The National Council of Churches strongly condemned yesterday what it called increasingly pervasive "glamorous violence" in television and movies and vowed to bring pressure on the U.S. government and the entertainment industry to root it out.
"If we take this as seriously as we did the issue of apartheid in South Africa, we can wield considerable influence," said John Peterson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one of the NCC's 32 member denominations.
The assertion that TV and movies have contributed to "a climate of violence" and rising crime rates is the result of several years of study by the religious leaders.
Their action comes as a growing number of groups call for restrictive measures.
While the ecumenical council stopped short of recommending censorship of the media, it did urge tougher government standards, monitoring and enforcement by the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.
It also promised a campaign to hold "media industries accountable for what they produce and distribute," condemning "the misuse of the First Amendment by commercial interests as a cover for a quest for profit."
The NCC's 275-member board, which has been meeting in Baltimore all week, claims to represent nearly 49 million Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians.
Approval of two policy statements criticizing the U.S. communications media -- one focusing on violent images as a cause of violent crime and the other on global marketing of U.S. TV and films that appeal "to the base instincts of humanity" -- came virtually without dissent.
Introducing a discussion that preceded adoption of the study, James Wall, editor of Christian Century magazine, noted that seven years had passed since the National Council of Churches last took up the issue and said there were three compelling reasons for strong measures now:
* "Violence as a practice and as an attitude is even more pervasive than it was seven years ago."
* Advances in technology mean that destructive violent images are transmitted instantly "to every corner of the world."
* "Public awareness has increased, and there is outrage and frustration."
Before voting, the church leaders inserted condemnation of images of sexual violation of women in film and TV and their portraying of "lesbian, gay and bisexual persons" as "weak or inferior."
The discussion began with a videotaped appeal for NCC action from Democratic Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, in which he said entertainment industry denials of a causal relationship between filmed violence and the violence in society are like the Tobacco Institute's claims that smoking does not cause cancer.
But the senator drew a distinction between legitimate news reporting of violent crime or warfare and what he called "glamorized, happy violence."
The National Council of Churches yesterday also:
* Sent a message to President and Mrs. Clinton praising their "bold and decisive leadership" on health care reform and urged them to stand firm on universal access, saying that "the health of all our people is non-negotiable."
* Backed an annual, nationwide observance known as the "Children's Sabbath" on the third weekend of October in all its affiliated churches. The purpose is to "lift a united voice of concern" about "poverty, abuse, neglect, illness and other crises" involving the nation's children, 100,000 of whom "are homeless each night."
* Apologized for the complicity of missionaries in the 19th-century "theft" by the United States of the land and national independence of the Kanaka Maoli, the indigenous people of Hawaii, and backed the efforts by these people to regain their "sovereignity and self-determination."