History Book

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today, the “Washington Wives” take on sexually explicit and drug-themed lyrics during a Senate committee hearing.

But first, in 1955, U.S. missionaries birth a gospel vision for a tribe deep in the Amazon Jungle.

Here’s Paul Butler.

AUDIO: [Sound of Piper PA-14 Family Cruiser plane]

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today with September 19th, 1955. Jungle pilot Nate Saint flies over a remote, unevangelized people-group known by surrounding tribes as the Auca. They called themselves—the “Waodani.”

AUDIO: [Sound from the film of reenacted violence]

Generational feuds splintered the tribe into violent factions, spearing their enemies. Anthropologists reported that in the 1950s, more than 6 in 10 Waodani deaths were homicides. One young woman left the village and befriended Nate Saint’s sister Rachel—also a missionary in Ecuador—who quickly learned the basics of the Waodani language.

AUDIO: [Sound of Waodani language]

Later, Nate Saint, along with missionaries Peter Fleming, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, and Roger Youderian decided to make contact with the tribe. They chose not to inform their mission agencies, knowing they would be asked to stop because of the risks.

AUDIO: [Sound of planes]

They began by befriending the Waodani: lowering gifts from their plane. The Waodani left presents in return to haul back up. By mid-December, Saint believed it was time to make face-to-face contact. So on January 3rd, 19-56, the men set up camp on a river sandbar a few miles away.

AUDIO: [Sound of river]

A Waodani boy and girl, with an older woman as chaperone, visited the missionaries. Saint took the boy up in the plane and flew over his village. A few hours later, the boy and girl left the camp but the older woman stayed behind—talking with the missionaries late into the night.

When a large party of Waodani met the unaccompanied boy and girl in the jungle, the boy claimed the missionaries attacked them. Warriors planned an ambush, even after the old woman returned, describing the missionaries’ kindness.

On the afternoon of January 8th, the Waodani murdered the 5 missionaries. The news made international headlines for weeks. Missionary radio station HCJB broadcast a memorial service across Latin America:

MEMORIAL SERVICE AUDIO: The world will ask the question: “Were they fools to throw away their lives?” They knew what they were doing.

In the years following the massacre, Jim Elliot’s widow Elisabeth, and Nate Saint’s sister Rachel returned to Ecuador to live among the Waodani. Many converted to Christianity, including some involved in the killing. The publicity around the deaths and subsequent successes motivated many to enter foreign missions.   

MEMORIAL SERVICE: For this they went. And for this they died. And for this still others will go, and may the church of Jesus Christ be challenged as never before…

Next, September 19th, 1985. Missouri Senator John Danforth chairs a committee hearing on so-called “Porn Rock.”

DANFORTH: There have, I suppose, always been songs that are suggestive in some way or another…

Four months earlier, a group known as the “Washington Wives” formed the Parents Music Resource Center, or PMRC, lobbying record companies to place warning labels on records with explicit lyrics. Tipper Gore, one of the group’s founders, testifies before the committee:

GORE: Labeling is little more than truth in packaging and without labeling, parental guidance is virtually impossible.

While the senate committee insists the hearings should not result in legislation or government oversight, both folk-singer John Denver and guitarist Frank Zappa testify that warning labels will lead to a chilling effect on artist’s First Amendment rights. Frank Zappa:

ZAPPA: It is my understanding that in law, First Amendment issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation. [Laughter]

On November 1st, 1985, the Recording Industry Association of America began voluntarily labeling explicit recordings and videos. The black and white Parental Advisory sticker remains in use, but some child advocacy groups are calling for a new approach as online delivery makes access to offensive content so much easier today.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.

(Photo/Mark Weiss, Getty Images) The ‘Washington wives’ of the PMRC speak at Senate hearings in 1985, led by Sally Nevius, left, and Tipper Gore, second right. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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