Protecting the freedom of speech is as vital to the National Religious Broadcasters' mission today as it was when the association was founded in 1944, the group's president and CEO, Jerry A. Johnson, said.
Johnson gave his State of the Association speech at the Orlando World Center Marriott in the opening session of Proclaim 17, NRB's International Christian Media Convention. During the session, he also read a statement regarding the terrorist killing of 49 people and injury to 53 others at the city's Pulse nightclub in June. The statement—affirmed unanimously by both NRB's Executive Committee and Board of Directors—expressed compassion for victims, as well as their family and friends, and led into a time of prayer.
In his address, the former pastor and a veteran Southern Baptist leader told convention attendees the defense of free speech "was our beginning over 70 years ago, and it's come back full circle where this is a primary, necessary, indispensable mission for us today."
NRB came into existence in the 1940s to combat restrictions placed on evangelical Christian broadcasters by radio networks. Today, Johnson said, the freedom of Christian broadcasters is being challenged on two fronts -- sexuality and Islam.
Communicators in some other countries already are facing penalties for addressing in an unfavorable way such topics as same-sex marriage and Islamic intolerance, he said Feb. 27.
"[D]on't be fooled if you think it could never happen in America," Johnson, past president of Criswell College and former dean of Boyce College, told convention attendees. "The quickest way to lose the freedom of speech is not to use the freedom of speech. Use it or lose it."
He said, "We can and we must make and we will make NRB to the First Amendment what the NRA (National Rifle Association) is to the Second Amendment."
NRB will continue to preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus, but "If you're in the government and you're trying to take away the freedom of speech or religion or the press, NRB is a fight club and you better get used to it," Johnson said to applause.
Citing the First Amendment protections for freedom of religion, speech and the press, Johnson said, "I don't know another group [other than NRB] that does all three.... You are the vanguard for the First Amendment. It's our charter."
NRB's three-fold mission is not only to defend freedom of speech but "to advance biblical truth" and "to promote media excellence," the NRB president told attendees.
"NRB is first and foremost about advancing biblical truth," Johnson said. "The Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God," and it is powerful as it is preached and taught.
The primary message in advancing biblical truth is the Gospel of Jesus, he said.
"This is what we're about. This is who we're about—the Lord Jesus Christ."
Johnson quoted the convention's theme verse—"Proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all of its inhabitants" (Lev. 25:10)—in calling for media excellence.
"If we're going to reach everyone, not just any old method will do," he said. "We are about excellence. This is a professional conference. God deserves the best.
"Excellence in all things, and all things for the glory of God," he said.
Also during the opening session:
• Mac Brunson, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, preached on "Christ alone," one of the five "solas" of the Reformation. NRB is celebrating this year's 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation during the convention.
• Cary Summers, president of the Museum of the Bible, provided a preview of the museum, which is scheduled to open in November in Washington.
• Cast members of the Broadway show "Amazing Grace The Musical" performed selections from the production.
• The musical group Selah sang and led the audience in singing.
Tom Strode is a writer based in Fredericksburg, Va., and is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.