Material History of American Religion Project

Will We Let Them Get Away With It?

Since Gutenberg—if not before—church people have bewailed the influence of the media on society. Novels, plays, newspapers, radio and film have all been seen as dangerous to the church, its message, and its people. Church leaders have responded to the media’s threat in a variety of ways. Some—especially established churches—have tried to ban the media. Others—especially sectarian churches—have tried to shun them. Mainline denominational Christianity, however, has most often tried to co-opt the media. It has sought to use the power of the media to convey its own message, or at the very least to convey a less dangerous message.

This document is about an attempt to co-opt the power of a medium—not because of its message, however, but simply because of its existence. It takes us back to the earliest days of television, when the very idea of television, whatever the programming, was a miracle.

This story, an article from Missions, a magazine of the Northern Baptist Convention, is about the dangers of television—not its programming, but its presence in a bar. A supporter of a Baptist-related settlement house in Newark, New Jersey, writes to warn the church that "the liquor traffic has a new instrument for enticing young men and boys into the saloons." It encourages reflection on the role the media plays in driving American religion. It helps to explain much of the modern mega-church movement. And it concludes with an example of miraculous fund-raising for mission.

Are we going to let them get away with it? That was the question in one woman's mind after hearing Miss Martha Mixer of the Newark Christian Centre speak at a meeting of Baptist women of the North Jersey Baptist Association. She had told of some boys who had come to the Christian Center after school and had said that they would no longer be coming to the afternoon games and craft classes. "You see," their spokesman said, "the man at the tavern has asked us to come in after school and watch the baseball games on his television set. We came to tell you because we thought you ought to know why we don't come any more." As they trooped off toward the nearby saloon, Jimmy came back to add, "Gee, we'd rather be here at your place . . . that is, if you only had a television set."

On the way home, a sign on a saloon seemed to hit this Baptist woman in the face . . . BAR-TELEVISION-SANDWICHES.

As she stepped into her own living room, her son with his ear glued to the radio listening to the ball game, was further accusation. "We call ourselves Christian," she thought, "and we sit by and let the liquor interests walk away just like that with the children our missionaries have won off the streets! Will we let them get away with it?"

On the next morning she interviewed a local dealer to get prices on television sets. When he said to her, "If you can raise the money for this, I'll donate my $50 commission," she felt that she had to go ahead and do something.

A letter to Miss Martha Mixer--"Would you want a television set if we could get one for you?"--brought an embarrassed but enthusiastic reply. "I didn't mean to ask for it; but we are thrilled and delighted at the very thought. If you find a way of raising the money for the set, we will take care of the cost of installation."

Mrs. Herbert E. Hinton, Woman's North Association President, was sympathetic and interested. She suggested at once that the women be offered an opportunity to raise the money as a special project. The treasurer of the Association, Miss Edith Thomson, gladly agreed to handle the donations. Within six weeks the money in a steady stream had mounted to $335.31, and as the total cost of the set (less the dealer's commission) was $360, the missionaries' fund contributed $24.69. Mr. Emil Hirrschoff, Director of Boys Work, and Miss Mixer called for the set and proudly bore it off to the Centre, where he installed it.

It has been in use more than three months. Miss Mixer wrote, "We opened up on a Friday night. We had not advertised, but 40 people came in and were delighted. There were several complete family groups, bringing in mothers and fathers who had not come before. One mother said, 'I'd rather have my son with Hirrschoff than with father, where he goes!' Other sons brought one parent."

The attractions to date have been sports events and children's programs. "It is interesting," says Mr. Hirrschoff, "that the quiz programs draw more attention from the children than some of the Westerns. They listen eagerly to the questions and try to answer them before the contestants do. It is good to see whole families coming. If it were not for our television set, the fathers would be at the taverns, and the families at home alone."

One woman's group in North Association wrote, "We have discussed this idea and decided it is the very thing we need here in our own church to keep our young people away from the many barrooms around town, so we are going to raise money for a television set."

What about your church . . . your town? Think it over when you see the flashing sign . . . BAR-TELEVISION-SANDWICHES.

Are we going to let the liquor traffic get away with it?

Mrs. Walter E. Woodbury, "Will We Let Them Get Away With It?," Missions 147 (February 1949), 106-107.

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