As President and CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters, an international association of Christian communicators, Dr. Frank Wright brings a remarkably diverse background in ministry to his work, having directed major efforts to minister to the poor, fight pornography, and encourage the faith of Congressional leaders – all in addition to his lifelong work in evangelism, pastoral care, and academia. What do you see as the greatest challenges facing those who want to communicate the Gospel – via broadcasting or simply from the pulpit – today
Proclaiming Christ in an Increasingly Hostile Culture
There has been, undoubtedly, a political transformation of the culture that has gone unfavorably in terms of threats to the rights and interests of not just Christian broadcasters but – I believe –the church of Jesus Christ as a whole.
I would put these threats into three categories. First is the Fairness Doctrine, an old FCC doctrine that said that if you broadcast “controversial” viewpoints, you need to provide equal time to opposing viewpoints. Now, that doctrine is 40-plus years old, and was repealed in the Reagan administration, basically on two grounds: first, that there is no more spectrum scarcity – between broadcast radio and television, satellite radio, satellite television, Internet, wireless, mobile, everything you might have, there’s plenty of spectrum out there for every viewpoint to be heard. And, secondly, on First Amendment grounds, that the doctrine was a violation of freedom of association, as well as free exercise of religion in the case of religious broadcasters.
But there have been dramatic efforts to try to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine in our day, and the biggest are happening under the guise of what the FCC calls “localism requirements.” It’s the Fairness Doctrine in everything but name – the same government intervention into the area of content, the control of speech. The Fairness Doctrine makes an outrageous assumption: that the government ought to be the arbiter of which ideas are controversial and which ideas are not.
Second is what’s known as “hate crimes legislation.” This legislation was passed last fall ostensibly to provide additional federal criminal penalties when a violent criminal act is “motivated by hate.” But in almost every case where there are hate crimes statutes at the state level, their application has eventually bled over into the area of speech. And it’s not just violent crime, its hate speech that becomes criminalized.
Third is what’s called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). It is the expansion of the homosexual agenda into the area of employment rights, and would require churches and Christian non-profit organizations to hire people who disagree with the fundamental principles of that organization, and with the teachings of the Christian church.
The National Religious Broadcasters, along with partners such as ADF, is working diligently to defend against these threats. Given these threats, what do you see as the future of Christian broadcasting in America?
I think we’re standing at the precipice of an event that will shape the Church for generations, and that is this question: whether this chilling effect will so cause churches to withdraw from proclaiming truth, as to have a dramatically diminished impact on the culture, or whether Christian churches and broadcasters will stand firm and continue to proclaim the truth of Scripture, and defend those rights in the courts with the help of our friends like ADF. In the face of such a tidal shift in the culture, what kind of response are you finding among churches and religious broadcasters?
Right now, I am not greatly encouraged by what I see on the part of some churches and some broadcasters, who think that they can’t speak to these great questions – that they need to focus solely on the Gospel message. At the end of the day, their avoidance of these fundamental questions will come back to hurt even their ability to proclaim the Gospel. They can try to avoid all the issues that are deemed “controversial” today, but I think the Gospel itself may be labeled controversial in the not-too-distant future, and it will be constrained as well.
“It’s hard to open up the newspaper without seeing how the culture is turning against the Christian message.” Dr. Frank Wright
Things like “hate crimes” and ENDA and fairness doctrine and localism – these are preliminary battles in a greater war – a war against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Why is the work of ADF so crucial to protecting our freedom to broadcast the Gospel?
The Alliance Defense Fund is one of the most strategically-placed organizations in Christendom today. They’re our answer to the strategy the ACLU has been using for years – build an army of attorneys. Nationally, ADF attorneys are thinking strategically about what impact current legislation will have on the laws of our country, and locally, they’re continually equipping allied attorneys to be able to work in their own communities. Thanks to ADF, it almost never happens that there’s no answer to the legal challenges posed by groups like the ACLU.