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James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, is firing back at critics within the National Religious Broadcasters who suggest he and other leaders of large ministries undermined the past president of the organization.
The controversy began in January when NRB President Wayne Pederson gave a newspaper interview in which he suggested the group had become too political and too closely identified with the “Religious Right.” Pederson said he planned to remedy that in his new term as president and chief executive officer, which was to begin at the annual meeting of the NRB last month in Nashville.
However, the executive committee and board of the group decided not to retain Pederson as a result of his remarks and other controversies that ensued as a result of his leadership.
Following that meeting, Robert Neff, vice president of the Moody Broadcasting Network, wrote 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 appeared particularly critical of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, both of whom had quietly 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.
In a letter to the NRB executive committee dated March 1, Dobson called Neff’s accusations “vicious and entirely uncalled for.”
“Obviously, he was talking about me and others,” Dobson wrote. “Let me set the record straight. I have made no public comments about Wayne Pederson, either in writing or on the air, and have written no letters about the matter at all – and nothing I’ve said on the telephone has approached the tone in Bob’s diatribe. Just this morning I turned down an invitation on National Public Radio to talk about the issue so as not to fan the flames further. I made only one comment during the NRB board meeting, in which I commended Wayne as a godly man who had served the Lord faithfully for more than 30 years. I took the microphone in that instance to say that our disagreement with Wayne is not personal, and that I had been neither offended nor hurt by his remarks. (Wayne had just apologized for hurting Jerry Falwell and me.) Mine was an entirely conciliatory statement, except for the fact that I disagreed with where he wanted to take NRB.
“As for my culpability in this sordid affair, which Bob calls ‘ungodly,’ I set up an initial phone call with 19 conservative members to see if they were equally concerned about the effort to move the organization away from what he called the ‘political right.’ Wayne has never identified to whom he was referring, but we can guess. At the end of that conversation, I was asked to pass along the unanimous conclusion – except for the three executive committee members who did not vote – that Wayne had lost his consensus to lead, and that he could help avoid conflict in Nashville by stepping down. It was a very cordial conversation, during which I expressed love and respect for Wayne repeatedly. That is the whole story.”
Dobson, who had declined requests for interviews on the matter from WorldNetDaily, called Neff’s letter and ensuing publicity around it “a tragic escalation of what began as a policy issue and has deteriorated into a full-scale split in evangelicalism.”
“The media will have a field day with this one, and indeed, already has,” he concluded.
“But what’s probably more disturbing to me is that evangelicals are identified politically more than theologically,” Pederson told the Star Tribune in the remarks that set off the firestorm. “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 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.
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 Focus on the Family, 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.