Archives For Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

A motion from the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention to defund the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will be ruled on prior to the ERLC’s Tuesday report. It will probably be ruled out of order for technical reasons. If so, the opportunity to debate the ERLC’s positions during the 2016 presidential election and in a high profile religious liberty case involving a New Jersey Islamic group will be over, for this year.

There have been no official statements about the ERLC by SBC leaders yet. And ERLC President Russell Moore indicated ruffled relationships have been smoothed. “The Southern Baptist convention leadership is unified, probably more unified than I have seen in a long time,” he said at a press conference for the Resolutions Committee Tuesday afternoon. “We love each other and we work together….This meeting isn’t just a business meeting. This very much is a family reunion of people who are working together for the advancement of the gospel.”

Moore did not comment on a Wall Street Journal report that characterized his relationship with both SBC leaders and the Trump administration as strained, while omitting the ERLC’s recent conciliatory efforts. Moore’s team hosted a dinner for Baptist newspaper editors, pledging greater availability to the press. At the same time, the ERLC team is attempting to spend more time with rank-and-file Southern Baptists.

Moore’s official report is the last item of business on Wednesday, leaving little time for follow-up questions.

–Eric Reed in Phoenix

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Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

I think I’ll count the number of times people say, “It’s a dry heat.” 101 degrees is still 101 degrees, as far as I’m concerned. But some of the folks here in Phoenix take solace in the low humidity.

But will the relative comfort outside temper the actions inside the Phoenix Convention Center over the next four days?

A Wall Street Journal article published on Friday predicted some time in the hot seat for Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, but recent developments that may (underline that word, may) dissuade some unhappy messengers from bringing action from the floor. The journal’s article paints a dark picture for Moore and the ERLC, and one of generational discontent. Coming into Phoenix today, the forecast seems too dark.

The Journal article recounted the foment surrounding Moore’s criticism of Donald Trump during the presidential election, the dissatisfaction expressed by a few Southern Baptist pastors, and the withholding of Cooperative Program dollars by Dallas-area megachurch Prestonwood.

The article pointed out that Moore was not invited to White House functions after the election, including the recent Rose Garden ceremony where President Trump signed an executive order aiming at protecting religious liberty. (Prestonwood Pastor Jack Graham was present, but that was not mentioned in the article.)

And the article said that Moore’s team has seemed to be excluded from other meaningful contact with the new administration on behalf of evangelicals, Southern Baptists in particular.

The Journal article did not reference some of the internal workings of the SBC concerning the ERLC, including efforts by top leaders at reconciliation between Moore and more Trump-friendly SBC pastors. Nor did it point out that SBC President Steve Gaines has said publically that he hopes Moore will stay in his position.

The article did not mention that Prestonwood restored its CP giving after a month-long examination of the issues, which, included the ERLC’s participation in a religious liberty lawsuit as a “friend of the court” where a New Jersey Islamic group was suiting the local government for preventing their construction of a mosque.

And the article did not mention that, following a probe, the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s executive board will recommend churches continue their CP support, including the ERLC, to its messengers at their fall meeting.

The Journal focused on perceived generational differences in the SBC that were typified by the disagreements over the ERLC. Moore, it says, is more supported by younger Southern Baptists, and less so by older, more traditional leaders and people in the pews.

We’ll see how this plays out, starting on Tuesday.

The ERLC report to the Convention is the last item on the agenda Wednesday, when the time for new business will already have passed.

–Eric Reed in Phoenix

Phoenix map 1

It’s going to be hot enough in Phoenix without a squabble. Maybe we won’t see motions from the floor at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention to defund the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission or dismiss its president, Russell Moore.

There are several reasons for this new hope. First, both sides in the election-year dust up have offered conciliatory statements. Jack Graham, pastor of Dallas-area megachurch Prestonwood, announced his congregation would restore their Cooperative Program giving in April. The church had “escrowed” its SBC missions contributions while they examined complaints that Moore had criticized presidential candidate Donald Trump and those who planned to vote for him.

The complaints from the Texas church and others exposed some theological and political distance between ERLC leadership responsible for articulating Southern Baptist views in Washington and those Southern Baptists back home who fund them.

Similarly, the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s Executive Board studied “issues of concern” related to the ERLC. But recently, the board said “it has evaluated the complaints lodged against the ERLC, that its leadership has met with Dr. Moore and has sent a letter to the trustees of the ERLC and encourages the churches to continue their generous financial support for all our convention work.”

And there’s the action by Moore himself.

His tone toward Graham and Prestonwood Church may have helped. Moore explained that his comments about the election were never aimed at the Southern Baptist rank-and-file; and in explaining his actions, Moore never sought to defend himself.

More important, there’s word to this editorial team and others that the ERLC staff is making new efforts to connect with the grassroots. For example, Vice President for Communications Dan Darling appeared at the Illinois Baptist Women’s Priority Conference. (He addressed family issues in a declining culture.) The ERLC, fond of sending videos to state and regional events, is more likely to appear in person in the future. Now three years into their tenure, the ERLC leadership is learning that it should not get too far ahead of the people who sent them.

And, with the placement of the ERLC’s report last on the convention agenda, rather than on the first day as in years past, there may only be time to accept their mea culpa and move forward.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

The Briefing

Trump to Liberty grads: Follow Christian convictions
In front of a record-setting crowd of about 50,000 attendees, the newly minted politician winked to his support from evangelicals—repeatedly bringing up religious freedom and identifying with their position as Washington outsiders. “In America we do not worship government, we worship God. We do not need a lecture from Washington on how to lead our lives,” he said to the graduates.

La. Executive Board concludes study of ERLC
The Louisiana Baptist Convention’s Executive Board has concluded a study of “issues of concern” related to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and issued a letter commending ERLC President Russell Moore for “confessing his failings.” The letter, addressed to the ERLC president and trustees, also urged Moore “to listen carefully and respectfully to Southern Baptists even as we listen to him.”

Graham calls persecution of Christians ‘genocide’
Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelical preacher Billy Graham, urged fellow Christians to struggle against a “Christian genocide” that he says has killed in greater numbers than most believers can fathom. Graham spoke May 10 at a conference aimed at highlighting an issue many feel is ignored by politicians and the media.

Court sides with Christian print shop
The owner of Hands on Originals, a Lexington, Ky., print shop, did not violate a local nondiscrimination ordinance when he refused to create T-shirts for an annual gay pride festival, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled. The 2-1 decision is the second to uphold Blaine Adamson’s right to engage in “viewpoint or message censorship.” A local gay and lesbian advocacy organization asked Adamson to create T-shirts promoting the organization’s 2012 Pride Festival. Adamson declined, saying he could not promote that message as a Christian.

Majority of Protestants support gay marriage
Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults say same-sex marriages should be recognized by the law as valid. Although not meaningfully different from the 61% last year, this is the highest percentage to date and continues the generally steady rise since Gallup’s trend began in 1996. However, U.S. Protestants, including all non-Catholic Christians, are now about twice as likely to support gay marriage as they were in 1996 (55% vs. 27%). This year’s poll is the first-time Protestant support has reached the majority level.

Sources: Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Religion News, World Magazine, Gallup

face-the-nation-moore

WELCOME TO MARS HILL – ERLC President Russell Moore joined a panel discussion on Face the Nation.

Russell Moore has the hardest job in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is required to speak on behalf of a people who take great pride in speaking for themselves, even (or especially) with the Almighty. It’s in our theology (priesthood of all believers). It’s in our polity (autonomy of the local congregation). It’s in our DNA (we’re preachers).

So when someone dares to speak for all of us, and says something we might disagree with, we bristle.

Some are bristling over Moore’s anti-Trump stance during the election. And, as the Wall Street Journal and NPR reported a month ago, some churches are considering withdrawing support for the Southern Baptist agency Moore heads, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Moore apologized for any ill will he caused, but has that settled the conflict?

Moore is two years into his presidency, succeeding Richard Land who served 25 years in the role. Land was brusque, but his views matched the vast majority of Southern Baptists’ on issues of religious liberty and sanctity of life, and we mostly agreed with him when he spoke for us.

But times have changed. As evidenced by Moore, a new generation is rising to SBC leadership, and they focus on different issues than their predecessors did. Moore has spoken to the church’s handling of refugees and the theology of adoption and gender issues—and politics.

Several questions arise from the murmurings about the ERLC:

Is the ERLC really out of touch with mainstream Southern Baptist opinion? Or are we finding, especially in this election cycle, that the world is more complex and even once-monolithic Southern Baptists have varying opinions on some issues—especially political issues?

Is this a squall that will subside as Moore finds a more modulated approach to his “spokesman-ship”? Or is there really a storm brewing?

Will older leaders assume the statesman role, and let younger leaders lead? Or, is there truly a divide among Southern Baptists among generational, geographical, educational, economic, or political divides that will not be bridged.

Time will tell, we suppose. But in the meantime—

We need the ERLC, and it shouldn’t be muzzled. The ERLC should still represent Southern Baptists in the public discourse on religious liberty, the church, and sanctity of life. True, some ERLC staff posted political opinions on their personal blogs and Twitter feeds during the election cycle. Their views might have been too easily mistaken for Southern Baptists’ as a whole. Only Moore should address the SBC’s core issues in the blogosphere or Twitterverse.

Stop the habitual tweeting. The tweet may be the lingua franca, but the 140-character debate hasn’t served the ERLC well lately. At times in 2016, we wondered if the ERLC really needed to express opinions on so many topics. Those who speak for Southern Baptists should not be reactionary, but instead offer considered opinions and measured words.

Finally, we should acknowledge generational differences and allow the hand-off to proceed. This is no longer the Land era. Younger Baptists may have a different perspective on some things, but, so long as their views are biblical, we must let them speak to their times—and ours.

-Eric Reed

Read more about this story, “Baptists debate politics, religious liberty, missions funding”

State Baptist paper editors met for their annual meeting Feb. 14-16 in Ontario, Calif. and heard controversial issues addressed by Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines and International Mission Board President David Platt. As the meeting was taking place Prestonwood Baptist Church, pastored by former SBC President Jack Graham, announced its decision to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support the Cooperative Program while it discusses concerns about the direction of the Convention.

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Steve Gaines

Gaines on Trump, ERLC, IMB
In a question-and-answer session Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, told editors he voted for Trump as president because of his pro-life stance.

Referencing Trump’s campaign slogan, Gaines noted that the only way to really make America great again is by winning people to Jesus Christ and mentoring them and changing society through the people they influence.

Discussing the fallout following the issuance of Trump’s executive order on immigration, Gaines said, “At some point we need to understand that God is not an American and is not Republican or Democrat. Christians need to remember that we have dual citizenship, with our allegiance first to the Kingdom of God.

“It’s important to remember that to some degree we have more in common with a believer in a lost country than an unbeliever in our own country,” Gaines said.

“We certainly need to vet people coming into our nation to be sure we are safe from those who would do us harm. That’s why I have locks on my doors at night to keep my family safe.

Concerning controversy involving Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore’s political comments during the election, Gaines said he hopes there would be less divisive talk coming out of the ERLC.

“I hope the kind of talk we have been hearing is not the direction in which we are going. I hope Russell will remain in his position and that we have reconciliation with a lot of people,” he said.

Regarding the amicus brief involving a New Jersey mosque which has embroiled both the ERLC and the International Mission Board in controversy, Gaines said he believes IMB President David Platt would possibly think twice before the mission board enters such a case.

“You may not agree with his theology but he has no arrogance whatsoever in his heart. I really don’t think he would have signed the document [favoring government permission for the construction of the mosque] if he knew the ramifications.

Platt’s apology
“I apologize to Southern Baptists for how distracting and divisive this has been,” Platt said when he met later with Baptist state paper editors.

“I can say with full confidence that in the days ahead, IMB will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission: partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams for evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”

The apologies occurred amid ongoing discussion of an amicus curiae — Latin for “friend of the court” — brief joined by the IMB supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also joined the brief.

In December, U.S. district Judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, N.J., violated federal law when it required the ISBR to include more than twice as much parking in its site plan for a proposed mosque as it required for local Christian and Jewish houses of worship.

In his ruling, Shipp acknowledged the amicus brief, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.

Platt added, “I am grieved how the amicus brief in the recent mosque case has been so divisive and distracting. And my purpose in bringing it up here is not to debate religious liberty, but to simply say that I really do want IMB to be focused on [its] mission statement.”

Tennessee pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November because he said joining the brief did not comport with IMB’s mission and could be viewed as an improper alliance with followers of a religion that denies the Gospel.

Gaines on CP, state conventions, revival
Concerning the Cooperative Program, Gaines said there is no biblical imperative for churches to tithe 10% of their receipts to CP, regardless of how good the SBC missions support program is. Churches today have a number of their own ministries for reaching their communities for Christ.

While Bellevue Baptist doesn’t give 10% through CP, Gaines his wife Donna are motivated to give a tithe because of the good work they see going on in their community as well as around the world.

Gaines urged, “State conventions need to be proactive and reach out, embrace them [young pastors and leaders], cultivate them. You know, it’s far easier to talk about someone than it is to talk to them. When you talk to them you get on their level, you empathize with them. And that’s what it’s going to take.”

Looking to the future of the nation, Gaines spoke about his desire to see revival once again sweep America. “The last time it occurred was the Jesus Movement of the early to mid-1970s. That’s when we as a denomination reported the largest number of baptisms in our history. Many missionaries and pastors and church staff members came out of that movement and changed America. It can happen again, and that is my prayer.”

Prestonwood escrows CP
Prestonwood Baptist Church’s decision to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support Southern Baptist cooperative missions and ministries was announced Feb. 16.

Mike Buster, executive pastor for the Plano, Texas, church, provided a statement to the Baptist Message explaining that the action had been taken because of “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention” and that it is a temporary move.

The decision impacts $1 million the 41,000-member congregation would otherwise contribute through the Cooperative Program.

But Graham subsequently explained to the Baptist Message that his congregation’s concerns are broader than just one personality.

Instead, he described an “uneasiness” among church leaders about the “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.”

“I’m not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people,” Graham said, “and I’m not working to start a movement to fire anyone.

“This is a difficult decision for me, personally,” he added. “I love Southern Baptists, and still want to be a cooperating partner as we have been for many years.

“We’re just concerned about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention, and feel the need to make some changes in the way we give.”

Moore told Baptist Press in a statement, “I love and respect Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. This is a faithful church with gifted leaders and a long history of vibrant ministry working and witnessing for Christ.”

– Reporting by Baptist Press, Georgia Christian Index, and Louisiana Baptist Message

The BriefingA 26-year-old man who killed nine and injured perhaps nine others at an Oregon community college reportedly targeted Christians in the attack, said a Southern Baptist pastor whose granddaughter was shot and survived.

“The shooter asked a question, ‘Are you a Christian?’ And if they said yes, he said, ‘Good, because you’re going to see God in a second,’ and he shot them. My granddaughter hid and got a bullet through the leg,” Howard A. Johnson, founding pastor of Bethany Bible Fellowship (SBC) in Roseburg, told Baptist Press. “That’s pretty traumatic.” Read the entire story at BPnews.net.


ERLC goes to the dogs, cats, hamsters, birds…

The Ethic and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC and the Clapham Group, released the Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals Sept. 30. “Our treatment of animals is a spiritual issue,” said ERLC President Russell Moore. “The Bible is clear that our being created in the image of God does not lessen our responsibility to steward the physical world well, but heightens it. This statement is a reminder that the gospel transforms our use and care of animals as we see all of God’s glory reflected in his good creation.” Read the statement at EveryLivingThing.com.


Southern Baptist Disaster Relief heading to South Carolina

The North American Mission Board mobilized two semi-trucks with supplies for South Carolina flood victims Oct. 5. NAMB will also deploy two recovery trailers as soon as roads in the areas are open. Like so many other facilities, the South Carolina Baptist Convention office building is nearly cut off at this time with flooded roads. Pray for the people of South Carolina and the disaster relief volunteers who will be sent to minister to them.


CP surpasses budget projection for fiscal year

The Southern Baptist Convention ended its fiscal year $1.1 million over its 2014–2015 budgeted goal and $2.5 million over the previous year’s Cooperative Program allocation budget gifts, according to Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.


Barna: Concerns over religious freedom have increased since 2012

A new study from the Barna Group reveals a significant rise in Americans’ belief that religious freedom is worse today than 10 years ago (up from 33% in 2012 to 41% today). The increase is the most marked by marked among Gen-Xers (29% to 42%) and Boomers (38% to 46%). While 34% of Millennials say religious freedom is worse today than it was 10 years ago, up from 25% in 2012.

Sources: Baptist Press, Barna Group, ERLC, EveryLivingThing.com