Religion hasn’t had the greatest reputation of late. Between molestation scandals, corrupted church officials and hate-speech, it’s no wonder people are leery of those in higher positions within major religions.
According to a Gallup.com poll, confidence in churches and organized religion is at an all time low in the U.S. According to the poll, only 51 percent of U.S. Protestants and 51 percent of U.S. Catholics report being confident in “the church” or organized religion. However, confidence is slightly increasing amongst U.S. Catholics with the popularity of Pope Francis.
There’s so much corruption in the way churches operate in America, but every now and then an outlier pastor of incredible merit who actually upholds the words of Christ surfaces and is able to speak-out against issues that all Christians who are actually adhering to the word of the lord, would be able to endorse. These are the pastors who, despite having so little oversight, use their congregation as a force for benevolence and meaningful change.
Such is the case of the Rev. Everett C. Parker, who saw his position of power in the church as a powerful tool that could implement meaningful social change. Best known for his win in the successful lawsuit against the Federal Cable Commission (FCC), Parker is noted for being the man who fought mercilessly with cable companies to begin portraying and casting reporters and actors of different ethnicities for mainstream television.
A lifelong member of the United Church of Christ, with the backing of his congregation, Parker embarked on his mission of changing American’s expectation for what was acceptable to broadcast on the airways. In an era when discrimination was not something our country even entertained as an issue, Parker was thinking progressively before it became a hot-button issue in political debate and talk shows alike. Prior to Parker’s demands and lawsuits, cable executives had no concern for whether their Caucasian hosts and actors were outnumbering people off equal merit and talent, not to mention their lack of concern for racial slurs.
However, as the ‘60s civil rights movement began to garner attention (mainly for its notorious brushes with police brutality), Parker saw his chance to take this pressing issue to the courts, in hopes that under the eyes of the law, there would be provisions made for minorities being underrepresented, if not totally out casted by media.
Parker, with the help of his large branch congregations, eventually found a station that he felt was an ideal example of the discriminatory hate-filled vitriol that was permeating the entertainment industry. The station was WLBT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi. The station had all the qualifying characteristics of biased, racist programming. The station catered specifically to whites as it failed to cover the events of the Civil Rights propaganda, let alone the Black Freedom Movement. Though Parker had confronted the executives of WLBT and politely asked the station reconsider the manner in which they presented their findings, the station denied Parker his requests and continued to produce and market television that demonized African Americans and excluded any minority group member from their interviews and staff.
Discouraged by his failed first attempt at petitioning the FCC, who said Parker had no interest in pursuing the matter because he had no “economic” interest at stake, Parker disagreed. The fact that nearly every American owned either a television set or a radio made the issue very pressing and cogent. This time, his appeal was heard, and he won his case against the FCC. WLBT had its licenses terminated.
His work for broadcasting did not stop after his one successful, albeit small win. He worked tirelessly to assemble volunteers to construct watchdog groups where the content and diversity of news stations would be monitored and critiqued by an educated panel. Parker created environments where local television station executives and coworkers could give newly hired minority employees’ useful and unbiased training. Books were written, and documentaries were produced. He lectured at Fordham University and inspired his students to apply his messages to their own prospective fields.
For, as we all know, prejudice reaches far beyond the newsrooms and production sets. It persists in every field and the only way to remedy it is to draw attention to it, discuss why it’s not okay, and, if necessary, draft legislation in order to protect those who are unable to protect themselves under current laws.
Included in the preamble of the Code of Ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists are the words that the duty of the journalist is to seek out the truth, providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of journalism and the pursuit of news is not a license for arrogance.
Why then, do we live in an era where Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact found that Fox News was truthful only 18 percent of the time in the statements it makes and feel no need to protest the FCC for allowing it airtime. Why is it that we sit passively while Rupert Murdoch, a corrupt Australian business magnate, buys the beloved National Geographic magazine? Why do we allow televangelists to trick innocent old ladies into not seeking treatment for cancer when they will be cured if only they donate enough?
We do it because we forget what people like Everett C. Parker stood for. We forget that we, in his passing, have to take his place. Rest in peace, sir. 1913-2015.