(RNS) — After making a shameful personnel decision last week, National Religious Broadcasters CEO Troy Miller needed some public relations help. He had committed the cardinal PR sin by trying to lie his way out, denying that the employee had been fired. This was quickly shown by reporters to be false.
On Twitter, and in a rambling, hastily produced statement, Miller attempted a tortured, weak defense of his fumbled move, making it seem that none of his remaining lieutenants could or wanted to help Miller in his desperation.
If only Miller had a capable, winsome spokesperson to bind up this self-inflicted wound.
Sadly, that was the person he had fired: NRB Senior Vice President of Communications Daniel Darling, who had been “terminated for willful insubordination.”
Darling, a pastor, author and frequent media commentator who had come to NRB last year from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, had been fired for the unpardonable error of saying on MSNBC that Christians should not hesitate to get vaccinated against a deadly virus that has killed more than a half million Americans.
I had long viewed NRB as a vestige of the old, dying religious right whose most significant function was abetting the self-promotion of has-been evangelical TV and radio celebrities and the most obnoxious right-wing media figures. Speakers at the NRB’s recent convention included the guy from “Duck Dynasty” and Charlie Kirk, the Gen Z Trump bootlicker.
When Darling went to work at NRB, I feared that his integrity and the group’s inability to stand up for decency would be incompatible. But I had such respect for him and his professional judgment that I imagined that he could turn the organization into something worth rooting for.
I’m sorry to see that I was wrong.
This episode is just the latest proof that evangelicals who speak the truth are increasingly unwelcome in ostensibly Christian institutions, especially those with a political base anchored in the South. Too often, these groups care more about the delicate sensibilities of donors and constituents who refuse to see how their Trump discipleship has damaged the public witness of evangelical Protestantism.
In this case, NRB leadership reportedly received intense blowback about Darling’s MSNBC appearance from Christian donors and members who inexplicably want to see more Americans die. NRB’s claim that Darling violated a policy stating that the organization would remain “neutral” about the vaccine is a paltry fig leaf.
The NRB has burned its best bridge to people of conscience. I have little confidence it will learn its lesson, so I will say this as clearly as I can:
No one, least of all pro-life Christians, should want to see nearly 100,000 of their countrymen die of a disease after safe, effective vaccines became available. No one should be indifferent to former President Donald Trump’s racism, lies, degradation of public discourse and open rebellion against the rule of law. If your donor base is unconcerned about these things, you need to get a better donor base.
If your constituency believes it is divisive to follow public health guidance that saves lives, you need to educate, lead and persuade. What else would be the job of religious broadcasters? You should not fire someone who simply speaks the truth.
The sadness goes beyond the fact that the ever-gracious Darling, a father of four, is out of a job as his older children approach college age. The broader tragedy is that people like him — truthful, honest, principled — are increasingly unemployable in evangelical institutions that bent the knee to Trumpism.
The NRB says it exists “to represent the Christian broadcasters’ right to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.” But in this instance, NRB leaders communicated something sad, ugly and antithetical to the gospel. The NRB is lost, and seems not to care who is dying.
It may seem fruitless to distinguish between principled Christians like Darling and the ones who control the institutions they departed from. After all, they believe essentially the same things about God, the Bible and so on. They also believe increasingly unfashionable things about marriage, sexuality and the human person.
But if you believe principles and integrity matter, you cannot help but notice that some Christians promote truth, some lie and peddle falsehoods, and still others remain silent to protect their power or livelihoods.
An evangelical leader recently said: “Every organization has a real mission and a perceived mission. The perceived mission is what is on the whiteboards, in the glossy brochures, in the ‘About’ section on your website. The real mission is that hidden thing that actually drives behavior, time, and resources.”
That quote comes from Darling.
Because the public witness of Christianity itself hangs in the balance, the difference between good and bad public-facing evangelicals is profound.
Evangelicals like Dan Darling make people of conscience want to be better Christians. Evangelicals like NRB CEO Troy Miller make them not want to be Christians at all.
(Jacob Lupfer is a writer in Jacksonville, Florida. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)