the opulence of Dallas. It’s funny. We were agog at Dallas too but for its over-the-top-ness.

So when you stream your service, you’re doing the old push/pull which is conducive to muscle growth but not mental and certainly not spiritual growth. Your audio is of course going out confronting and comforting them right where they are with the Word, but you’re video is a come thither appeal pulling them to you. That is what video does.  All the audio books I’ve listened to, well over 100, end with a thank you for listening to this ‘production of’ or ‘performance of’ whatever book it is. Yes, audio-only can certainly be a production, a performance. Video is meant to be and always is.

A Jewish man, who is now Lutheran, said that it was in listening to our service that he was drawn to start doing with his body what the congregation was told to do with theirs, sit, stand, kneel, etc. where he was. He then started saying what we were saying where he was. The Church was coming into his time and space. He did come on Christmas Eve and Day. He told me: “It was wonderful. All this time I heard you celebrating Communion but never actually saw it till today.” In some sense, he was drawn to defect bodily, i.e. come to the actual service. I wonder if we’d always been streaming it, would he have been content with defection by television?

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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