NASHVILLE – Though critics of the long opposed, recently passed Matthew Shepard Act say the legislation could be used to prosecute broadcasters and pastors who preach homosexuality as sin, the world's largest network of Christian communicators was impelled Saturday to stand firm, speak with a "holy boldness," and proclaim with great confidence the message they've been called to deliver.
"It will be a matter of great concern if our government can successfully force us to stop proclaiming the full counsel of God," acknowledged Dr. Frank Wright, president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, at the opening session of the 67th NRB Convention & Exposition in Nashville.
"But when we put the shackles on our own arms, that is a matter of great sadness. That is a matter of great unbelief. Because if we don't believe in the power of the gospel, what other power do we have available to us, especially those of us who have been called to proclaim it?" he added.
In front of the thousands gathered for the four-day gathering, Wright pointed to a number of examples in which prominent Christians chose not to respond to questions about their faith with the full message of the gospel but rather self-censored versions of it.
He shared about a well-known Christian broadcaster who appeared on CNN's Larry King Live and was asked "Is Jesus the only way to Heaven?"
"Well, he's the only way for me," Wright recalled the unnamed broadcaster as saying.
In another example, Wright referred to a well-known pastor who was asked in an interview about the verse in which Jesus proclaimed himself to be "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" and how "no one comes to the Father except by me (Christ)."
"And this pastor, this well known pastor – if I named him, you would know the name immediately – said, 'I don't think it's particularly helpful to preach that verse in our day,'" Wright recalled.
"[I]nstead of being constrained by the forces of legislation or regulation or even legal opposition, we're in a place where broadcasters, where the Church, might begin to censor itself," added Wright later.
Following Wright, convention attendees heard from author and teacher Del Tackett, who warned against the consequences of relativism, which he described as the "sand" upon which lives disintegrate – a reference to Jesus' parable of wise and foolish builders.
"We must engage in the battle of great wisdom and grace. Speaking the truth is not an act of judgment. Speaking the truth is an act of compassion," said the on-air personality for Coral Ridge Ministries.
"My prayer is that … we'll begin to be the light and salt we were made to be, that we will engage our culture with the grace and compassion God has shown to us, that we would do so united in love so that the world will know that the Father has sent the Son, not for our glory, but for His alone," he added.
Regarding how to engage today's society while not compromising Christian values, Dr. Jim Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa, Calif., provided NRB Convention attendees with a model from the Bible that he has been looking at in recent times.
The prominent evangelical preacher began the opening session's last message with a three-minute history lesson that started from 1607, when Bible-believing Christians were part of the establishment, and passed through seven stages before reaching to today – the first time in which the Church of Jesus Christ in North America can "legitimately" refer to itself as the persecuted Church.
Today, Garlow said, "we are citizens of Jerusalem but residents of Babylon."
"Somebody moved the country. We didn't go through a geographical change, but we are in exile in a nation called America," he added.
So the problem today, according to the megachurch pastor, is that believers in America find themselves having to be prophetic to the same people they want to be evangelistic to.
"We have to say 'No, stop it, that's wrong, that will cause us all to self-destruct' to the very same people who do not want to hear that and that we're turning around and we want to have a relationship that they love us or trust us enough that we can share the gospel," he said.
That said, Garlow presented attendees with a model on how to engage the society - the story of Daniel, as recorded in the Bible.
Garlow highlighted three steps that Daniel took that allowed him to engage the people, and even the king of Babylon, without compromising his identity.
Specifically, Garlow noted how Daniel learned the language of the Babylonian, learned the literature, and fasted.
For Christians today, that would entail knowing more than just "Christianese," knowing the research that's already out there in secular sources that backs up biblical truth, and doing what might be very uncomfortable – i.e. fasting and forming relationships with those who may seem far different from Christians in their beliefs an ideologies.
"They're not nearly as hostile to us as I thought, but they do not understand us at all," Garlow recalled being told by an evangelical who works at CBS when asked about what he's learned in the secular news company.
"I challenge you to form relationships with those who you are most uncomfortable. Learn the language of the Babylonians. Learn the literature … that we can leverage from the world. And thirdly, saturate it in fast," Garlow exhorted.
In concluding, Garlow reminded attendees that they are "spiritual warriors" in the midst of a war, and that they have all been "made for this moment."
"If we don't use carnal weapons but spiritual forces, this is a winnable war," he concluded.
This year's NRB Convention is being held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, which will also be the site of the world's largest gathering of Christian media professionals for the next three years. NRB 2010 concludes Tuesday.