By Leo Hohmann
A leader in the Southern Baptist Convention is in hot water with Christian talk radio broadcasters after he made disparaging comments about the radio format at a recent leadership summit in Nashville.
Some are demanding an apology from Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, following comments he made during a lecture at the 2014 ERLC Leadership Summit April 22 in Nashville.
Moore said he had tuned into a Christian talk radio program while driving to the summit and regretted his decision.
He said he turned to the Christian talk program “against my doctor’s orders. And honestly, if all I knew about Christianity was what I heard on Christian talk radio, I’d hate it (Christianity) too.”
He did not identify the talk show host or the program that he found offensive, saying only, “There are some people who believe that fidelity to the gospel simply means speaking ‘you kids get off my lawn!’
“That is not the message of the gospel. If the call to repentance does not end with the invitation that is grounded in the bloody cross and the empty tomb of Jesus we are speaking a different Word than the Word that has been given.”
Moore’s strong words for Christian talk radio came as part of a lecture titled “Walking the Line: The Gospel and Moral Purity.”
Get “Censorship: The Threat to Silence Talk Radio” about one party’s plan to attack freedom of speech.
“If all you and I are doing is standing and speaking a word, including a truthful word, about sexual immorality and sexual impurity, the world doesn’t need us for that,” he said. “The devil is able to do that on his own. We have not been called simply to condemn. We have been called to reconcile.”
The comments were tweeted out by several conference attendees and immediately drew harsh rebukes from executives and talk show hosts in the Christian radio sphere.
Janet Mefferd, whose nationally syndicated Janet Mefferd Show originates out of Dallas and is picked up by 100 radio stations across the U.S., was among the first to take Moore to task for his comments.
“It seems like a little bit of a nuclear bomb to be throwing, on Dr. Moore’s part,” said Mefferd, who then played an extended audio clip of Moore’s speech for her audience before launching into a stinging monologue.
“I’m not sure who he is indicting, because I’m not sure exactly who he was listening to, but isolating this one quote, ‘If all I knew about Christianity was what I heard on Christian talk radio, I’d hate it too.’ I find that offensive. I find that really offensive,” Mefferd said.
“First of all, I can think of an awful lot of people in the Old Testament who were pretty darn bold preaching the truth and God was awfully pleased with them,” she said. “Jeremiah took a lot of flak for saying what the Lord wanted him to say. And God was saying some things that didn’t really sound like a real tone for dialogue. God was saying things like, ‘don’t pray for these people, I’m going to destroy them.’ He says that multiple times. Read the book of Jeremiah. Read what Jeremiah went through. Here’s this weeping prophet and he’s having to say these very bold things about judgment coming to the people of Israel and they hate him and they’re mad,” said Mefferd, calling on Moore to apologize.
“What about the other prophets? What about those throughout history who have boldly proclaimed things about sin?” she continued. “Does that mean they didn’t care about those they were preaching to or didn’t want those sinners to be reconciled to God? The whole point of saying that was to reconcile people to God, to get them to recognize that they were in trouble, that the wrath of God was on them and if they didn’t turn they would be destroyed.”
Richard Bott II, president and CEO of Bott Network, which includes 95 stations worldwide, said at the very least Moore owes the millions of people who listen to Christian talk radio a clarification, if not an apology.
Bott said Moore was likely listening to one of his stations in Nashville when he heard the offending comments referred to in his lecture at the leadership summit. He asked Moore in a letter, dated May 5, to sit for an interview in which he could either explain himself further or issue an apology.
“It’s hard to imagine that he intended to condemn Christian talk radio in such a wholesale manner,” Bott told WND.
As of Thursday, Bott said he had not received a response from Moore to his letter.
Moore’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Bristow, said Thursday afternoon that Moore has been at home with the flu all week and could not respond to the uproar. She said his office also did not have any prepared statement about the controversy at this time.
The “contact” page on Moore’s personal website, russellmoore.com, appeared to have been disabled Thursday. The website includes a series of articles on Christian ethics in which he addresses topics such as “How do you disciple a repentant transgendered?” and “How should parents explain same-sex marriage to their kids.”
WND obtained a copy Thursday of Bott’s letter to Moore. In it, he explains his family’s dedication to providing quality Christian programming through a company founded by his father 52 years ago. He said his stations air content that includes not only talk radio but sermons and teachings from such noted teachers as Billy Graham, Chuck Swindoll, R.C. Sproul, Ravi Zacharias, John MacArthur, Erwin Lutzer and others.
“With this background you can understand my shock and alarm when I heard your public comments at the ERLC Leadership Summit wherein you asserted your personal disdain for Christian talk radio and declared the Christian talk radio caused people to hate Christianity,” the letter states. “This kind of quote from you as president of the ERLC is inexplicable.
“The best I can assume is that you spoke from ignorance, not realizing what you were saying. Your careless, sweeping comments, which have now been widely disseminated and are being broadly discussed, have caused harm and confusion to faithful broadcasters and loyal listeners to Christian talk radio the world over,” the letter continues. “Assuming you spoke from ignorance I am eager to offer you an opportunity to apologize for this serious and inexplicable misstatement with our BRN Christian talk radio platform of 95 radio stations plus multiple digital new media outlets with worldwide reach.”
Another Christian talk radio host, Bryan Fischer, speaking May 7 on the show Focal Point on the AFA Channel, said Moore “has taken not one, not two, but three swings against Christian talk radio.” He then read a portion of Bott’s letter to his audience.
“I think he might have been talking about this program, I don’t know,” Fischer told his listeners. “He doesn’t say. So Bott Radio Network is calling him out. I got this letter today that has been sent to anybody who is anybody in Christian talk radio, and beyond.”
Fischer challenged Moore, saying “who were you listening to that made you hate Christianity. Tell us who it was?”
Bott closed his letter to Moore by urging him to “Please call me directly so that I may schedule your interview at your earliest possible convenience.”
That was three days ago.
“I’m still waiting to hear from him,” Bott said Thursday. “And we are welcoming the opportunity to have him to air his comments. We would love to interview him and ask questions and let him clarify what he perhaps intended to say, but what he said was pretty troubling. I don’t know if he had a particular radio speaker in mind that was getting under his skin, but in the process he condemned the entire genre.”
Bott said there are two basic genres in Christian radio, the talk format in which a host will comment on issues of the day from a Christian perspective and then take calls from listeners, and then the Christian music format.
“What he said is like saying ‘if all I knew about Christianity was what I heard on Christian music stations, I’d hate Christianity too,’” Bott said. “What’s even more troubling is he was speaking as the voice for the entire Southern Baptist convention, because he is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and this was the leadership summit for the convention. So when he got up there, he’s speaking for the entire denomination.”
“But I don’t have a crusade against Russell Moore,” he said. “I just took it at face value and I welcome the opportunity for him to clarify. It’s just hard for me to imagine that he actually meant what he said. So we’re giving him an opportunity to clarify that for our listeners.”
Bott said his family has been a pioneer in quality Christian talk radio for 52 years, “broadcasting the Word of God and informing the Body of Christ about important news and issues; so we, our broadcast ministry partners, our listeners and other Christian talk radio leaders have a deep interest in Dr. Moore’s remarks.
“This is what we’ve devoted our lives to and many, many people have given their lives to Christ as a result,” he said.