Billy Graham Center

Interviews with Benjamin Leighton Armstrong - Collection 416

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Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions

Biography of Benjamin Leighton Armstrong

An Essay on the Contents of the Collection (Scope and Content)

List of Audio Tapes in This Collection


Audio file and written transcript for T1

Audio file and written transcript for T2

Brief Description.
Oral history interview in which Armstrong describes his family, particularly his father (Benjamin Leighton Armstrong Sr.) and grandfather (Benjamin Franklin Armstrong), his own conversion and spiritual growth, education at Nyack Bible College, New York University, Union Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, religious radio and television, Samuel Shoemaker, Paul Tillich, missions in the Christian and Missionary Alliance church, Voice of Tangiers and TransWorld Radio, National Religious Broadcasters, Eugene Bertermann, NRB's lobbying of US government bodies (FCC and Congress), his international visits, particularly his witnessing the events immediately following the assassination of Benigno Aquino in the Philippines, the televangelist scandals of the second half of the 1980s, Presbyterianism, brother-in-lay Paul Freed, NRB conventions, his book THE ELECTRIC CHURCH.
Vol: 8 Reels of Audio Tape

Collection 416
[May 9, 2017]
Armstrong, Benjamin Leighton, Jr.; 1923-2010
Interview; 1989

Audio Tapes


There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.


Full name: Benjamin Leighton Armstrong, Jr.

Birth date: October 18, 1923

Birth place: Newark, NJ Death: December 12, 2010

Parents: Benjamin Leighton Armstrong--pastor, radio evangelist
Margaret Woodworth Denison Armstrong--evangelistic singer
Grandfather: Benjamin Franklin Armstrong--worked with D. L. Moody

Siblings: Two younger sisters:
Mary--married H. Miller Lake, missionaries in New Guinea
Ruth--married Virgil Megill, United Methodist minister

Conversion: 1935 (age 12) at a meeting of C&MA evangelist T. H. Ritchie

Marital Status: Married Ruth Freed in 1946

Children: Robert L., works at National Religious Broadcasters (NRB)
Bonnie M. & Debbie M.: one works at NRB, the other counsels battered wives

Education: Stony Brook School--two years, graduated 1941
Houghton College--started 1941, left 1943
Nyack Missionary Institute--started 1943, graduated 1945
Calvary Clergy School, Calvary Episcopal Church--1946
New York University--
B.S. in religious education, 1948
M.S. in mass media, 1950
Princeton Theological Seminary--post-graduate studies until 1954
Union Theological Seminary--B.D.,1955 (M.Div.?)
Seton Hall University--Russian classes
New York University--Ph.D. in mass media, 1968

Career: 1942-1945 Assisted Dr. Sam Shoemaker in the Calvary Clergy School of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City Goodwill Home and Rescue Mission in Newark, NJ
1945-?? Director of Christian Education at Green Ridge Presbyterian Church, Scranton, PA
1948 Weekly radio program, Teaching the Sunday School Lesson
1949 Ordained evangelist and minister by the Presbyterian Church USA
Assistant pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hackensack, NJ
1950-1955 Pastor of Broadway Presbyterian Church in Paterson, NJ--later name changed to Central Presbyterian Church
Coordinated the "Cavalcade of Faith," a community celebration
19??-1958 Pastor of Community Presbyterian in Ringwood, NJ
1952-1958 Informally raised money for Voice of Tangier
1958-1966 Worked with Trans World Radio in France
Director of Trans World Radio in Chatham, NJ
1966- Executive Secretary of National Religious Broadcasters
1968 Recipient of Founder's Day Award at New York University
1973 Chair of Key '73 Mass Media Committee
1974 Coordinator of radio and television at the International Congress on World Evangelization

Memberships: National Association of Evangelicals, director
Council of Cooperation for Community Interchange Center, NYC
Presbytery New York, UP Church in USA
Intercristo, Seattle, WA--board of directors
Telemissions, Nyack, NY--board of directors

Scope and Content

Benjamin Leighton Armstrong was interviewed by Paul A. Ericksen on June 16, 1989, at the National Religious Broadcasters office in Parsippiny, NJ. The time period covered by the interviews is 1885-1989. The boldfaced entries are intended to highlight the topics covered in the interview. Time elapsed in minutes and seconds is recorded to the left of the topics discussed in the interview. The index is keyed to a cassette copy and not to the reel-to-reel original.

T1 Click to link to audio and transcript of this recording
Introduction to interview; Father Benjamin Leighton Armstrong Sr., ties with Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) church, interest in missions, personal characteristics, work with Delta Lake Conference Center, vision for future and progress; Father's vision for radio ministry, forcing Benjamin to listen to Charles Fuller and Walter Maier, influence on Benjamin's future ministry, father's love for A. B. Simpson (founder of C&MA), similarity of messages father preached in church and on radio, his priorities; Memories of A. B. Simpson, love for evangelism, work with American city missions; Memories of his mother Margaret Denison Armstrong, work with city missions before marriage, prominence from writing poetry; Mother's marriage to Raymond Smith after father's death, their service in the Philippines at Ebenezer Bible College; Influence of grandfather Benjamin Franklin Armstrong (evangelist and pastor with C&MA), father's city mission work, and mother's overseas mission work, his similarities to each of them

T2 Click to link to audio and transcript of this recording
Memories of grandfather Benjamin Franklin Armstrong, missions involvement of his sisters; Personal conversion at age 12 at a meeting of C&MA evangelist T. H. Ritchie, subsequent change in goals, desire to be a pastor after his father; Atmosphere at Nyack College because of World War II, friends killed in the war, guilt about not entering war himself; Professors at Nyack College: Dr. C. Donald McKague (sp?), Gilbert Johnson, Harold Boone (sp?), Boone's encouragement to get a graduate liberal arts education, subsequent attendance at New York University; Story of visit to Sam Shoemaker to ask about God's will along with Ed Thompson and Bob Moseley, accuracy of his predictions for those two, but no prediction for Armstrong; Studying under Shoemaker at Calvary Clergy School with Harald Bredesen, memories of Harald; Memories of Sam Shoemaker, description of Calvary Clergy School, Shoemaker's background in the Oxford Group movement, ability to penetrate through outer appearances of people, prophetic abilities, helped to found Alcoholics Anonymous; Memories of New York City, transition from Nyack College to New York University

T3 Listen to an audio file of this recording
More memories of Sam Shoemaker, his help with transition from Nyack College to New York University, also helped by Bible verses memorized while at Stony Brook under Frank Gaebelein, memories of Dr. Gaebelein; Attending Inter-Varsity at New York University, religious variety at the school, positive effect of this experience on his later ministry, religious atmosphere at the school, fellow student James Oliver Buswell, size of Inter-Varsity group, led by Ian Hollingsworth; Difficulties from questioning tenets of Christianity: existence of God, absolute truth, etc., this experience eventually creating stronger faith, special difficulty with naturalist professor Dr. Sidney Hook; Memories of Paul Tillich and Union Theological Seminary, professor and spiritual mentor John Backman, prominence and fame of professors at Union Seminary; Doctoral dissertation in mass media at New York University, study of Soviet views toward religion, working with Trans World Radio at the same time; Break in interview; Failed business venture with Paul Freed, attending Princeton Seminary, interest in radio from Dr. Clayton Griswold and Dr. John Backman, contrast between Union Seminary and Princeton Seminary, memories of Paul Tillich; Effect of message by Dr. Clarence Jones (co-founder of HCJB), first radio program started while at Green Ridge Presbyterian Church

T4 Listen to an audio file of this recording
Continuation of T3; Ordained as Presbyterian minister, youth leader at First Presbyterian Church in Hackensack, NJ, then moved to Central Presbyterian in Paterson, NJ, interest in radio aroused by a successful plea for help for an injured child, realization that radio could be a powerful influence on people; Helping Paul Freed in starting radio mission Voice of Tangier, making of films Banderilla and The Burning Answer as a way to raise funds for the mission, disaster stories, transition out of pastorate into radio; Voice of Tangier forced out of Morocco, began transmitting to Monaco, changed name to Trans World Radio (TWR), origin of the name; Armstrong moved to southern France, programming for TWR, worked with technical problems, difficulties sending radio signals into closed communist countries, political stations jammed more than religious stations; Return to the States to promote TWR and recruit missionaries, TWR acquiring equipment through long-term leasing arrangements with host countries (Morocco, then Monte Carlo), eventually broadcasting various national speakers instead of English-language programs; American programs often used in Europe

T5 Listen to an audio file of this recording
Continuation of T4; Armstrong's return to the States to recruit more workers, high quality of recruits, joy of working with a pioneering ministry, affecting great numbers of people, experiment with saturation broadcasting; Paul Freed working as a government negotiator when necessary, Armstrong's primary job setting up studios for indigenous speakers to record messages; Story of meeting his wife Ruth Freed, Wheaton College Washington Banquet, courting at Nyack College, married in 1946, wife taught speech in public schools; Story of Dr. Ralph Freed, father of Paul and Ruth Freed, who left lucrative business and worked with Arabs, Ruth's experience growing up in this area, educational background of both Ruth and Paul, Ralph Freed's aid in starting Voice of Tangier; Advantages of working with family members, support of family and friends is absolutely crucial in missionary work; Reasons for the founding of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), founded by a large group of prominent Evangelical radio speakers; NRB buying FM stations that everyone was expecting would die, lobbying politicians, granted licenses by the Federal Communications Commission; Armstrong's decision to join NRB and leadership responsibilities, encouraged to join by president Eugene Bertermann, memories of Bertermann, his personality bringing depth and variety to NRB's programming

T6 Listen to an audio file of this recording
Armstrong's contact with NRB while still working with TWR, resigned TWR to finish doctorate, decided to join NRB as executive secretary, job requirements, publishing an annual Directory of Religious Broadcasting; Armstrong invited to observe meetings of the Communications Commission of the National Council of Churches (NCC), over time NCC became more antagonistic to religious broadcasting based on the fear that television is inherently wrong, rise of national prominence of Evangelicals with the support of Jimmy Carter, move of Evangelical center of activity from New York City to Washington, D.C.; Continued good relationship between NRB and FCC in spite of small problems, triumph of individual religion over large-scale religious institutions such as the NCC, this change of focus in Washington; Examples of NRB's power in politics through encouraging people to write letters, constitutional questions, trust developed over time, new group of individual stations spread across the nation acting as a fourth network; Difficulties coming from scandals inside the Evangelical circle, help from the policy of deregulation in FCC, opinion on Fairness Doctrine
29:30 Disappointment, shock, outrage, and confusion following scandals with Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, founding of Ethics and Financial Integrity Commission (EFICOM), financial losses, Armstrong trying to explain the situation to the public and to Christians; Recovery measures: company insurance program, Bertermann Legal Defense Fund

T7 Listen to an audio file of this recording
Breadth of denominational variety in NRB, general interest in joining NRB because it is at the center of action, effect of this on conventions and meetings, controversial speakers at conventions, importance of a strong constitution and good leadership in this situation, examples of successful conventions; Conflicts in NRB primarily functional and structural not theological, different groups (minorities, television) feeling neglected, attempts to fix the situation, possibility that government could block out religious broadcasting based on the First Amendment; Purpose of his book The Electric Church, meaning of title, growth of church dependent on use of the media, development of the electric church in the past decade, NRB's influence in 1988 presidential election, allowing listeners to choose between Pat Robertson and George Bush, anger toward Robertson for avoiding the title of religious broadcaster; Close supporters of NRB: Dr. Thomas Zimmerman (one of the founders), Dr. [Robert A.] Cook, Billy Graham, many others not mentioned; Planning a convention, including representatives of all different social groups present in NRB, difficulty bringing such a heterogeneous mixture into unity, always on the verge of disaster; Plans for Operation Angel--trying to broadcast around the world by satellite, Armstrong's other goals: increase EFICOM involvement, find new funds

T8 Listen to an audio file of this recording
Continuation of T7; Comparison of different roles he has played (pastor, missionary, and administrator), improving position of Evangelicals in American politics, fragility of religious broadcasting because of its motives and messages; Free time activities, love for travel and international relationships, other NRB extension groups in various countries; Effect of administrative position on family life, children working for him; Story of being in the vicinity when Filipino Senator Aquino was assassinated, story of meeting Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, other stories from the Philippines, economic and political situation there; Request from Israel to do something about decreasing tourism caused by bad media image of Israel in the United States, NRB delegation to Israel to discuss the situation; Riot and bomb threats at the Israel Breakfast at the annual convention, other protests and problems at the conventions; Formation of NRB of South Africa, opportunity to visit and learn first-hand about the problems there, opportunity to begin in Uganda; Forty years of membership in a presbytery, importance of this even though deeply involved in Evangelical affairs, active in an Evangelical church not a Presbyterian church, lack of competitive atmosphere, example of Lloyd Ogilvie of First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood balancing church and media, influence on Jim Kennedy of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church; Armstrong's influence encouraging other preachers to use radio and television, even to build churches with electronic media in mind, importance of monthly magazine in sharing successful ideas around the nation


The materials for this collection were received by the Center in June 1989 from Benjamin Leighton Armstrong.

Accession 89-62
May 11, 1995
Mark Congdon
P. Ericksen

Accession 89-62
Type of material: Audio Tapes

The following items are located in the AUDIO TAPE FILE:

T1 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips speed, approximately 42 minutes. One side. Interview with Benjamin Leighton Armstrong by Paul Ericksen, June 16, 1989. Discussion of Armstrong's parents and grandfather, their Christian and Missionary Alliance background, A. B. Simpson, Ebenezer Bible College in Philippines.

T2 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips speed, approximately 40 minutes. One side. Continuation of interview on T1. Discussion of personal conversion, Nyack College, New York University, Sam Shoemaker and Calvary Clergy School.

T3 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips speed, approximately 44 minutes. One side. Continuation of interview on T2. Discussion of Sam Shoemaker, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at New York University, James Oliver Buswell, Union Theological Seminary, Paul Tillich, John Backman, Trans World Radio, Paul Freed, Princeton Seminary.

T4 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips speed, approximately 45 minutes. One side. Continuation of interview on T3. Discussion of Voice of Tangier, Trans World Radio, promotional attempts.

T5 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips speed, approximately 42 minutes. One side. Continuation of interview on T4. Discussion of Ruth Freed, Dr. Ralph Freed, National Association of Evangelicals, National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), Eugene Bertermann.

T6 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips speed, approximately 38 minutes. One side. Continuation of interview on T5. Discussion of National Council of Churches, Jimmy Carter, NRB and the Federal Communications Commission, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker scandals, NRB's Ethics and Financial Integrity Commission.

T7 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips speed, approximately 41 minutes. One side. Continuation of interview on T6. Discussion of NRB conventions, book The Electric Church, church growth in America, NRB supporters, future goals.

T8 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips speed, approximately 50 minutes. One side. Continuation of interview on T7. Discussion of Evangelical in politics, experiences in the Philippines, Israel, South Africa, Evangelicals and presbyterians, Lloyd Ogilvie, Jim Kennedy.

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Last Revised: 11/29/17
Expiration: indefinite