- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

The new head of National Religious Broadcasters, a religious and political force in elections and policy-making, has been forced to resign after six weeks in office because politically active evangelicals say he will shun activism.
The resignation of Minnesota broadcaster Wayne Pederson was accepted over the weekend at the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) convention in Nashville, Tenn. He was to be installed at the assembly, which ended yesterday.
"He was perceived as narrowing the focus and that forced us to make a leadership change," said Michael D. Little, president of the Christian Broadcasting Network and a member of the eight-person NRB Executive Committee.
"We've just reconfirmed that NRB stands for the right to speak on cultural issues" such as abortion and the traditional family, he said in a telephone interview yesterday.
The fortunes of Mr. Pederson, a 34-year Christian radio veteran with Northwestern Radio, reversed after he criticized too much political emphasis by evangelicals during a Minneapolis Star-Tribune interview in January.
"I was a bit unaware of the national scrutiny my words would receive," Mr. Pederson, 54, said yesterday from Nashville.
"My goal was to be the president of all NRB, and NRB is very diverse," he said of the 1,300-member organization that reports an audience of 60 million. "I wanted to establish our priority: spiritual ministry but not to the exclusion of social issues." He said his departure was "amicable."
The firing raises again the debate among conservative Protestants over how their institutions should balance religious ministry with a political activism in elections and policy since the 1980s.
The 59-year-old radio and television association, sometimes called "National Republican Broadcasters," once was marked by fiery televangelists but now boasts some of the nation's most prominent commentators, such as James Dobson of "Focus on the Family."
Mr. Dobson, who gave the NRB plenary address Saturday with a call to political engagement, also received the executive board's annual award.
Some NRB members said yesterday that Mr. Dobson, outraged by the interview and its disdain for "the far Christian right," convened a group of Christian leaders to demand a resignation. One NRB member called it "an end run that bypassed the governing process."
Before the NRB assembly, the executive committee voted 7-1 for the resignation, but on Saturday the broader NRB board split 47-36.
"We're pleased at the outcome," said Tom Minnery, "Focus on the Family" spokesman. "We believe NRB will be stronger in the future."
In Nashville, NRB delegates told evangelical news media that politically active individuals and groups such as Mr. Dobson's, the American Family Radio Network of the Rev. Don Wildmon and radio talk-show host Janet Parshall, head of the NRB public policy committee, might have bolted the NRB in protest.
In Washington, Family Research Council President Ken Connor backed the firing in an e-mail notice. Christians and politics are "a match made in heaven," he said. "As people of faith, we shouldn't be duped into believing it's necessary to separate our convictions from civic life."
Mr. Pederson, who moved his family into a Manassas town house near NRB headquarters, said he was an "entrepreneur" who would pursue "cutting-edge broadcasting to reach this generation and the next with the Gospel."
His radio station was at Northwestern College, where the Rev. Billy Graham once was president, and said the evangelist's "style of ministry and balance" was a model. Pederson supporters say he has no written promise of severance pay.
The leadership change also comes at a time when the conservative Christian vote tapered off by 4 million on Election Day 2000, attributed to a Bush stump strategy that bypassed evangelicals to focus on battleground states.

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