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NASHVILLE – Despite a raging controversy over his remarks in a newspaper interview that his organization needed to change direction from its “far right-wing” image, no one was quite sure what National Religious Broadcasters President Wayne Pederson would do at the opening session of the group’s annual convention here yesterday.
Would he resign? Or would he stay?
The suspense ended on the first day of the NRB event as Pederson’s resignation was accepted by a non-binding vote of the full board of directors.
Pederson moved from the elected position of chairman of the NRB to become president Oct. 1, the unanimous choice of the board and executive committee to succeed long time President E. Brandt Gustavson, who died of pancreatic cancer last May.
His decision to step down after a nearly month-long debate over the future direction of the evangelical Christian media association “ultimately came down to a question of confidence in his leadership” said an NRB news release.
“Wayne is a proven broadcaster respected by his peers for his competency, integrity, professionalism and exceptional administrative skills,” said NRB Chairman and CEO Glenn Plummer, the first African-American to be elected to this position in the 59-year-old history of the association.
The controversy began shortly after Jan. 5, when an article excerpting an interview with Pederson by reporter Martha Sawyer-Allen appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“As a result, NRB board members received a flood of responses expressing feelings on both sides of the debate,” said the news release. “To some, the widely circulated article suggested a philosophical change in the NRB’s public policy position, and raised serious concerns among various members about the future direction of the NRB and the leadership of Pederson.”
When Pederson gave the interview to the Star Tribune, his hometown paper, he had been scheduled to be installed as the president of the NRB this weekend.
“But what’s probably more disturbing to me is that evangelicals are identified politically more than theologically,” Pederson told the Star Tribune. “We get associated with the far Christian right and marginalized. To me the important thing is to keep 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 say, “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 not be pulled into the political arena.”
Pederson’s comments were met with a firestorm of protest from members of the NRB – including board members and members of the executive committee, particularly after they became part of a national news story in WorldNetDaily. A memo dated Feb. 12 from NRB Chairman Glenn R. Plummer says the executive committee voted 4-4 on whether to accept Pederson’s resignation. Plummer cast the tie-breaking vote not to accept it, deferring the action to the full board.
According to the minutes of a Jan. 23 meeting of the executive committee, Jerry Falwell, a powerful evangelical leader and WorldNetDaily columnist, told Pederson he would quietly leave NRB if the group changed direction – emphasizing only the spiritual rather than the socio-cultural-political issues that have partly defined the organization in recent years. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family Ministries, also told executive committee members he would withdraw from the organization and decline to speak at the opening session in Nashville if Pederson remains as president.
Pederson’s original comments were criticized by many well-known Christian broadcasters, including Don Wildmon, president and founder of the American Family Association, Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family ministry, Richard Bott, president of Bott Radio Network, and Tim LaHaye, founder of Tim LaHaye Ministries and the best-selling author of the “Left Behind” series.
According to the executive committee minutes, Pederson believes the article in the Star Tribune took his words out of context. However, the NRB national office distributed copies of the article following its publication.