Russell Moore Clarifies Critique of Christian Talk Radio

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, clarified that his recent criticism of a Christian talk radio program as missing a redemptive message was not aimed at all Christian talk radio programs.

During a speech at the ERLC's Leadership Summit in Nashville on April 22, Moore said, "I listened on the way back up here from my hometown to some Christian talk radio this week, against my doctor's orders. And, honestly, if all that I knew of Christianity was what I heard on Christian talk radio, I'd hate it, too. There are some people who believe that fidelity to the Gospel simply means speaking, 'You kids get off my lawn.' That is not the message that has been given to us."

In a broadcast two days later, Christian talk radio host Janet Mefferd said she was offended at what Moore said and called on him to apologize. Also, Bott Radio Network President Richard Bott reportedly sent Moore a letter asking him for a public apology.

In an interview with The Christian Post on Monday, Moore said the quote should be understood in the context of the entire speech.

His message had two parts. The Devil needs to be fought on the two fronts where he works, in deception and accusation, he taught the audience of mostly young Southern Baptist pastors.

In the first part, he spoke about how the Devil deceives people by making them think "that sexual immorality does not lead to consequences, including eternal consequences." To fight this deception, Moore recommended calling "people clearly to repentance" and standing "against those who would offer a revisionist message of Christian sexual ethic."

Moore believes Christians should not stop there. "Simply identifying what is wrong is not enough," he said. In the second half of the message, he implored his audience to "offer people redemption through Jesus Christ, which means that our mission must be the same as that of Jesus, to seek and save that which is lost."

It was in that second part of his message that he offered the illustration of listening to a talk radio show. In that show he heard the first part, identifying the sin, without the second part, a message of saving grace. Moore urged his audience not to do that.

The radio host was "lambasting lost people in all sorts of ways," he said, and he agreed with the condemnation of sin. But the host did not complete the Gospel message, in Moore's view, because, "there was no offer of mercy and redemption, there was no explicit articulation of the Gospel."

"We need to be explicit Gospel people in the call to repentance and in the offer of mercy. In context, it's very clear what sort of phenomenon I was talking about there," he said.

Moore added that when he worked in academia, he would not take offense at general criticisms of academia because he knew those criticisms were not directed at him personally. Also, when people criticize "televangelists," most understand the particular phenomenon that is being criticized. Similarly, Moore is not criticizing all of Christian radio but a particular type of Christian radio.

Nobody thinks of Billy Graham in the context of the usual criticisms of televangelists, he explained, "because Billy Graham clearly does not fit into the model of a prosperity Gospel, predatory sort of TV evangelist. I think the same is true here. There are lots of gospel-focused, gospel-centered Christian radio show hosts, many of them are very close friends of mine, Jim Daly and Dennis Rainey, Frank Sontag, the list goes on and on."

Moore has himself appeared on and hosted Christian talk radio, and has a podcast called "Questions and Ethics."

His ERLC National Summit speech was not the first time Moore had criticized Christian talk radio. He offered a similar critique at the Ethics and Public Policy Center's "Faith Angle Forum" in March.

Christians should speak in both truth and grace, he said, which means "we spend a great deal of time informing and educating our own people on what the theology of Christianity is while offering an apologetic to those on the outside. But I think we do so without surrendering, on the one hand, to the sort of radio talk show Christianity that seeks to vaporize opponents; on the other hand, to seek to abandon Christianity itself."

Then, later in the talk he added, "we need to be the sort of people who are consistently speaking for the things we believe in, for the things that we value, but without the sort of defeatism that lends itself to the perpetual outrage machine so often heard on Christian radio, but also without the sort of capitulation that simply turns us all into Episcopal Church U.S.A. mainline Protestants."

When asked, Moore declined to say which radio show he was listening to, "because I'm not interested in producing anybody's radio show."

Pointing out sin without a message of redemption is a temptation for all Christians, including himself, Moore added.

"It's easy for us to simply point out what is wrong with the lost people in our communities without reminding ourselves that these people are also our mission field. We have to point out what's wrong, but we have to point out what's wrong the way Jesus did, with an eye toward seeing people saved," he said.