Whither Henceforth? Moore, Unity, and a Path Forward

What are we going to do about Dr. Russell Moore and the ERLC?

It seems that the main question has been answered, at least for now. The Board of Trustees of the ERLC has spoken forcefully that they are behind Dr. Russell Moore and a chastened Moore has announced his intention to go forward as president of the ERLC. The appeal for unity from Moore and the ERLC seemed to hit the right chords and most people seem ready to move forward, closing the curtain on this act and seeing what drama might exist in the next.

Dr. Russell Moore has been the most discussed, most targeted, and most vilified figure in the SBC over the last couple of years. Can we at agree that Southern Baptists do not agree about Dr. Moore’s leadership at the ERLC? I love to categorize and sort things and I have done some work sorting the opinions I have heard about the good Dr. Moore. I believe they fall along a continuum between two extremes.

I love to categorize and sort things and I have done some work sorting the opinions I have heard about the good Dr. Moore. I believe they fall along a continuum between two extremes.

The Poles

Of course, there are the poles – the ends, the extremes. Let’s establish those end points on the continuum before we identify the points along the way.

I apologize in advance for the corny labels, but I am an Iowan, after all. My backyard empties into a cornfield, though no baseball players have walked out and inquired if they are in heaven. Corny is what I do.

There are two poles, two extremes.

1. The Mooredolaters – No one is going to admit to being one of these, but you and I both know someone to whom we’d attach this label. A Mooredolater thinks every word that comes from Dr. Moore’s mouth is a golden nugget of truth. Their mantra is “Moore said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Critics of Dr. Moore may be saved by grace but will find all their works burned as wood, hay, and stubble – no reward for you!

5. The Mooredurers – No one admits to this, but there are those who stand opposed to Moore unalterably, infinitely, and eternally. Nothing but his head on a platter will satisfy them. He can apologize daily, wear sackcloth and ashes, but until the SBC house lands on him and they can sing, “Ding, dong, the Moore is dead” they will not stop.

Hyperbole? Yes. But within the inflated rhetoric is there a nugget of truth? I believe there is. On one extreme are devoted fans of Moore and on the other, fanatical opposition.

For these two groups, the apology had little effect. The Mooredolaters didn’t need it and Mooredurers won’t accept it. For them, the problem is not tone, but content. Dr. Moore can be more humble and gracious all day long, but until he recants his views and adopts theirs, they will not be satisfied. While they criticized how he spoke, their real quarrel is with what he said, what he advocates. Until they either do away with the ERLC or get someone in the office who will parrot their views, the fight will continue.

The Great Between

Here is the truth that is often forgotten in the middle of our discussions.

Most of us do not fall into either of these groups.

I have been accused of being a Mooredolater, but I’ve disagreed with Moore and have stated it publicly at times. Often, because I’ve not wanted to feed the furor of the Mooredurers, so I’ve kept my disagreements to myself or shared them with close friends. The environment is so toxic right now that giving a simple critique of a Moore statement is nearly impossible. But we must remember this.

Not every person who speaks a word of criticism against Dr. Moore is a Mooredurer.

It is important that Baptists maintain a level of accountability with our leaders, giving people the freedom to disagree with them (hopefully in a respectful way), to criticize them, and to express dissatisfaction with the direction of an entity. A healthy, godly leader gives freedom to the people he lead to disagree, even to dissent. It is never disloyal to disagree with a person in charge. This is not

Of course, in this toxic environment, the disagreements have often gone nuclear. Grace has been abandoned and we drop h-bombs on one another while spraying cover fire from our anathematization guns. Supporters go into defense mode and healthy interaction becomes impossible.

The binary syndrome is everywhere. People define everything as black and white, with no gray in between. It is essential, as we go forward, that we who support Moore listen to the reasonable critics. Not all of them are Mooredurers and they don’t deserve to be treated as if they are. Those who have set themselves beyond reason and reconciliation should be ignored by all people of good will. Titus 3:10 commands us to ignore the divisive. But we need to stop casting every person who expresses a qualm about Dr. Moore as if he or she is a full-fledged, bloodthirsty Mooredurer. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it’s as divisive as the Mooredurers themselves.

So, what are these categories in the Great Between? I started to set out 5 categories here, but combined the middle three into one and so I have three total.

2. The Russporters – That’s what I am. I support Russell Moore and I’m thrilled that he is going to be staying on as the head of the ERLC. He has one sterling quality which endears him to me. He tends to express views that coincide with mine. I have never formed an opinion based on WWRMD (What Would Russell Moore Do), but we tend to see the world in similar ways. That speaks to Dr. Moore’s insight, intelligence and character, does it not?

I liked what Dr. Moore said about Trump because I agreed with it – nearly every word he spoke registered deeply inside me with a loud amen. I agree with him about racism and immigration and refugees and religious freedom. I’m not sure I’m fully on board with his environmental views – I’ve got to study that a little more. But most of the time, when I hear Moore speak, my spirit whispers an amen.

3. The Moorenoyed – This was the category that started as three, but has been compressed to one. It includes people who would define themselves as supporters of Moore and those who would in general not be part of the fan club but aren’t strongly opposed to him either. What this group has in common is that they were annoyed with Moore but did not necessarily want to see him lose his position at the ERLC. Some disagreed with positions he advocated while others thought his tone and attitude were sometimes lacking.

Some found fault with Moore’s positions.

  • Trump voters – whether enthusiastic or reluctant – often found his anti-Trump rhetoric offensive.
  • The ERLC amicus brief in the SCOTUS case about the mosque, in which the ERLC supported the principle of religious freedom, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
  • Moore’s views on immigration and refugees do not scratch everyone where they itch.
  • Moore was shaped by growing up in Baptist churches where Jesus was loved and racism was tolerated. He views racial reconciliation as not only a high priority but a “gospel issue” and that has ruffled some feathers.
  • Moore believes that the SBC should not too closely identify with the religious right, the GOP, and civil religion. He wants to lead the SBC into a new approach to engaging culture.

Others were less bothered by the content of Moore’s positions than his tone. Some who share Moore’s positions questioned his tone.

  • They felt that he could have done a better job of stating his views while also honoring those who disagreed.
  • They felt he was overly and unnecessarily aggressive in responding to questions at the annual meeting, especially the one about the mosque.

Whether prone to support Moore or not, the Moorenoyed were provoked by his views or his tone, but not to the point they wanted him gone.

4. The Russponents – Like the Mooredurers, these folks wish someone else had his name on the door of the president’s office at the ERLC, but they are not implacable. Jack Graham would likely fit this category. He publicly and dramatically made his displeasure with Moore and the ERLC known, but seems to be willing to accept Moore’s apology and move forward. I certainly hope so. That’s the difference between a Russponent and a Mooredurer. Both wish someone else were leading the ERLC but the Russponent is willing to seek reconciliation and to apply grace in the situation. The Mooredurer is not. Nothing but Moore’s ouster will satisfy.

There are Baptists at both poles but the majority are in the Great Between.

Responding to Moore’s Unity Statement 

Dr. Moore and the ERLC have taken a bold and helpful step with his appeal to unity. Now, each of these groups are responding to Moore’s appeal for unity.

  • For my group, the Russporters, Dr. Moore’s apology was unnecessary but gave evidence of the character of the man we already respected.
  • The greatest effect of the plea for unity might be on the Moorenoyed. Of course, Dr. Moore does not plan to repent of or apologize for his convictions, and I am thankful for that. But he has shown a desire to seek a more affirming tone in engaging those with whom he disagrees. There will always be challenges here. Donald Trump is still going to use his twitter account. The immigration and refugee issues are not going away. But if we honor one another instead of railing against one another, we do better than we did in 2016. Every person I have talked to who was in this category has been
  • It’s not easy for the Russponents, and frankly, they are being asked to make a sacrifice. Dr. Moore did. He humbled himself and apologized, something that is never easy. Now, they are being asked to accept him as the leader of the ERLC even though he is not the man they would like to see at the helm. At this point, only two options exist. The ERLC has made it clear that Dr. Moore is not going away. So, we can find a way to make it work or we can blow things up. I think the majority of us would rather work together than tear down the house.

A Word to Dr. Moore

I have no idea if you ever read SBC Voices, Dr. Moore – we have never discussed anything I’ve written here. But I want to tell you that I thank you for taking the step you took. Part of me wanted to fight and seek a “win” but that way was a loss for all of us. Taking this step was not simply best, it was right.

I am grateful for your stands and your convictions and I look forward to your voice being raised to call Southern Baptists to apply God’s word in this world for many years to come.

Even on those occasions in which you fail to agree with me!

Steve Gaines Comments on ERLC/Moore Unity Statement

On Monday the Executive Committee of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and its President Russell Moore released a statement entitled “Seeking Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention.”  Brent Hobbs wrote a post here at SBC Voices extracting some of the most notable quotes from the statement.

Baptist Press has now released an article with quotes from SBC President Steve Gaines in response to the ERLC statement.  I was encouraged by his comments, and wanted to pass them along here.

Quotes from Steve Gaines (emphasis mine):

“I am grateful for the statement from Dr. Russell Moore and the ERLC executive committee. They have been assigned with a very difficult task. Indeed it is impossible to please everyone regarding issues of conviction and conscience. I know Dr. Moore to be a very godly servant of Jesus Christ. He has preached at Bellevue Baptist Church and he did a wonderful job.”

“Regarding his work at the ERLC, I have agreed with most of his statements, especially those regarding the sanctity of human life, the sacredness of heterosexual, monogamous marriage and religious liberty. However, I have disagreed with some of the statements he made during the election and I especially disagreed with the tone with which he made some of those statements. I have discussed all of this privately with him. He has genuinely apologized for his mistakes and that is good enough for me.

“I believe all of us who are recipients of grace and forgiveness should grant him the same forgiveness that we desire from the Lord. It is high time that we put all of this behind us. None of these matters will prevent Bellevue Baptist Church from continuing our support of the Cooperative Program, the ERLC and Dr. Moore. It is time to move ahead and work together to double our efforts to take the Gospel to our nation and the nations.

I particularly appreciate Dr. Gaines’ call for us to put all of this behind us and move forward as we seek to take the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to our nation and the nations.  May we all take up this same position.

Tips for a Great 2017 Pastors’ Conference Experience

We’re about 80 days out from the 2017 SBC Pastors’ Conference. This year’s conference is designed to highlight expository preaching from 12 pastors of average-sized SBC churches. This hasn’t been tried before, but as plans have come together I’m even more optimistic than ever this format is going to be a huge blessing. Since I’ve seen some of the details of what’s planned, I wanted to pass along my thoughts on how to have the best possible experience at this year’s Pastors’ Conference.

1. Attend all four sessions.

Our unique format means you’ll want to be there for the beginning of the Sunday night session at 6pm. The speakers will be preaching consecutively through Philippians and there’s incredible material from the book’s start. The conference will build together as we work through Paul’s letter. In past conferences, the messages often centered around a theme, but they were individual sermons that may or may not connect with what went before or after. This year there’s no doubt you’ll have the best experience being there for chapter 1 all the way through chapter 4.

Our Sunday night speakers are tremendous. AND we’re working to make sure those who arrive early enough to attend the Sunday night session are especially blessed (details to come later). Plus, being there for the whole conference fits really well with my next recommendation:

2. Arrive on Saturday & visit a local Phoenix-area SBC church Sunday morning.

It can be tough to preach Sunday morning, get to the airport, fly in, drop your bags off at the hotel, and make it to the convention center by 6pm. It’s a little easier this year because of the time change—if you’re like me you’ll gain 3 hours on the trip—but still not easy. I’ve really enjoyed the years when I’ve arrived a day early, been able to relax and enjoy the city before the Pastors’ Conference and Annual Meeting get started. I recommend arriving Saturday during the day, seeing some of Phoenix Saturday afternoon & evening, and then worshipping Sunday morning with a local SBC congregation. You’ll still have the afternoon off and be ready for the conference start at 6pm.

Yes, to do this many of you will need to get someone to preach for you Sunday, June 11th — but you’ve got plenty of time to get that arranged. Having the whole week to recharge and get refilled will be good for you and your church. Make it happen. (Travel info here.)

There are many Phoenix-area church possibilities. Here are a few some friends recommended: First Baptist Church, Chandler (our SBCPC Vice President, Paul Smith, is pastor here), Foothills Baptist Church (pastor Nathan Millican), Mountain Ridge, North Phoenix Baptist Church (pastor Noe Garcia). If you know of others, please feel free to leave recommendations in the comments section.

3. Participate & engage in the conference as you would a worship service.

For a variety of reasons, the SBC Pastors’ Conference has taken on an atmosphere where people are coming in & out througout the sessions, with others talking on the side of the hall, some participating in the singing, others not, missing a few messages in the exhibit hall or at lunch. If you’ve been before, you know the atmosphere is a bit of an oddity. I don’t know of any other conference that functions this way. My advice is to look at this year’s conference in many ways as a worship service. Be there and in your seat, and ready to participate when the Gettys’ lead music, the speakers are preaching the Bible, and the other elements are taking place. Come with anticipation for an entire worship experience just like you would at any other national conference. I think it would be healthy to begin setting a new tone for this and future SBC Pastors’ Conference in this area.

4. Learn some of the Gettys’ original music ahead of time.

We’re thrilled to have Keith & Kristyn Getty leading worship in all four sessions. They’ll lead with many songs we’ll all be familiar with, and also some original songs that may be new to many. If you can learn some of those songs ahead of time it makes for a more powerful worship experience. Getty Music is helping with that as they’ve made four of their original songs available for free at their website (Facing a Task Unfinished, For the Cause, My Worth Is Not in What I Own, and The Lord Is My Salvation). If you sign up for their email list, you’ll receive the song downloads and also the sheet music arrangements you can use to teach the songs to your church. Let’s arrive ready to lift up our voices together in praise to Christ.

5. Look forward to the extras.

The Caskey Center has some exciting elements planned during the conference time. You’ll notice the common ground testimonies, one in each session, featuring well known SBC pastors Fred Luter, Johnny Hunt, J. D. Greear, and Steve Gaines. Each has pastored average sized churches during their ministry and the Caskey Center has asked them to give testimonies about their experience there that will be encouraging to all pastors (note: not “this is how we went from an average-sized church to a large church” advice but a testimony that highlights the common ground all pastors share).

The Caskey Center has also partnered with LifeWay Research for a ground-breaking new study on best practices for healthy small membership and average-sized churches. This research will be presented during the PC and you won’t want to miss this resource.

6. Attend. No really, be there!

This goes without saying, right? People have been overwhelmingly positive about the unique vision for this years’ Pastors’ Conference. No doubt people will be watching to see how the conference comes together and how it’s received. We hope the support we’ve received in those wishing us well will translate into those same people showing up in Phoenix to experience the conference in person. Sure, there will be a live stream. We want the conference to be available to those who can’t attend. But the best support we can receive is for you to be there in the convention hall worshipping with thousands of other SBC pastors, their wives, and other Christians. (Also, keep in mind that Arizona doesn’t do DST, so they’re basically on Pacific time when our conference will be going on. our 6-9pm Sunday evening session will be live streaming 9pm-midnight on the east coast.)

7. Bring friends.

If you’re excited about this year’s SBCPC, don’t just come by yourself. Invite your friends and let people know we’re trying something different. We appreciate you sharing about #SBCPC17 on social media, by emailing or texting friends to make sure they know what’s going on, and helping us make sure the conference is a blessing to as many people as possible.

It’s been an amazing 9 months seeing the planning and preparation come together. When they told Dave there was a lot of time & work involved, they weren’t kidding. But we’ve been blessed by a team that’s worked hard and worked well together: Dave, Paul Smith, and Toby Frost—this year’s PC officers, Dave’s volunteer team, Mark Tolbert of the Caskey Center, and dozens of others. Come be a part with us. See you in Phoenix!

SBC PC: Brent Hobbs Answers Some Questions about Jose Abella

Editor’s Note: Each of the speakers for this year’s SBC Pastor’s Conference in Phoenix, AZ was nominated by someone.  I have asked each speaker’s nominator to answer a few questions about the person they nominated.  Jose Abella of Providence Road Church in Miami, FL was nominated by Brent Hobbs.  Below are Brent’s responses to the questions I sent him.

How did you know José and why did you nominate him?

I had never met José Abella before the Pastors’ Conference nomination process. Someone about a year or two ago had mentioned José’s name to me — that he was a pastor in Miami doing a fantastic job down there. But I never met him nor had I listened to him preach. When Dave won the election for this year’s Pastors’ Conference, I thought of José and did a little online research to find out more about him and a few other guys I thought might be good additions to this year’s PC lineup.

The first thing that struck me about José was the preaching page on his church website. He was preaching an expository series through the book of Mark, but the series seemed abnormally long at first glance. When I looked a little closer I noticed there was a reason: there were actually two messages on each passage—one in English and the other in Spanish. So that got my attention in the first place – not only is this guys doing expository preaching like we’re looking for… he’s doing it in two languages every week! I thought about the amount of time it takes me to craft an outline and details of a message in English—and then to think about translating and reworking the message so it works well in a second language. So that had my attention.

One day soon after that I had a drive up to Richmond, about 2 hours away, so I downloaded a few messages to listen to for our PC evaluation and selection process. I had several messages including two of José’s. At that point I had listened to a good number of sermons already for the selection process and (as I’ve said before) had been really impressed with the quality of messages the nominees were preaching. Very few fell anywhere below “above average” in my estimation and there were many who were excellent. When I listened to José preach the messages were engaging and text-centered with insightful, penetrating application. I thought he had an excellent chance of being one of our speakers for the conference.

So next I had to meet him. I send a friend request on Facebook, then messaged him basically saying, “I know you don’t know me but I want to nominate you to preach at the SBC Pastors’ Conference”, sent him a link to the nominations page so he could see I wasn’t making this up and he agreed, graciously and thankfully, to be nominated. I was thrilled to see when the other evaluators listened to José’s messages they seemed to like his preaching just as much as I had. After Dave met with Adam and the other guys in St. Louis to choose the 12 speakers, I was excited to see José’s name on the list.

Why will he serve us well in Phoenix?

High-quality expository preaching first and foremost. I’ve talked to José several times now and met in person during the Preaching Colloquium we did at Southwestern Seminary. He’s proven himself to be gracious and humble throughout this process — honestly surprised he’d been chosen but honored by the selection and determined to do a great job bringing God’s Word to SBC pastors this summer. Our group of preachers is an impressive group — in preaching ability but also with humble hearts to serve the church through this opportunity. This years’ Pastors’ Conference is going to be an amazing event.