Dr. Jerry A. Johnson was installed as the President and CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters at their annual convention February 22-26 in Nashville, Tennessee. The NRB is a Washington-based international association of Christian communicators founded in 1944 to advance biblical truth, promote media excellence, and defend First Amendment principles, particularly the rights to freedoms of speech, religion, and the press. Dr. Johnson was the unanimously elected visionary who will carry this torch for the NRB.
Dr. Johnson has served as a pastor, seminary professor and administrator at both Southern and Midwestern Baptist Seminaries, President of Criswell College, and manager of KCBI-FM in Dallas. All of these experiences have uniquely prepared him for the mission of the NRB.
Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, delivered these moving words at Dr. Johnson’s presidential installation service:
It is not by accident that we are living during these times when civilization is going against everything Christianity represents. We will suffer for saying what is right and true. We cannot run from them. We must run at them.
Southern Evangelical Seminary President Richard Land proclaimed at Johnson’s election, “America has never needed the NRB as it does right now to defend freedom of religion and speech, which are under unprecedented assault.” Former NRB Board Chairman Rich Bott praised Dr. Johnson’s selection saying, “Dr. Jerry Johnson is extremely well-suited to lead NRB into the future.” That future will place Dr. Jerry Johnson standing in the gap for Christians and Christian communicators across our world. One might say that Dr. Johnson has hit the ground running, and his determination and faith are what sustains him.
Sonoma Christian Home Contributor, Ginny Dent Brant, whose father Harry S. Dent entered politics and the military to preserve our freedoms, recently interviewed Dr. Jerry Johnson about the three freedoms he believes Christians have a duty to protect – freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion – if we are to reach this world for Christ.
SCH: I heard Pastor Rafael Cruz quote some alarming statistics at NRB. He said that only one in four Catholics and Christians actually voted in the 2012 election. Do you believe the church showed up in our 2012 national elections? What can pastors do from the pulpit to encourage their members to be involved in the election process?
JAJ: As Christians we did not make the difference we could have made in the 2012 elections. There were three problems: those who did not register, those who were registered but did not vote, and according to Barna and Gallup polls, those who did vote but did not vote their values. Some people just think about what the government can do for them, rather than what they can do for their country,
We must realize we hold the levers of power and it’s just as sinful for us to stay home or to not vote our values as it is for the politician who votes wrong on the issue. We bear just as much blame as the politician who is leading us in the wrong direction because we empower them. Our country needs for us to bring the Judeo-Christian values back into our culture.
Pastors need to preach on important issues such as Biblical marriage, the sanctity of human life, what is a just war, how to be salt and light, etc. As a pastor, I always set up voter registration tables and encouraged my congregation to register and vote without telling them who to vote for. When you instruct and prepare them in these ways, they are likely to vote for those candidates who will represent Biblical values. We must elect those who represent our values. There is nothing wrong with a pastor telling his congregation to vote for Biblical values. It is our constitutional right.
SCH: At NRB, you called for a revival in excellence and more use of new media technology. What part do you feel bloggers and social media such as Facebook and Twitter can play in creating awareness and promoting action regarding the importance of these freedoms?
JAJ: Facebook and Twitter make it possible for all of us to communicate Christian concerns, stories, events, problems, and solutions and reach thousands/millions immediately at no cost. Last night, I went around the mainstream media because they neglected a story. I linked to a religious freedom story from the London Daily Mail about 48 Christians who were murdered by a Muslim extremist in Kenya. When others retweeted my link, this story got out there. We need to make use of these tools for the gospel and do it with excellence.
SCH: The last time I was in Romania, the church leaders said to me, “Why are you in America moving towards government control of everything when we never want to go back?” Do you think the average American realizes the freedoms we are gradually losing, and the impact it will have on this country?
JAJ: No, I’m sad to say that most don’t. You don’t appreciate something until you’ve lost it, whether it’s health, eye sight or freedoms. We’ve grown up in a culture of ease and freedoms and our government is restrained. We’re beginning to see government more heavy-handed and those freedoms being taken away. The rest of the world would love to be in our situation. Our founding fathers knew what they had achieved and paid a significant price for it. For this generation, it’s come too easy. If we don’t wake up soon, I’m afraid we’re in for some hard lessons.
SCH: As someone whose been in the underground church in the Middle East and China, and in Romania as it struggled to plant above the ground in the early 1990’s, I’ve seen firsthand the positive and negative aspects of religious persecution. As Christians, in what ways do you feel we will suffer as we stand for our faith?
JAJ: Our lives may not be threatened right now as compared to people in the Middle East and that incident I just referred to in Kenya, but workplace discrimination is the first step and it’s already here. When you think about Germany in the 1930’s, the first place religious discrimination occurred was in business and trade regarding who was permitted to do business (The Jews had to identify themselves). In Islamic areas under Sharia Law today, Christians have to pay a tax to do business.
Our government now has a particular view on issues such as Islam and marriage, and you are not welcome in the military, the Pentagon, or the federal government branch if you do not share their views or did not at some time in your past. This is infringement upon our freedoms of religion and speech. We’ve seen the firing of a sports broadcaster, and the Mozilla Firefox executive over their past comments. It’s as if our society is saying, “You can be a Christian, but you’d better keep your mouth shut.” And now the government is starting to coerce business owners such Hobby Lobby, the photographer and the cake maker to violate their religious beliefs.
SCH: Many Americans don’t know what to believe about the events happening around us. They hear one story on one station and get a completely different story on another. What advice can you give Americans who are trying to discern the truth?
JAJ: There’s never been more of a variety in the media than today. You can go from liberal outlets such as CNN and MSNBC to conservative ones such as Fox and Breitbart. You can also go from Christian to non-Christian. I’m not afraid of that variety. We have more access to truth now. Although the mainstream media is liberal, you don’t have to go to them. Most people are actually getting their news off the internet, rather than the nightly news. Go to sources you can trust.
SCH: Francis Schaeffer knew, “Whoever controls the media, controls the culture.” It’s no secret that when dictators such as Hitler entered a new country, the first entity they seized was the press. What subtle things do you see happening in this country that are slowly taking away our freedom of the press?
JAJ: I see some things beginning to happen. Earlier this year, the FCC proposed to send observers into newsrooms, and they got their hand slapped. There used to be something called the Fairness Doctrine and Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer are trying to revive that. It would put a stop to talk radio which is so popular today with conservatives and evangelicals.
Although it’s not a First Amendment issue, some people have had their social media accounts and content removed. These private companies are claiming to be community-driven, yet we are seeing censorship. This is comparable to someone cutting off your phone in the olden days because they did not like what you were talking about. Facebook and Twitter are like lifelines to some, and those users expect neutrality.
SCH: What part do you feel the movie industry can play in creating awareness regarding the loss of our freedoms and motivating people to take a stand and do something about it?
JAJ: Lots of people go to movies today to be inspired. Although we know the church is the place to do that, we can still use dramas, documentaries, and almost any genre to advance the Christian Worldview. Films such as Amazing Grace showed how one man, William Wilberforce, put an end to slavery. Dinesh D’Souza (his recent personal problems aside) has made some great documentaries on the subject of freedom.
Hollywood has used movies for years to humanize and normalize things such as same-sex marriage. And we need to use this same medium to humanize our message in a compelling way. Film has tremendous potential.
SCH: I’ve never seen more movie producers coming out with quality films to challenge our Christian worldview and some to teach us about the importance of our freedoms such as Last Ounce of Courage, God’s Not Dead, and soon to be released Persecuted. This has been an outstanding year for Christian films and their influence on our culture.
SCH: What does NRB do to promote freedom of speech, religion and the press in other parts of this world?
JAJ: I’m going to England soon to meet with some of our Christian Broadcasters and later I will go to Brazil. I’ve even demonstrated teaching from the Bible on the air in Spain. One of my pastor friends in Canada recently told me he must submit his sermon for government censorship before he preaches it on TV. We need to show people across the world how to press for the gold standard in these freedoms.
We serve as an example to the world. Our freedoms are the reason we are leaders in this world. NRB tries to raise the bar, shine the light and embolden Christians to speak up and start radio and TV stations across the world. We can also bring attention to situations that are going on in this world like Meriam Ibrahim in Sudan who was sentenced to be whipped and then hung for becoming a Christian.
SCH: How did our nation go from being a nation of many denominations of Protestants founded to escape religious oppression to a nation of many gods where the belief system that founded our nation is now being persecuted?
JAJ: It’s the failure of churches to evangelize and disciple their own and to evangelize and disciple the immigrants. The church had the position of prominence. We must speak up for our rights in the media, in schools, in government offices, etc. Churches clearly have not done their job.
Follow the link to read Ginny’s SCH interview with Joni Eareckson Tada and Music’s Inspiring Influence on her Life