Christian family advocate James Dobson is stepping down from the board of the National Religious Broadcasters amid the association’s continuing row over the role of politics in its mission.
The evangelical Protestant association voted out its president, Wayne Pederson, in February after a newspaper interview in which he lamented the NRB’s image as a “far Christian right” group.
Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, said in a letter to the executive committee on Friday that the NRB’s refusal to challenge an “unfortunate” ethics committee report that criticized his actions during the controversy over Pederson has prompted him to step down.
Dobson helped lead opposition to Pederson’s presidency.
“As I go,” Dobson wrote, “may I urge my colleagues on the board to adopt a specific and decidedly Christian worldview in its mission statement, instead of one (as suggested last year) that merely represents the best interests of Christian radio and television enterprises?”
Focus vice president Paul Hetrick told WorldNetDaily that Dobson had written a Nov. 4 letter to NRB members expressing disagreement with the ethics committee’s conclusion that those who opposed Pederson had acted in an unethical and un-Christian manner.
“The report will apparently stand unchallenged by the NRB executive committee at large,” said Hetrick. “So under those circumstances, Dr. Dobson felt he should not continue.”
Dobson was unavailable for comment, according to Hetrick. NRB Chairman Glenn Plummer of the Christian Television Network and Michael Little of the Christian Broadcasting Network, an executive committee member who chairs the presidential search comittee, also were not available to respond.
Moving from ‘Religious Right’
The NRB controversy began in January when Pederson gave a newspaper interview in which he suggested the group had become too political and too closely identified with the “Religious Right.”
“But what’s probably more disturbing to me is that evangelicals are identified politically more than theologically,” Pederson told the Minneapolis 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 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 in Nashville in February.
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.
Dobson said the ethics committee chastised him, though not by name, for organizing a conference call in January to discuss the Pederson controversy with other board members. The ethics committee said there were 14 or 15 members involved, but Dobson said there were 19.
“It is utterly ridiculous to assert that members of any board of directors are prohibited from conferring among themselves when they have concerns relevant to the organizations they represent,” Dobson wrote to the NRB members in his Nov. 4 letter.
Dobson also took exception to the ethics committee’s characterization of the situation as an offense against a brother that needed to be addressed in the biblical manner of bringing the complaint directly to the offender.
The ethics committee said: “To our knowledge, only one on the conference call had attempted to contact Wayne Pederson directly to share concerns or to seek his heart on what was said in the newspaper article. It appears there was no attempt to move toward understanding or reconciliation among Christian brothers.”
Dobson insisted, however, that the dispute was not personal, but a serious policy difference.
“Wayne had not sinned against me and I was not angry at him,” Dobson wrote in his Nov. 4 letter.
“The issue that troubled me was based not on resentment or hurt but on Wayne’s stated intention of moving NRB away from issues of public policy,” Dobson wrote. “That, to my thinking, would have led to an abandonment of the unborn child, a failure to defend the institution of marriage, yielding to the homosexual agenda as it relates to the church and the family, and other moral issues that burn in my heart.”
Barbs and apologies
Dobson was the target of criticism in a Feb. 21 letter by Robert Neff, vice president of Moody Broadcasting Network, to NRB Chairman Plummer.
Neff has apologized for referring to 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.
While Neff’s letter did not “name names,” it appeared to be referring to 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.
Dobson fired back in a March 1 letter to the NRB executive committee, calling Neff’s accusations “vicious and entirely uncalled for.”
In his Nov. 4 letter, Dobson wrote, “Instead of decrying these examples of harshness within the fellowship, the ethics committee has chosen to castigate me and others who simply saw the issue differently and expressed our right to speak respectfully within the confines of the body and the board.”
The NRB is still without a president.
On Friday, Dobson criticized the search committee for passing over former Congressman Bob McEwen, R-Ohio, who “would have represented that Christian worldview brilliantly, I believe, as the president of NRB.”
“Now is the time for strong leadership within NRB,” Dobson wrote, “and I pray for wisdom on behalf of those who bear the responsibility of choosing the candidates for our next president.”