Wayne Pederson hasn’t even been installed as the new president of the National Religious Broadcasters, but already there are calls for him to step down because of his desire to de-politicize the organization.

The man set to assume the presidency of the NRB, the largest group of Christian communicators, says he wants the organization to downplay politics and its association with the religious right.

Wayne Pederson

Pederson, executive director of the NRB and scheduled to be installed as president at a national convention next month in Nashville, has set off a firestorm of controversy among Christian leaders with remarks he made in an interview published Jan. 5 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Pederson told his hometown paper he worries that when people think of the NRB “they think of the political right, and I think that’s unfair. We missed our main calling with that.”

“But what’s probably more disturbing to me is that evangelicals are identified politically more than theologically,” Pederson said. “We get associated with the far Christian right and marginalized. To me the important thing is to keep the focus on what’s important to us spiritually. We’re all entitled to our political views and evangelicals tend to gravitate toward more conservative politics, but sometimes in taking our stands we’ve allowed ourselves to be typecast and the effectiveness spiritually has been diminished.”

Pederson went on to add, “there’s an element in NRB that wants us to be politically oriented – to take stands on public issues, but that’s not in our constitution. Our constitution says we’re to make the Christian media as effective as it can be. We need to not be pulled into the political arena.”

The first heavyweight in the NRB to react to the interview is Don Wildmon, president and founder of the American Family Association and American Family Radio Network, which boasts 200 Christian stations among its affiliates.

“I think this is a tragic thing for the NRB,” Wildmon said. “Mr. Pederson has criticized those he calls the members of the religious right. If one stops to think about it, that includes Jim Dobson and Chuck Colson and Adrian Rogers and Vic Eliason and Dick Bott – I mean, just about anybody who has worked hard to make the NRB what it is. It is just tragic. I really think Mr. Pederson would best serve the cause to step aside, because if he does not there is a good chance, a real good chance, that either he would be replaced or that another organization more representative of our views would come forth.”

Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family organization, told WorldNetDaily he was “very concerned” about the comments by Pederson and has been discussing them with NRB board members in anticipation of the Feb. 16 national convention.

“This kind of thing represents a complete break with the recent history of the NRB and the leadership of Brandt Gustavson, who died last year,” he said. “I think there needs to be a course correction. There will be an effort at the next board meeting to get the organization back on track.”

Theodore Baehr, chairman of Good News Communications and the Christian Film and Television Commission as well as an NRB board member, agrees that the February meeting will be “explosive.”

“What he says is right and wrong at the same time,” explains Baehr. “He’s wrong when he says we mustn’t get involved in politics. We must be involved in every issue. The concern about politics should be that we are acting under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Baehr thinks Pederson’s comments may have been misunderstood.

“I think this guy is one of the best guys I know,” he said.

Richard Bott, president of the Bott Radio Network and a long-time member of the NRB board, plans to write a letter to fellow members of the 90-member policy-making group asking them about this proposed change of direction in the organization.

Bott expresses concern that a decision to invite House Majority Whip Tom DeLay to address the organization in Nashville was overridden. Bud Paxon, founder of PaxTV, is the new scheduled keynote speaker.

Tim LaHaye, founder of Tim LaHaye Ministries and best-selling author of the “Left Behind” series, believes Pederson should apologize to DeLay.

“I think we need to reappraise whether we want him to run this organization, because what he is proposing would result in a sea-change from what we had at the NRB during the days of (former NRB President) Ben Armstrong and Brandt Gustafson,” the NRB board member said. “We don’t need a passive, non-involved organization.”

He quoted the late Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer as saying: “If we don’t stand up to preserve our freedoms we will lose our freedom to preach the gospel.”

What does Pederson have to say about the brewing controversy?

“I myself am a religious and political conservative,” he says. “But it’s important for NRB to position itself in a non-partisan way.”

He denies that DeLay was snubbed. He attributes his absence from the February program to scheduling problems and asserts that he will be invited to the convention in 2003.

“I do not want this to become an issue about Wayne Pederson,” he said. “But we have reserved time for the board to discuss my concerns about the perception of NRB.”

NRB is an association representing more than 1,300 evangelical Christian radio and television stations, program producers, multimedia developers and related organizations around the world.

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