Radio station plans to cancel religious show 'Gates of Zion' contract to end this month

June 08, 1993|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Staff Writer

A Baltimore-area radio station, which thrives on controversial talk shows, has told a Messianic Jewish-Christian congregation in Owings Mills that its Sunday morning discussion and call-in hour will be canceled at the end of a one-year contract this month.

Sean Casey, program director for WCBM-AM, denied reports yesterday -- prompted by supporters of the show -- that the station was giving in to pressures by advertisers to cancel it. "We simply made a decision to move away from religious broadcasting of that nature."

Congregation Rosh Pina's 7 a.m.-to-8 a.m. "Gates of Zion" talk show will have its last airing June 27, the program director said.

Messianic Jews adhere to many traditional Jewish beliefs and practices but worship Jesus as the Messiah. They are controversial in the mainstream Jewish community, some of whose leaders actively oppose their evangelistic efforts and condemn them as deceptive Christians masquerading as Jews.

Marvin M. Morrison, spiritual leader of Rosh Pina and co-host of the Sunday morning show, said yesterday he was told by the station management that it "wanted to move away from religious controversy." He said he hoped that supporters' letters and calls to the station would cause it to change its decision.

He and Mr. Casey referred to "an outpouring of complaints" from Jews for Judaism -- which campaigns aggressively against Jews for Jesus and other such Messianic groups -- when the show first aired nearly a year ago. But Mr. Casey said there had been no demands to the station in recent months that the show be removed.

Mr. Morrison's co-host on "Gates of Zion" is Jeff Bernstein. Both are former members of traditional Jewish congregations who converted to the Messianic form of Christianity about 20 years ago.

They said a "Gates of Zion" program similar to the one being canceled by WCBM would continue to air on Sundays at 11 a.m. in the Washington area, as it has for about five years, on WINX-AM, Rockville.

If WCBM's management does not reverse its decision to cancel, Rosh Pina will seek a spot on another Baltimore-area station, Mr. Morrison said. He explained that the $400-a-week cost of the show has been met regularly through a variety of donations from within and outside his congregation.

Mr. Casey, who said Rosh Pina had met its financial obligations, also said he had no complaints about any commentary by Mr. Morrison or Mr. Bernstein on the air. "They have always handled it in a very professional manner."

Mr. Morrison said, "I go out of my way not to say anything that would offend Jews. I'm a Jew. This is my community, even if I have theological differences with my brothers."

Rosh Pina, one of several Messianic Jewish-Christian congregations in the Baltimore area, has a membership of 85 adults and 50 children, about half of whom are formerly practicing Jews, Mr. Morrison said. The group worships on Saturdays in a former United Methodist church in the 3400 block of Walnut Ave., purchased from the Methodists in 1990.

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