By Bob Allen
A top media spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Convention urged communicators attending this weekend’s National Religious Broadcasters International Christian Media Convention in Nashville, Tenn., to keep faith central to whichever form of media they choose.
“I would encourage all of us to remember it’s really easy to build a life and a niche on a vague spirituality,” SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore said Feb. 24 during a plenary session of the four-day meeting at Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center that ends today. “It’s really easy to build a life and a niche on a bloodless moralism, but we’re Christians. Do not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead.”
Moore, who began last summer as the SBC’s top spokesman for moral, ethical and religious liberty concerns, was one of several Southern Baptist leaders featured at what is billed as the world’s largest annual gathering of Christian communicators.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Moore’s former boss, spoke on opening night at the official inauguration of new National Religious Broadcasters President and CEO Jerry Johnson, the former Criswell College president elected Oct. 1.
Johnson, who previously served in administration and on faculty at two SBC seminaries, outlined his vision for NRB, including his desire to bring into the fold more Christian bloggers, podcasters and other new media communicators.
“This is a new media culture, media country, media generation, and we are positioned like no other association to advance the gospel of the Lord,” Johnson said. “There are more media tools now than ever before.”
Johnson also recognized new challenges to Christian-owned institutions like Hobby Lobby, which are being pressured to go against their beliefs to provide coverage for drugs that they believe cause an abortion. He stressed the NRB’s three-fold mission — to advance biblical truth, to promote media excellence and to defend free speech — and said each part is essential today to widely and effectively influence the world for Christ.
LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer spoke Saturday, while his boss, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer, addressed the NRB board of directors. Todd Starnes, a one-time Baptist Press reporter who now works for Fox News, received the NRB Board of Directors Award honoring Christians for integrity, creativity and making a significant impact on society.
As Southern Baptists’ top public-policy spokesperson, Moore said he is often asked to comment in the media on current events like recent controversy over comments by Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson criticized as homophobic.
“These are situations where I’m there to say this isn’t some wild and crazy idea,” Moore said. “This understanding of sexuality is held by every branch of Christianity, by Orthodox Judaism, by Islam. The Dalai Lama holds to this view of sexuality.”
“So we are articulating what it is that this view is, I think, faithfully and accurately,” Moore said. “And I think my calling is to try to do that in such a way that I can model for other Christians as to how to have those conversations in their communities. Not every Christian is going to be on CNN being screamed at. Not every Christian is getting a call from a newspaper reporter, saying ‘How can you people believe this?’ But every Christian is going to be interacting with people in their communities who disagree with them very sharply about things that the Bible says.”
Moore said that takes a “convictional kindness” that stands up for truth but seeks to persuade people, not simply to win an argument.
“It is really easy to see people as simply issues to be vaporized and bumper stickers to be countered with other bumper stickers,” he said. “We’re dealing with real-live human beings made in the image of God, and so that means trying to understand why they believe what they believe, speaking to them with truth but loving them while we do that.”
Moore said Christians often do the opposite of Jesus, who voiced great anger at people using false teaching within the religious fold while focusing his mission on those outside the household of faith.
“We tend often to reverse that,” he said. “So the people who are within the people of God, they can be doing any number of horrifically spiritually dangerous things, and we’re silent about that, because this is one of us, but then we become angry and hostile — and all of us have a tendency to do this — to the people who are on the outside.”
Moore urged Christian broadcasters to avoid a “sort of least-common-denominator spirituality” and not to try to “make Christianity normal” in a society that increasingly finds faith claims harder to believe.
“Simply having Jesus included in the conversation is not enough, because Jesus can often be a space filler for all sorts of things that do not in fact represent the gospel of Jesus Christ at all,” Moore said. “We have to be the people who recognize we’re living in a world that increasingly sees us as strange and freakish, but that means we have to be clear in saying ‘this is what the gospel of Jesus Christ is and this is what it is not.’”
“So simply because, for instance, health-and-wealth prosperity gospel teaching is willing to say ‘Jesus’ and willing to say ‘morality,’ we have to be the people who say that is actually not the gospel of Jesus Christ, and this is,” Moore said.
“We’re living not in Mayberry, but we’re living in a world very similar to what Jesus and the apostles faced in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts,” Moore said. “I think we have good news ahead of us, because the power of the gospel is, of course, the power of God unto salvation.”
— With reporting by NRB communications.