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Turn the TV Off

Tuesday, March 26, 2024 @ 10:05 AM Turn the TV Off Rebecca Davis The Stand (Print) Editor MORE

“When I was 9 years old, I felt the Lord calling me to be in ministry,” Don Wildmon said. “When I was about 18, I decided that God was calling me to the pulpit ministry. I tried that for a year or two. I found it very difficult, being an imperfect person, to preach to people. I didn’t really understand God’s grace, so I left the parish ministry. I didn’t want to ever go back to it.”

But Don still felt an overwhelming call on his life and became frustrated at times, not knowing exactly what he was supposed to be doing. He graduated from college, married Lynda Lou Bennett, served in the Army, and started a family.

“I finally decided one day that God had called me to preach, that I should go back into the ministry. The Lord and I debated it,” Don admitted.

Poor grades in college kept him from getting into seminary until some influential people stepped in on his behalf.

“I went straight through seminary – finished the three-year program in two years and three summers – and finished with about a 3.2 grade-point average.”

By this time, Don was the father of two and would become the father of two more over the next several years as he entered the pastorate again – first in Tupelo, Mississippi, and then in Southaven, Mississippi. In fact, it was during his time at First United Methodist Church of Southaven that God’s divine call on his life became evident.

Clarifying the call

It was Christmas 1976, and Don had a much-needed break at home with his family.  After supper, he lit a fire in the family room and pushed back in his recliner. One by one, each of the four Wildmon children made his or her way to the room. Thirteen-year-old Tim was the last to come in, and he asked to watch TV. Don agreed.

“There were only three networks at the time, and all three had objectionable material,” Don recalled. “I don’t remember the programs. I remember one was violent. Another had a sexual scene, and the third one was laced with profanity.”

In his book titled Don Wildmon: The Man the Networks Love to Hate, he wrote, “The three big networks had simultaneously served my impressionable grade-schoolers and junior-highers mind-poisoning junk food. And the implications of that made my stomach churn with righteous indignation.”

It was an eye-opening moment for Don.

“I decided fighting this was what the Lord had called me to do,” Don said.

“The changes in TV’s attitudes toward morality were now coming into the sanctity of my very own home,” he wrote. “No longer would I look the other way. No longer would I sit idly by and ignore the excessive sex and violence on television. I made up my mind to do something I had never done before … something that involved exercising my constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech.”

And so it began.

Answering the call

Don immersed himself in research and found compelling statistics about the harmful content on television. He used this information in a sermon he preached to his congregation to encourage them to make better viewing choices. But he knew it couldn’t stop there. He challenged his congregation to join him and his family in turning the TV off for an entire week.

And that’s exactly what they did. February 27 to March 5, 1977, officially became “Turn the TV Off Week” at Southaven First United Methodist Church. Don even urged parishioners to call local network affiliates and tell them why they would not be watching TV.

Don had worked in journalism from time to time, so he drew from that experience and drafted a press release explaining what the church was doing.

“I knew it would grab the attention of the media because it had all the background for good media play,” he said. “Here’s this small-town preacher who thinks he’s going to do something affecting television. I played the game in order to get the publicity in order to get the word out.”

And it was a game well played!

Continuing the call

“The media gave me a good bit of publicity for a while until it became evident that ‘Hey, he just may be able to pull this thing off or do something.’ The media backed off and began the attack game, which has been going on ever since,” Don explained.

“Turn the TV Off Week” gave birth to National Federation for Decency, an organization that Don founded “to study the moral use of public media, its influence on society, and to offer and institute plans of action to correct situations where those morals are being belittled or ignored.”

“When we began, we were primarily dealing with television and pornography,” Don explained. “Over the years, a lot of the left-wingers would make fun of our name. So I changed it in 1988 from National Federation for Decency to American Family Association because our concerns had expanded, and it was very hard to demean the word family back then.”

Now, nearly 50 years after its inception, American Family Association remains active in its efforts “to inform, equip, and activate individuals and families to transform American culture and to give aid to the church, here and abroad, in its calling to fulfill the Great Commission.”

With the framework Don Wildmon built, AFA will continue to inform Christians and non-Christians alike of the need for godly values. AFA is committed to equipping and motivating like-minded people to stand against the darkness and share the light of Christ.

As Don would say, “We can’t afford to coast. There is work to be done.”

(Digital Editor's Note: This article was first published in the commemorative March 2024 print edition of The Stand. Click HERE to get a free six-month subscription to the print version of The Stand.)

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