The National Religious Broadcasters, a D.C.-based group of evangelical Christian communicators, found itself in a war of words Sunday after firing its top spokesman.
Daniel Darling, a noted pastor and author, was let go in a furor over advocating for the COVID-19 vaccine, a subject of contention among evangelicals.
Mr. Darling, 43, was terminated from the position he’d held since May 2020, purportedly for insubordination after he appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program on Aug. 18 endorsing vaccination against COVID-19. He had expressed the same opinions in an Aug. 2 op-ed in USA Today, to which the NRB apparently did not object.
Religion News Service, which first reported Mr. Darling’s sacking, said the spokesman’s other option was to admit “insubordination” in a written statement.
The 77-year-old NRB claims to be “the world’s largest association of Christian communicators,” and reportedly has 1,100 members, including many of America’s best-known evangelical broadcast ministries and networks.
Its website says the organization seeks “to protect the free speech rights of our members” and “to foster excellence, integrity, and accountability in our membership.”
A source with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be named, confirmed the NRB terminated Mr. Darling without severance pay.
He had been recruited to the broadcasters’ group from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission [STET] of the Southern Baptist Convention, where he’d served for six years.
In a written statement Mr. Darling, a father of four who was described as “processing” the sudden turn of events, said he is “sad and disappointed that my time at NRB has come to a close.”
“I’m grieved that the issues that divide our country are also dividing Christians,” he added. “Sadly, we are sometimes tempted by the same things that tempt the world. While I will not continue my work at NRB, I will continue to try to unify believers around the truth of the Gospel.”
Neither Troy Miller, the group’s chief executive officer, nor the NRB’s press office responded to repeated requests for comment over the weekend from The Washington Times.
However, in a statement posted on his personal Twitter account, Mr. Miller said Mr. Darling “was never asked to recant those comments” about the vaccine.
He maintained that “no NRB employee has ever been terminated for their views on this subject,” adding that “this was never about the substance of an interview.”
The source with knowledge of the situation said the pastor “was directly terminated due to ‘insubordination’ related to his vaccine statements and appearance on MSNBC.”
According to a termination letter, part of which was provided to The Washington Times, Mr. Darling “was identified as the Senior Vice President for the National Religious Broadcasters. The employee then advocated for vaccinations in direct violation of the instructions given 10 days earlier. The employee is being terminated for willful insubordination.”
According to Mr. Miller’s statement, Mr. Darling “was offered a path to another position that would have provided [a] significant salary and full benefits. He turned that offer down and chose to depart NRB.”
But the anonymous source responded that Mr. Darling “was offered a conditional job within a sister ministry — NRB TV — only if he signed a document admitting insubordination.”
The source added that “the position that Daniel was offered with NRB TV would have been a nearly $50,000 salary decrease. This is not a ‘significant’ salary, as Mr. Miller states.”
When Mr. Darling refused to sign an admission of insubordination, he was terminated, the source indicated.
Social media reaction to the Miller statement was fierce and negative.
Joshua Wester, chair of research in Christian ethics with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission blasted Mr. Miller, writing online that the statement was an “embarrassing obfuscation on a level that is difficult to describe.”
Russell Moore, former chairman of the religious-liberty panel, tweeted of the firing, “this is insanity. [Mr. Darling] will have a bright future elsewhere. But this is inexcusable.”
The Miller statement claimed there was no NRB “policy” on neutrality about the vaccine, claiming only the group’s board of directors or its executive committee sets policies through resolutions.
Instead, the “neutrality” stance was a “directive” from Mr. Miller to the group’s employees after questions were raised about NRB’s position on COVID-19 vaccines.
However, in the runup to the group’s June 2021 convention in Grapevine, Texas, Mr. Miller sent several emails to NRB members and convention attendees noting the availability of vaccinations as a positive for the in-person gathering.
On April 13, Mr. Miller wrote, “We are increasingly encouraged by good news as new vaccination records are set daily and COVID-19 cases continue to fall around the country. Though new variants have emerged, research shows that vaccines are mostly effective against the vast majority of new variants. Overall, the COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be stunningly effective.”
For months, white evangelical Christians have been among those reportedly hesitant to take the vaccines developed by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
Recent reports indicate White and Hispanic evangelicals are more likely to take the shots if a pastor urges vaccination from the pulpit. In May, evangelical leader Franklin Graham said Americans should “pray about” receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
This is the second time in 16 months that a sudden departure has rocked the NRB.
On April 29, 2020, board chair Janet Parshall unexpectedly resigned, ending a 20-year stint as an NRB board member. Her husband, attorney Craig Parshall, resigned his position as the group’s general counsel at the same time.