The Lenten service at a Pasadena church Wednesday wasn't exactly a night for sackcloth and ashes.
Instead of somber reflection, about 40 people who came to the Pasadena United Methodist Church to hear a lecture about the media and values had one rollicking good time.
Church members nodded and clapped as the Rev. Bernard Keels, a former TV reporter and pastor of the A. P. Shaw United Methodist Churchin Washington, D.C., lambasted television as the evil of the age.
Keels, who holds degrees from Haverford College and Yale Divinity School, blamed the electronic media for our violent society, saying "all our young boys see are guns."
He blamed the media for inadequately reporting about the AIDS virus when thedisease first surfaced.
"TV could've changed thousands of lives if they'd reported the story right away," he charged.
He blamed the media "and other things" with encouraging an atmosphere that makes euthanasia a socially acceptable way to end the lives of the elderly and the ill.
"Something other than the media must condition your world view," said Keels, who worked as a weekly feature reporter for Channel 11 until he resigned in 1988.
"Television has replaced the church as a teacher of valuesto children. Do you see the number of times people jump in and out of bed on TV?" he asked an audience of mostly middle-aged couples.
However, complaining about what Keels called "this evil empire" isn'tenough, he said.
The minister went on to suggest concrete ways the church could use the media, rather than being controlled by it.
He suggested families teach their children how to watch TV.
"We leave our children in front of the most mind-changing device possible,"he said. "I had a 7-year-old girl in my church who was secretly watching her father's porno flicks on videotape. She went to her mother and asked, 'Mommy, why are people doing that stuff?' What does this doto a child's sense of healthy sexuality?"
Keels also suggested the church teach a Bible study on what the Bible says about media.
"All they had back then was the oral tradition, somebody acting as a reporter to pass down every story," he explained.
The apostle Paul,Keels said, was perhaps the greatest "Christian reporter" as he traveled around "recounting the life of Jesus in a powerful way."
Churches also might understand how the electronic media work by touring aTV station and by creating monitoring groups to see how many storiesimportant to their community are reported, the minister said.
Thelecture was fourth in a Lenten series on "Gospel, Culture and Media," which the church hopes will help Christians examine how media affect their attitudes and cultures, said the pastor, the Rev. Richard Nowers.
Church members warmed to their guest, laughing and asking questions.
"I like it that he connects Christian things with our daily concerns," said listener Lucille Sappington.
Concluded Keels, "We're not able to communicate the gospel these days, because people have so many religious assumptions, and the words don't have the meaning they once did.
"If we as a church are to be successful in telling our story, we must ground it in ordinary experience. And if we're talking in front of a microphone, we must be very careful what we say."