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Despite threats, Falwell interview aired on ERLC’s ‘For Faith & Family’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Listeners to the Southern Baptist Convention’s “For Faith & Family” radio program finally were able to hear the program that sparked a month of off-and-on sparring between the program’s host and a Washington-based church-state separation advocate.

The point of contention — an interview For Faith & Family host Richard Land conducted with Jerry Falwell during the Southern Baptist Convention in June. In his program the day before the interview with Falwell finally aired, July 25, Land urged listeners to tune to hear “the program that Barry Lynn and Americans United didn’t want you to hear.”

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, warned Land “to refrain from airing this interview” in a June 14 letter. For Faith & Family is a broadcast ministry of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Land is president of the Southern Baptist agency for moral, ethical and public policy concerns.

In his correspondence, Lynn cited the interview for its “partisan content.” He alleged the airing of the interview might cause the SBC agency to lose its tax-exempt status, as “tax-exempt religious organizations do not have the right to intervene in partisan politics.” Lynn threatened to file a complaint with the IRS if the interview was ever aired.

Lynn took issue with Falwell’s targeting Al Gore for defeat in the upcoming presidential election, urging “Bible-believing Christians” to vote against Gore as he said they did Jimmy Carter in 1980. Falwell prefaced his comments, which were reported in news stories of the interview, by saying he was speaking personally. Falwell is pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., and chancellor of Liberty University, also located in Lynchburg.

Yet Land quickly and publicly dismissed Lynn’s advice. In a June 21 letter back to the AU head, Land called Lynn’s letter a “heavy handed attempt to intimidate our ministry and our freedom of speech.” He promised Lynn that the program was “not going to impose censorship on our guests, particularly not as a result of such threats.”

At the time, Land explained the interview with Falwell, taped in the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission booth in the exhibit hall at the SBC annual meeting in Orlando, went for more than 40 minutes but would be trimmed to approximately 18 minutes in the program’s “standard and customary editing process.”

A July 21 press release from Americans United, titled “Southern Baptist Agency Ponders Legally Dubious Partisan Politicking,” noted the Falwell interview had not been aired. In the release, Lynn expressed his hope that “Dr. Land has decided not to use the SBC’s resources for partisan political purposes” or that he “will decide to edit the interview.”

Lynn had been quoted in an earlier Associated Baptist Press story saying if the ERLC “takes those quotes out in the edit, it will be because we sent [Land] that letter. There’s just no other reason for him to do so.”

Land said he begged to differ with Lynn’s assertions. “For Barry Lynn to claim that his warnings were the reason that we did or did not chose to air a particular segment of the Falwell interview reveals on the part of Mr. Lynn a highly inflamed sense of his own self-importance,” Land said.

“Evidently Mr. Lynn is a legend in his own mind,” Land added. “He reminds me of the fellow who traveled around northern Virginia attempting to sell insurance against elephant stampedes. When someone pointed out there had never been such an event in northern Virginia, the salesman smugly replied, ‘Well then, you see how well the insurance works.’

“Dr. Falwell’s program was edited according to our normal editing standards as every other program,” Land said. “Barry Lynn’s letter had absolutely no impact whatsoever in our editing of Jerry Falwell’s comments. This program went through the normal editorial process that saw 44 minutes of tape trimmed to a length suitable for airing,” he said.

Land also dismissed Lynn’s suggestion that his warning had anything to do with the timing of the program’s release.

“It is simply laughable for Barry Lynn to postulate that his rumblings either delayed or prompted us to consider canning the Falwell interview,” Land said. “We have a program schedule that extends out into the future. Special programs like those taped at the SBC had to fit into that schedule as possible. Live coverage of breaking national stories on more than one occasion has bumped a previously scheduled program.”

He said other programs taped at the convention with Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn., on the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message; Jerry Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church, Nashville, Tenn., on his book, “The Baptist Reformation;” and Robert E. Reccord and Phil Roberts of the North American Mission Board on NAMB’s strategic initiative to reach America’s metropolitan areas with the gospel were all aired the week after the convention because they were “time-sensitive” and directly related to matters of the SBC that had just concluded.

Also airing during the same week as Falwell’s interview is an interview with Al Meredith, pastor of Wedgwood Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas, taped during the SBC annual meeting. Land wondered aloud if Barry Lynn was also planning to take credit for delaying the airing of the Meredith program as well.

“Barry Lynn would like to think that his threats have consumed all our energies since his mid-June letter to me. I’m sorry to disappoint him but that is farthest thing from the truth. We have had a multitude of other items to ponder — the least of which is Mr. Lynn’s misplaced rantings and ravings over Dr. Falwell’s comments,” Land said.

“Since the Southern Baptist Convention, we have aired programs with contemporary Christian musician Clay Crosse on his overcoming an addiction to pornography; interviews with Fern Nichols, president of “Moms in Touch,” on the importance of mothers praying for their school age children; and a series of interviews with Frank Harber, author of “Reasons for Believing: A Seeker’s Guide to Christianity” and a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, that garnered a tremendously positive response,” he said, noting the programs can be accessed through the program’s archives on the Internet at www.faithandfamily.com.

Land said as a matter of course he “would not air anything that would jeopardize the ERLC’s tax status.”

“And Mr. Lynn cannot claim credit for enhancing our editing process — from early on in the production of For Faith & Family, we have had at our disposal legal counsel to review tapes to insure their appropriateness for airing,” Land explained. “It is a part of our standard editing plan that we have legal counsel available if we feel it necessary.”

Land said the American Center for Law and Justice reviewed the entire tape of the Falwell interview. “The opinion received from the ACLJ affirmed our understanding of what was proper and what was improper speech according to IRS guidelines for 501(c)(3) organizations,” he said.

“Although ACLJ attorneys found Dr. Falwell’s comments to be ‘permissible,’ as they were identified as ‘strictly personal and not representative’ of the ERLC or the SBC, in the editing process for this interview as in every other occasion we steer far clear of the line,” Land said.

“At the time we did the interview, we had already decided there were things Dr. Falwell said that did not fall within our program format,” Land said, recalling that he had made that clear in press reports in June. “We found no cause to deviate from our tested and true process.”

Almost missed in the give and take over the Falwell interview was what issues out of the 44-minute interview were covered on air, including Jerry Falwell on:

— the virtues of Liberty University;

— his meeting with Mel White and White’s homosexual activist organization, SoulForce;

— rebutting Cal Thomas’s premise that the Moral Majority was a mistake;

— Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy victories;

— Falwell’s call for the church to engage the culture.

Falwell told Land a meeting with the late evangelical scholar Francis Schaeffer many years ago set in motion his lifelong course “to afflict the liberals, to stop abortion, to confront the culture, to do it lovingly but to do it every day of my life.”

The only statement Falwell uttered on the program that might be termed somewhat political was his take on the electoral defeat of former President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 general election. “Ronald Reagan would not have been President unless Bible-believing Christians in 1979 and 1980 by the millions said we had had enough and threw Jimmy Carter out and put Ronald Reagan in, to put it bluntly,” Falwell said.

The For Faith & Family radio ministry is broadcast on more than 550 stations across the United States. Actual audience estimation indicates the ministry has 1.1 million listeners weekly, according to a recent ratings report based on Arbitron numbers.

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  • Dwayne Hastings