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NRB president resigns after challenges raised about his comments on politics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The new president of National Religious Broadcasters resigned at the outset of the NRB’s annual convention, Feb. 16-19 in Nashville, Tenn.

Wayne Pederson moved from the position of NRB chairman to become president on October 1, 2001, the unanimous choice of the board and executive committee, to succeed long time President E. Brandt Gustavson, who died of pancreatic cancer last May.

Pederson’s decision to step down after a month-long debate over the future direction of the NRB “ultimately came down to a question of confidence in his leadership,” an NRB news release stated Feb. 16.

“Wayne is a proven broadcaster respected by his peers for his competency, integrity, professionalism and exceptional administrative skills,” said NRB Chairman/CEO Glenn Plummer, the first African American to be elected to the position in the NRB’s 59-year history.

The controversy that led to Pederson’s resignation began on Jan. 5 when an article excerpting an interview with Pederson by reporter Martha Sawyer-Allen appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

In the interview, Pederson said he wanted NRB to downplay its political image and increase its spiritual, theological image. “… [W]hat’s disturbing to me is that evangelicals are identified politically more than theologically,” he told the paper.

“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 referenced “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.”

According to the NRB executive committee minutes Jan. 23, as reported by WorldNetDaily, Pederson said 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.

NRB’s Feb. 16 news release noted that as a result of the article NRB board members “received a flood of responses expressing feelings on both sides of the debate. To some, the widely circulated article suggested a philosophical change in the NRB’s public policy position, and raised serious concerns among various members about the future direction of the NRB and the leadership of Pederson.”

In a Jan. 22 interview with Crosswalk.com Religion Today editor Janet Chismar, Pederson said people are looking at “just a small part” of the larger interview in the Minneapolis paper. The reporter was asking Pederson about the Christian subculture when he began to discuss typecasting and said, “We get associated with the far Christian right and marginalized.”

“NRB is made up largely of evangelicals, and evangelicals are largely conservative in their politics,” Pederson told Crosswalk.com. “So there’s a strong tie there. But it is the stated mission in our constitution and bylaws that NRB exists to protect the rights of Christian communicators to preach the gospel on the airwaves. That continues to be our main emphasis and our main focus.”

Pederson described himself as a theological and political conservative. “But, a number of our members are not political and have been uncomfortable with a strong political stand from NRB,” he told Crosswalk.com. “So we are trying to serve all our members. The ones who are more politically oriented and the ones more focused on teaching and preaching.”

Pederson said NRB as an association “exists to protect the rights of Christian media — to preach the gospel and to speak to the moral issues of our day. We’re not abandoning that.”

Outlining some of NRB’s goals, Pederson told Crosswalk.com, “The number one priority for us, as NRB and as Christians, is to use the media to impact the church and our culture. Secondly, it’s to prepare Christian media to reach the next generation with the new technologies and the formats. Finally, it is to connect strongly with downtown D.C. — to work with the White House, and the FCC, and Congress, and the [National Association of Broadcasters] to further the cause of Christian broadcasting.”

Pederson reiterated: “We support the efforts of our members to speak to the moral issues of our day, and we work to protect those rights. So we’re not seeking so much to distance ourselves, but to focus on what our primary mission is.”

Nevertheless, Pederson’s Jan. 5 Minneapolis Star Tribune interview continued to raise concerns. WorldNetDaily reported Feb. 15 that, according to the minutes of a Jan. 23 NRB executive committee meeting, Jerry Falwell told Pederson he would quietly leave NRB if the group changed direction –emphasizing only the spiritual rather than the socio-cultural-political issues that have partly defined the organization in recent years. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family Ministries, also told executive committee members he would withdraw from the organization and decline to speak at the opening session in Nashville if Pederson remained as president.

Agape Press, the news arms of the American Family Association, earlier quoted AFA founder Don Wildmon as saying his concern with Pederson’s new direction “is so great that it remains to be seen whether he will be in his new post very long.”

“He says we ought to be concerned with theology. Well, that’s what we are concerned [with] — theology drives our social action,” Wildmon said. “Everyone that I know [in Christian broadcasting] are members of what the secular media would call ‘the religious right,’ and these are the people that Wayne Pederson is criticizing. These are the people he’s saying we don’t need anymore.”

When contacted by Crosswalk.com, Wildmon said he had no additional comments, but verified the accuracy of his remarks to Agape Press.

Wildmon told WorldNetDaily on Jan. 22, “I think this is a tragic thing for the NRB. Mr. Pederson has criticized those he calls the members of the religious right. If one stops to think about it, that includes Jim Dobson and Chuck Colson and Adrian Rogers and Vic Eliason and Dick — I mean, just about anybody who has worked hard to make the NRB what it is. It is just tragic. I really think Mr. Pederson would best serve the cause to step aside, because if he does not there is a good chance, a real good chance, that either he would be replaced or that another organization more representative of our views would come forth.”

Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family’s vice president of public policy, told WorldNetDaily, “This kind of thing represents a complete break with the recent history of the NRB and the leadership of Brandt Gustavson, who died last year. I think there needs to be a course correction. There will be an effort at the next board meeting to get the organization back on track.”

Ted Baehr, chairman of Good News Communications and the Christian Film and Television Commission, as well as an NRB board member, told WorldNetDaily: “What [Pederson] says is right and wrong at the same time. He’s wrong when he says we mustn’t get involved in politics. We must be involved in every issue. The concern about politics should be that we are acting under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Also mentioned by WorldNetDaily as critical of Pederson’s comments were 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, typical of his personality after his resignation, has encouraged his colleagues to continue to nurture believers in their faith and impact the culture, ASSIST News Service reported. He emphasized the particular challenges of reaching the next generation and leveraging emerging technologies.

“Norma and I will be fine, and we are excited about what God has for us next,” ASSIST quoted Pederson as saying. “My concern is for NRB — and that is up to you, to continue in unity. We are disappointed and sad to leave, but we would be sadder still if a rift had resulted from this situation. We want you to unite around the common cause that brings us together.”

ASSIST quoted an NRB board member, who asked not to be named, as saying, “Wayne Pederson was crucified by some members who didn’t agree with his views. I am wondering now if all members of NRB will need a political litmus test before they are admitted.”

Others at the convention wondered if NRB would ever find a new president after the way that some members had treated Pederson, ASSIST reported, quoting one attending as saying, “Who would want a job like that when you know you will be attacked from all sides?”
Compiled by Art Toalston from reports by ASSIST News Service, Crosswalk.com & WorldNetDaily.

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