The preacher who caused heartburn in Hollywood

Friday, March 3, 2017
Billy Davis, Steve Jordahl (

Bro Don preachingAn ailing ministry leader who once took on Hollywood heavy weights and corporate big wigs was honored March 2 for a 40-year career.  

Rev. Don Wildmon, 79, was inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame during the annual NRB convention held in Orlando, Florida.  

The founder of Mississippi-based American Family Association may be best known for starting American Family Radio, which has expanded to nearly 200 radio stations since 1991. Yet many people may remember Wildmon for starting the National Federation for Decency in 1977, pitting him against powerful TV executives responsible for vulgar TV programs.

Armed with little more than frustration over TV content, Wildmon attempted to both shame the networks and plead with advertisers to invest their advertising dollars elsewhere. Some of those advertisers, such as Sears, listened and dropped from shows such as "Three's Company."

After first ignoring Wildmon's efforts, he has recalled, Hollywood executives had to respond when news stories ran to this Hollywood-versus-preacher story. Those executives at first promised to clean up their content - then complained when Wildmon complained they had lied to him and his supporters, he has said. 

Bro DonWildmon's boycott campaign is the "first step toward a police state," an NBC executive once claimed.

Wildmon's efforts are the "greatest frontal assault on intellectual freedom this country has ever faced," huffed Gene Mater, who was then the senior vice president of CBS Television.

Wildmon, meanwhile, pointed out that Hollywood executives expected to get the best of him because they envisioned a redneck, country preacher.

"And you know why they have that image?" Wildmon once told a reporter. "Because that's the way we're depicted on television."

Wildmon eventually debated Mater, the CBS executive, in Los Angeles after years of Wildmon challenging the networks leader to meet him and challenge his views. It was at that debate, with Wildmon standing beside him, that Mater accused the Methodist minister of being the enemy of "intellectual freedom" and went on to ask if Wildmon would turn to book-burning.

"Three's Company" logoWildmon reminded Mater that he had accused the minister of "censorship" for asking for family-friendly TV programming and for boycotting advertisers.

Wildmon, a prolific author, recalled the debate in his autobiography "The Man the Networks Love to Hate."

"Is boycotting censorship?" Wildmon asked.

"No, boycotting per se is not censorship," Mater replied.

"Then why have CBS executives gone all over the country accusing us of censorship?" Wildmon shot back.

Wildmon and Mater also debated a controversial made-for-TV movie "Fallen Angel," which CBS defended as a drama warning about pedophilia.

American Family AssociationWildmon blasted the movie as sexual exploitation that aired during "Sweeps" week.

After Mater defended the movie as an important "eye-opener" for the public, Wildmon pulled out a CBS-sponsored ad for "Fallen Angel" that displayed a seductive looking, pre-teen girl unbuttoning her blouse. TV critics in the audience later wrote that Wildmon won the debate. 

Wildmon was slowed by a diagnosis of encephalitis in 2010, which left him hospitalized for months. He turned over the ministry to his son, current AFA President Tim Wildmon, that same year, though he remains a daily sight at AFA despite declining health.

National Federation for Decency was renamed the American Family Association in 1988, and today it operates a radio network, monthly magazine, film studio, a ministry aimed at Millennials, and a news organization, among many other efforts that depend on financial donations from supporters.  

"There's not a person in the room tonight who deserves credit, and I'm the lucky one," the elder Wildmon said at the NRB induction ceremony. "God bless you." 

American Family Association is the parent organization of American Family News, which includes news website OneNewsNow.

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