OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – In a letter addressed to the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Russell Moore, Bott Radio Network President Richard P. Bott, II, called on Moore to apologize publicly for his recent critical remarks regarding Christian talk radio—an industry supported by millions of Southern Baptist and evangelical listeners.
Bott’s May 5 letter was also sent to more than 70 Southern Baptist and evangelical leaders, including SBC Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Frank Page and SBC President Fred Luter, as well as members of the media including WORLD magazine and Fox News.
Bott attends Lenexa Baptist Church in Lenexa, Kan., a Southern Baptist congregation dually affiliated with the Kansas-Nebraska Baptist Convention and the Missouri Baptist Convention. His letter responded to Moore’s remarks made during the ERLC’s Leadership Summit, April 21-23, in Nashville, Tenn.
During his address at the Summit, called “Walking the Line: The Gospel and Moral Purity,” Moore called on Southern Baptists to respond to sexual immorality not with condemnation but with the gospel’s message of reconciliation. In one comment, he isolated Christian talk radio.
“I listened on the way back up here from my home town to some Christian talk radio this week, against my doctor’s orders,” Moore said. “And honestly, if all that I knew of Christianity was what I heard on Christian talk radio, I’d hate it, too. 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 that has been given to us. 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 we have been given.”
In the weeks following the ERLC Leadership Summit, Christian talk radio hosts Janet Mefferd of Salem Communications, which owns and operates 99 radio stations and has more than 2,400 affiliates nationwide, and Brian Fischer of American Family Radio with its approximately 200 stations, challenged Moore’s remarks. Both have now been joined by Bott, which owns more than 90 radio stations across the country. While all three provide some programming that could be classified as “talk or call-in,” they also provide a significant amount of Bible-based preaching and teaching, featuring Southern Baptists like Billy Graham, Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, David Jeremiah, Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham and Ronnie Floyd.
“You can imagine 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 that Christian Talk Radio causes people to hate Christianity,” Bott wrote to Moore in his May 5 letter.
“Assuming you spoke from ignorance,” he added, “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.”
According to Daniel Darling, ERLC vice president for communications, the ERLC is aware of Bott’s letter. But, the ERLC has not offered any reaction to Bott’s letter or the concerns of other Christian radio talk show hosts.
Other similar statements by Moore appearing to be critical of Christian talk radio have surfaced since his comments at the Summit.
In an April 15 article on Moore to the Point, Moore’s blog at russellmoore.com, Moore draws from a story in 1 Kings 22 and shares about a variety of 21st-century prophets who speak only “what people want to hear.” Some of the prophets say “that if we just sign checks to the right radio talk-show hosts, and have a good election cycle or two, we’ll be right back where we were, back when carpets were shag and marriages were strong,” he writes.
Moore also made a remark about talk radio while speaking at the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s (EPPC) Faith Angle Forum in South Beach, Fla., March 23-24. According to a transcript from the forum posted on the EPPC website, Moore said that Christians need to embrace “genuine reconciliation, which means that we speak, again, to use the biblical language, both with truth and with grace.”
“And that means that we spend a great deal of time informing and educating our own people on what the theology of Christianity is while offering an apologetic to those on the outside,” Moore said. “But I think we do so without surrendering, on the one hand, to the sort of radio talk show Christianity that seeks to vaporize opponents; on the other hand, to seek to abandon Christianity itself. There is always a tendency—a friend of mine said recently that it seems too him that secular media often see Christianity in only one of two terms: Pope Francis in caricature or Westboro Baptist Church.”
None of Moore’s recent comments specified a particular talk show personality with whom he disagrees, but on at least one occasion, Moore specifically criticized talk radio host Glenn Beck. Last fall, The Wall Street Journal reported on Moore’s call for a “winsome, kind and empathetic” spirit among evangelicals as they engage the culture. The Oct. 21 article, headlined “Evangelical Leader Preaches Pullback from Politics, Culture,” notes that Moore wants to break from the previous generation’s tone and style of cultural engagement. It also captured his reaction to an August 2010 rally that drew conservative Christians by the droves to the Lincoln Memorial. Beck was the organizer and host of the rally in which Moore’s predecessor, Richard Land, was Beck’s “guest.”
“Mr. Moore, in an essay posted after the rally, said the event illustrated how far astray many conservative Christians had wandered in pursuit of ‘populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
When this article was published, some conservatives asked whether Moore actually intended to pull back from bold engagement in the public square—a claim that, at the time, Moore rebuffed. However, after the ERLC Summit, radio host Mefferd once again questioned Moore’s tactics.
She called Moore’s statement about Christian talk radio a “nuclear bomb.” Also, since it seemed to her that Moore criticized talk radio for condemning sexual sin, she asked whether Moore would deny the need to declare the truth boldly and call sinners to repentance. True Christianity involves both truth and grace, both a call for repentance and a message of reconciliation, she said.
“It is a full package,” Mefferd said. “And I don’t think this is the time to start telling Christian talk radio that they’re making people hate Christianity.”
Mefferd and others have wondered if Moore’s remarks about Christian talk radio signal a retreat on the issues of sexuality and marriage. Mefferd said Moore’s repeated comments about the “inevitability” of homosexual marriage could cause Christians, who are advocating for marriage to be defined as between a man and a woman, to be discouraged and perhaps capitulate. However, Editor J. Gerald Harris of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s news journal, The Christian Index, defended Moore, saying that he is not pulling back from a bold defense of biblical truth.
“Moore has done no such thing,” Harris wrote. “He is not retreating on any issue pertaining to ethics, morality, or religious liberty. Sometimes he may seem to be more diplomatic than straightforward, but in essence he does not equivocate. … Moore has wisely tempered his convictions with love and grace. But, he is relentless in his defense of marriage, and I see no sign of quitting in him.”