In 1999, the Reverend Jerry Falwell outed Tinky-Winky, the purple character from TV’s Teletubbies. Events such as this reinforced in many quarters the common idea that evangelicals are reactionary, out of touch, and just plain paranoid. But reducing evangelicals to such caricatures does not help us understand their true spiritual and political agendas and the means they use to advance them. Shaking the World for Jesus moves beyond sensationalism to consider how the evangelical movement has effectively targeted Americans—as both converts and consumers—since the 1970s.
Thousands of products promoting the Christian faith are sold to millions of consumers each year through the Web, mail order catalogs, and even national chains such as Kmart and Wal-Mart. Heather Hendershot explores in this book the vast industry of film, video, magazines, and kitsch that evangelicals use to spread their message. Focusing on the center of conservative evangelical culture—the white, middle-class Americans who can afford to buy “Christian lifestyle” products—she examines the industrial history of evangelist media, the curious subtleties of the products themselves, and their success in the religious and secular marketplace.
To garner a wider audience, Hendershot argues, evangelicals have had to carefully temper their message. But in so doing, they have painted themselves into a corner. In the postwar years, evangelical media wore the message of salvation on its sleeve, but as the evangelical media industry has grown, many of its most popular products have been those with heavily diluted Christian messages. In the eyes of many followers, the evangelicals who purvey such products are sellouts—hucksters more interested in making money than spreading the word of God.