November 8, 2007
Delivering the Message: Interview with a Baptist Minister (1 of 5)

Our C3 graduate students, as part of their course on media theory and methods with Henry Jenkins this semester, have been working on an assignment to interview a media producer of some sort. My recent post on Jesus 2.0 reminded me of my own assignment I did for Henry's class last year, when I interviewed a longtime Baptist preacher as my assignment.

I returned to the original transcript of the interview and thought I would include it here on the C3 blog, as it focuses on how religion has long dealt with how content fits into multiple media forms, and how to adapt messages for various audiences. As religion, and all media, are struggling with how to best adapt messages for a new media space--which we actually call "new media" in this case--it's interesting to see how individual pastors on a local level have been considering these changes in relation to the radio, televised preaching, etc.

In Henry's and my interaction about the assignment, what we identified as most valuable from Darrell's perspective deals with the way he articulates a vernacular theory about the importance of immediacy and liveness in the performance of delivering a religious message, and how that performance changes, depending on the media form it takes place in. My own childhood was filled with vibrant oratory performances from all sorts of pastors, and memories of older people in my church who would argue over their favorite religious orators, talk about evangelists who passed through the area once-upon-a-time, or wish to again hear the messages of preachers from a previous generation, when they grew up in the church.

What is also interesting from the interview that follows is the differences in how Darrell discusses radio and video. As Henry pointed out to me, as I worked on analyzing what Darrell had to say, he sees video primarily as a recording medium to allow people to see his live performance, but he does not like the idea of altering his sermon for the sake of the camera. On the other hand, he finds it extremely important to do so in the case of the radio. Might this have to do with preconceived notions of televised evangelists? Or else does the presence of a live audience, which is more often the case in video recordings of a sermon, trump the mediation, as radio sermons often do not involve a live audience and is instead recorded in the studio?

I hope this interview, conducted back in March 2006, might be of interest to some C3 readers. The pastor is Darrell Belcher, who at the time had been a preacher for 32 years and who had preached for a variety of denominations of Christian churches, including Baptist, Holiness, Church of God, Methodist, Nazarene, and interdenominational churches. In that time, he has not only preached at churches in Kentucky but also in Indiana and Tennessee, a fairly big region to travel through for a local preacher.

Few movements are more grassroots and more "fan"-driven than religious movements (if you consider the faithful "fans" of their deity). Last year at MIT, when we were instructed to conduct an in-depth interview with a media content producer, I called back to my hometown baptist church in Echols, Ky., and contacted the pastor there, Darrell Belcher.

While many people who don't follow the Christian movement closely (especially since most strictly Christian programs only appear in places like Trinity Broadcasting) don't realize how media-savvy religion can be, Darrell discussed with me the importance of an oratory performance and the art of preaching, which he believes is often lost on those who study the craft in a seminary instead of being born with that gift of reaching people. Further, Belcher talked with me at length about the transmedia experience of transferring his sermons to video and to radio, both of which he has done.

Darrell had never done any Internet-related projects but said that he saw it as yet another tool to reach people, another communication forum.

In the following three posts, I will include a transcript of that interview about the art of preaching and the mediation involved. In the process, I hope this illustrates both how religious speakers are considering issues of "comparative media" at a very local level, and how some of the insight here might apply, not only to "Jesus 2.0" but adapting messages for new media in general.