A Christian radio talk-show host fired after questioning Roman Catholic beliefs on the air and fielding a caller's question about whether the late Pope John Paul II would go to heaven has sparked debate about whether evangelical radio promotes unity at the expense of biblical truth.
Marty Minto, senior pastor of the 100-member Turning Point Community Church in New Castle, Pa., was fired April 8 after three years on WORD-101.5 FM in Pittsburgh. That came after a week of news dominated by the pope's death and funeral, during which Minto questioned the biblical basis of Catholics' devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and belief in purgatory.
Minto, 39, said he also answered a caller asking whether the pope would go to heaven.
"I responded by opening the Bible and making it very plain and clear of Jesus' words, that unless a man be born again he will never enter nor see the kingdom of heaven--and that salvation is something that is personal [and] intimate between an individual and their Creator, who's God," Minto said, quoted in Agape Press.
"But you know," he added, "Jesus said 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father but through me.' So I made it clear to them that unless the pope was born again and truly had the spirit of the living God dwelling within him, he would not enter into heaven."
Minto said he was let go for "standing upon the Word of God and speaking truth."
But the radio station said the firing had been under consideration for "an extended period," because Minto "tended to unnecessarily alienate listeners." The management said in a statement that the decision had been finalized before the pope's death.
"WORD-FM needs to function in this city in support of the entire church--that means everybody--and not focus on denominational issues," Chuck Gratner, general manager of WORD-FM, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
But Minto said he had never received a written reprimand for content and recently received work-related bonuses. Minto told Agape Press he believes the station wants to promote unity at the expense of biblical truth.
"It seems like Mr. Gratner wants the station to be more 'ecumenical,' reaching out to everybody and yet not dealing with specific doctrinal issues," he said, "which is kind of interesting, because I've dealt with specific doctrinal issues for the last three years that I've been on the program."
WORD-FM is owned by California-based Salem Communications, America's largest Christian broadcasting network. Judge Paul Pressler, co-founder of the "conservative resurgence" in the Southern Baptist Convention, is on the board of directors. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, sits on an editorial board. Network programming includes "The Albert Mohler Program" and "Richard Land Live," featuring the head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
A column on WorldNetDaily.com said Minto's firing brings to the forefront a debate over a trend in Christian radio away from Bible teaching and hell-fire preaching and toward "Christian happy talk."
"Many Christian broadcasters, authors and publishers are pitching a message that attracts an audience, offends few and is so palatable that it sells like hotcakes to Americans looking for spirituality," wrote Brannon Howse, author of the upcoming book One Nation Under Man: The Worldview War Between Christians and the Secular Left, due for release Sept. 1 by Broadman & Holman Publishers.
"Make no mistake; this is a spirituality based on a self-help, be-happy, have-it-all message that is far from biblical Christianity despite the packaging," he said.
"Is that where Christian broadcasting stations are going in order to attract as many listeners, donors or advertisers as possible?" Howse asked. "If the facts continue to support the evidence, then it is a very sad day in Christian broadcasting when a station fires a pastor who answers the question of callers about what it takes to be 'born again.'"
Howse urged pastors and other Christian leaders to speak out against "political correctness gone crazy inside Christian broadcasting."
"How can we be concerned over same-sex marriage and Howard Stern and not be outraged when a 'Christian' company that makes millions each year from evangelical, Bible-teaching ministries puts a pastor off the air for teaching biblical truth?" he asked.
Minto told his story April 15 on MSNBC's "Scarborough Country." Guest host Pat Buchanan, a Catholic, said he disagreed with Minto on the issue of whether Jews and Catholics who are not born again will wind up in hell.
"But I hope you get your show back," Buchanan said. "I think you sound to me like very sincere in your beliefs. I have met a lot of evangelical Christians. And I think you talk straight. And if your station is a straight-talking station, they should hear you, and I hope you get some good Roman Catholic dissenting callers."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.