As many Evangelical elites and institutions squishily accommodate liberal trends, the National Religious Broadcasters group remains defiantly conservative, as its recent convention of over 4,000 ministry leaders abundantly confirmed, focusing on pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-Israel, and pro-religious liberty advocacy.
Partly the defiance owes to NRB’s inherently populist character. Its membership includes thousands of Evangelical communicators, rooted heavily in Christian radio, with traditionalist constituencies of millions.
And partly the defiance is credited to its president since 2013, former Criswell College president Jerry Johnson, who offers no apologies for his unabashedly conservative convictions. In his inaugural speech last year, he promised NRB would be for religious liberty what the NRA is for gun rights.
“Our content is not always popular,” Johnson told this year’s NRB audience in Nashville. “Our content is not always politically correct.” Yet religious broadcasters “should speak the truth in love, winsomely, convincingly, and passionately.”
Johnson insisted the “sanctity of innocent human life” is “not a side issue.” And same sex behavior is a “rejection of the Creator and His created order for male-female sexual activity.” Lest there be any doubt, he pledged, “The National Religious Broadcasters dare not pitch their tent toward Sodom or sit at the gate.”
Former FOX program host and former Governor Mike Huckabee, in his address to NRB, reiterated key themes of support for Israel, resistance to militant Islam, and the importance of religious freedom. “Religious liberty is under attack like never before,” he decried. “Christians are in the crosshairs of the government.”
Citing a “world on fire,” Huckabee warned: “We are dealing with leadership in this country that not only refuses to acknowledge who the enemy is, but what they represent, which is a religious jihad against Christians and Jews and even other Muslims who do not accept their radical version of it.”
Appealing to his middle America audience with a populist pitch, the possible presidential contender complained: “As long as the Washington-to-Wall Street axis of power continues to exist, where the donor class feeds the political class, who does the favor for the donor class, this country is going to be in serious trouble,” urging liberation from
“people who treat Washington like it is the Roach Motel, where they go in but they never go out.”
Another likely presidential candidate, Governor Scott Walker, recounted how prayers had sustained him during dicey showdowns with labor unions, and echoed other NRB themes of populism and security. “We need to make sure in this country that we put in place reforms that take power out of Washington and put it in the hands of hard-working people,” he declared. “And most importantly we must make sure we live in a country where we are safe enough that we have leaders in our nation who will stand up and take on radical Islamic terrorism.”
Publisher and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes reminded NRB that free enterprise is intertwined with faith and generosity. “That’s why the United States, the most commercial nation ever invented, is also the most philanthropic nation ever invented,” he told an approving crowd. He credited Western Civilization’s rise to
Judaism and Christianity, which “encouraged inquiry” and “getting new knowledge.”
A panel of women pro-life leaders told NRB to be confident in its witness against abortion. “We don’t have to have the most articulate, perfect arguments ready about this,” explained March for Life President Jeanne Monahan-Mancini. “We don’t have to have perfect apologetics. All you have to do is show it for what it is.” She cited the power of ultrasounds: “If you look at the beautiful picture of a heart beating on an ultrasound, it’s such a young moment in that baby’s life, and it’s convincing to that woman who is experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.”
Young Southern Baptist theologian Owen Strachan told NRB that Christians would not surrender on marriage. “Marriage is an image of Christ and His Church,” he said, explaining “we have Jesus dying for His bride. We are not giving that up.… [T]here will be no truce. There’s not going to be a way, as in Germany in the 1930s, that we bargain down this issue.”
National defense hard liner Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy compared radical Islam with Cold War struggles, warning NRB: “If anything, what I think of as communism with a god is much more dangerous than communism without a god.”
And author Joel Rosenberg, lamenting abortion, failure to address radical Islam, and U.S. lack of support for Israel, warned of divine judgment on America. “And your job and mine is to make sure we are preaching the Gospel and making disciples and begging God not just for a revival, [but] a series of revivals so sweeping that it would be the Third Great Awakening,” he implored of NRB.
NRB bestowed awards on Hollywood action hero Chuck Norris, a Christian and philanthropist, and on Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian mother who survived an Islamist prison in Sudan. An expansive exhibit hall showcased the high tech outreach of scores of NRB communication ministries, mixed in with Evangelical eccentricities, as occasional persons garbed as biblical characters walked about, posing for photos.
The well-attended NRB convo was geographic and age diverse. Unlike other Evangelical institutions less moored in conservatism, NRB’s media constituency must remain close to their audience and accordingly are not drifting leftward in a quest for approval from secular elites. Others might learn from NRB’s cultural defiance.