A top official at the Moody Broadcasting Network launched the latest salvo in the political fight over the direction of the powerful National Religious Broadcasters organization.
Following last month’s annual meeting of the group in Nashville, in which President Wayne Pederson was dumped because of comments he made suggesting the NRB was becoming too concerned with political and social issues, the makings of a counter-revolution seem to be under way.
Robert Neff, vice president of the Moody Broadcasting Network, has fired off an angry letter to NRB Chairman Glenn Plummer and his executive board protesting the decision on Pederson and demanding his reinstatement.
While the letter does not “name names,” it appears particularly critical of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, both of whom expressed concern at Pederson’s remarks about the direction of the NRB in a newspaper interview.
In the Feb. 21 letter, obtained by WorldNetDaily, Neff targets for criticism certain “power boys” and “600-pound gorillas” in the organization, who, he says, are quick to pick up their marbles and leave when things don’t go their way.
“I do not take any pleasure in having to write a letter like this,” Neff begins. “However, I cannot be silent for fear that silence could be perceived as an endorsement of what took place. I do not, and have serious reservations over the process and feel disgust over how certain individuals conducted themselves.”
Neff called for the immediate reinstatement of Pederson as “the most qualified person to head our association.”
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 Pederson would do at the opening session of the group’s annual convention Feb. 16.
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 Plummer.
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 at the convention.
“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, Falwell, the 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. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family Ministries, also reportedly told executive committee members he would withdraw from the organization and decline to speak at the opening session in Nashville if Pederson remained 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.
Pederson later said he believed 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.
“Wayne showed amazing grace in how he handled this huge injustice,” wrote Neff. “He was and is the leader we need, and I believe he got railroaded out by an aggressive, small minority of 600-pound gorillas that would rather fight than try to work things through in a Christ-like manner for the betterment of our association.”
He continued: “You need to know that there is a very large number of our members, including myself, who are very disturbed and unhappy with how this entire process was handled and the present resolution. The damage is great and the wounds are deep. I encourage the Executive Committee to not take false security from the reality that you didn’t have members or organizations walking out of the NRB Convention this week. That isn’t the style of most of the people I know. Had the vote gone the other way and the Executive Committee voted to retain Wayne, I would have expected some of the power boys to gather up their collective marbles and head for the hills.”
Neff says he does not believe the controversy at NRB was “a Wayne Pederson leadership issue, but rather a lack of willingness on the part of a few to be led.”
He called for the executive committee to appoint “a balanced ethics committee to look into what took place.”
“I would also ask that inappropriate behavior be identified and immediately dealt with directly and openly,” he said. “Having a great passion for a particular viewpoint is fine; however, that passion is not license to run over everyone else.”
Neff said he is angry because the NRB “is supposed to be made up of Christ followers” and characterized some of the behavior in the Pederson flap as “ungodly.”
“The secular world looks at us and laughs, ‘There they go again,’” he wrote. “This is a huge embarrassment and injustice.”