By Leo Hohmann
Once a man gets entangled in a religious controversy, finding his way out can be tricky business.
Just ask Russell Moore, the embattled president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. This week, he’s still trying to clarify comments he made April 22 before a group of young pastors attending the commission’s leadership summit.
Moore probably wishes he hadn’t cited “Christian talk radio” as an example of how not to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He said he tuned in to a Christian talk show while driving recently and was turned off by the message.
“If all I knew about Christianity was what I heard on Christian talk radio, I’d hate it, too,” he told the young pastors gathered for the summit.
Someone tweeted his comments out to the world, without giving the full context, and Moore has been deflecting criticisms from the Christian radio industry ever since.
He went on to explain that it’s fine to condemn sin, but only when the condemnation is followed by a loving invitation that “leads to the bloody cross of Jesus, who died and rose again.”
But it was the first part of his remarks, one little sentence, that stuck in the craw of Christian talk radio hosts and broadcasters.
Richard Bott II, president and CEO of the Bott Radio Network, penned a May 5 letter to Moore inviting him to sit for a radio interview and either clarify his comments or apologize.
“I can only assume,” Bott said in the letter, that Moore’s comments were “based on ignorance.”
Bott, who leads a Kansas-based consortium of 95 Christian radio stations in 12 states, also asked Moore to identify the program host whose comments he found offensive.
Moore declined to be interviewed by WND about the controversy. But he was a guest May 9 on the “Erick Erickson Show,” a secular radio talk program in Atlanta, where he offered further clarification of his remarks.
Moore told Erickson he did not mean to condemn all Christian talk radio. Far from it.
Erickson said he agreed with Moore’s controversial comments and that many Christians come across as “angry” in 21st century America.
“I know you’ve made a speech, made a comment, recently about Christian talk radio. … I know you’ve gotten in hot water. I don’t want to dig a hole further for you, so I will just let you explain what you meant,” Erickson said.
“A lot of times where that rage comes from is the fear that we’re losing. And we are not losing,” Moore said.
Get “Censorship: The Threat to Silence Talk Radio” about one party’s plan to attack freedom of speech.
He did not identify the program.
“Everything they were condemning, probably, was everything I would condemn; but there wasn’t any Gospel focus, there wasn’t any invitation to repent and believe,” Moore told Erickson. “There was just that venting of the spleen. So I said, ‘If all I knew about Christianity was what I’d heard on Christian talk radio, I’d hate it, too,’” Moore said.
But Moore was quick to add that “doesn’t mean everyone in Christian talk radio,” citing “some fantastic people,” such as Jim Daly, Dennis Rainey and John Stonestreet.
“There’s just a ton of people doing really good Gospel-centered work (in radio),” he said.
But there’s a stereotype, he said, and many younger people react negatively to Christian talk radio in the same way that the older generations reacts to “televangelism.”
“Most people don’t think of the people that are doing it right, they think of the typical paradigm that they often hear,” he said.
“We can’t simply condemn. We can’t simply talk about what’s wrong with the world. We have to be consistently offering people a way to reconcile with God, through the blood of Jesus Christ. That’s what makes us distinctively Christian. The Bible tells us the devil knows how to condemn,” said Moore.
Not speaking for Southern Baptist Convention
Roger “Sing” Oldham, vice president in charge of communications for the Southern Baptist Convention, said he knows exactly what Moore was trying to say in his speech and in his clarifying remarks.
He believes Moore was not trying to smear an entire profession of Christian talk radio.
“I would surmise the majority of Southern Baptists accept Dr. Moore’s explanation that he used hyperbole to illustrate the importance of sharing the complete message of the Gospel, both the reality of sin and the offer of redemption through Jesus Christ, especially since his explanation seems to be supported by the context of the speech itself,” Oldham told WND in an email.
Still, he said Moore’s comments should not be construed as an official declaration of the Southern Baptist Convention, which remains the second largest Christian denomination in the U.S. with 16 million members and thousands of autonomous churches.
“One speaks for the convention when one cites something the convention has adopted at one of its annual meetings,” Oldham said.
Moore heads up one of the convention’s 11 ministry entities.
“Entity leaders, of course, may speak on behalf of their entity,” Oldham said. “Beyond that, individuals often reflect the influence of their leadership roles and/or expertise; but they only speak ‘for the convention’ when speaking to matters the convention itself has addressed.
Oldham said he’s not aware of any formal statement from the convention on the subject of Christian talk radio but is certain many Southern Baptists routinely listen to it.
“The convention adopted a resolution on religious broadcasting in 1975, appealing to the Federal Communications Commission to protect the rights of religious groups and representatives to engage in religious broadcasting, a position with which Dr. Moore is in full agreement.”
Bott: ‘Ready to move on’
Bott said he did receive an emailed response to his concerns from Moore on May 12.
“He offered a clarification, and we’re moving on from that,” Bott said. “He said he had an issue with one particular radio talk show host rather than the whole genre. He hasn’t said who it was he was talking about.”
Bott said he is satisfied that the issue has been resolved even though some Christian broadcasters, such as Janet Mefferd of Salem Communications, continue to be troubled by Moore’s comments.
“I have no ax to grind with Russell Moore. He seems like a nice guy,” he said. “It was just an imprecise statement on his part. We appreciate and are grateful for his clarification and we accept his clarification, and for our purposes we’re not going to continue to camp out here.”
Bott said he did offer one bit of advice for Moore, though.
“I told him I was appreciative for the explanation, but in the future don’t say ‘Baptists’ if you’re talking about ‘Westboro Baptists.’”