Love Offering for the ERLC – SUNDAY, JUNE 4, 2017

 

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with four children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Udemy, YouTube, and iTunes (Podcast).

The church I pastor, Cumberland Homesteads Baptist Church in Crossville, TN, is planning to take up a love offering for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on June 4, 2017. I want to encourage your church to do the same (Add it to your Church Calendar). Why June 4? This date is the Sunday before June 8, which marks 228 years from when James Madison first presented his constitutional amendments (Bill of Rights) to the House of Representatives (Source). Madison included religious liberty (the 1st Amendment) in large part due to the work of Baptist pastor John Leland, who threatened to run for Madison’s seat if he did not plead the Baptist cause for religious liberty (Source). Madison kept his word to defend religious liberty and the rest is history.

The ERLC President is Dr. Russell Moore. He has courageously and faithfully lead the ERLC since 2013. He has lead the ERLC to speak and act in accordance with our confession (BF&M2K, especially Article XVII. Religious Liberty), to carry out their responsibilities in accordance with the ministry statement approved by Southern Baptists (included below), and he has spoken in line with the SBC resolution “On Moral Character of Public Officials” (1998). By all accounts, he is a faithful Christian, husband, father, Southern Baptist, leader, and preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has used him mightily and I look forward to seeing how God uses him and the ERLC in the future.

All love offering checks can be made to the “ERLC” and mailed to

ERLC
901 Commerce Street
Suite 550
Nashville, TN 37203

If you would like to make an individual donation, you can also donate online here.

MINISTRY STATEMENT

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)

Ministry Statement Approved (by the SBC) June 1997

Mission

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission exists to assist the churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel, apply Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy, and to promote religious liberty in cooperation with the churches and other Southern Baptist entities.

Ministries

1. Assist Churches in applying the moral and ethical teachings of the Bible to the Christian life.

Provide research, information resources, consultation, and counsel to denominational entities, churches and individuals with regard to the application of Christian principles in everyday living and the nation’s public ife.

2. Assist churches through the communication and advocacy of moral and ethical concerns in the public arena.

Represent Southern Baptists in communicating the ethical positions of the Southern Baptist Convention to the public and to public officials.

3. Assist churches in their moral witness in local communities.

Provide information resources that inform and equip churches for active moral witness in their communities.

4. Assist churches and other Southern Baptist entities by promoting religious liberty.

Provide information and counsel to denominational entities, churches, and individuals regarding appropriate responses to religious liberty concerns; represent Southern Baptists in communicating the positions of the Southern Baptist Convention on religious liberty issues to the public and to public officials.

What Changed? (a question in light of Prestonwood Baptist’s decision to escrow gifts to the Cooperative Program)

Big news yesterday from the church of an ex-SBC president. Jack Graham said that Prestonwood Baptist has decided to “to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support Southern Baptist cooperative missions and ministries while the congregation discusses concerns about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention,” according to Will Hall at the Baptist Message, the “news journal” of Louisiana Baptists.

While each church has the right to determine how to support the cooperative efforts of the SBC, this particular decision takes on a more public light given Graham’s previous position as SBC President, the significance of the sum of money, and the decision of Prestonwood leadership to speak with the Baptist Message about their decision.

According to Hall’s article, Mike Buster, executive pastor of the church, said the decision stems from “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.” Hall goes on to write, “Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has created tensions among Southern Baptists by signing a friend of the court brief in support of the construction of a mosque, and, for making strident insults against evangelical supporters of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election process.” It is not clear, though, from Hall’s article if these are specific concerns stated by Prestonwood representatives or interjections by Hall himself.

Nonetheless, Hall’s words raise the specter that the church’s decision is rooted in positions taken by Dr. Moore on the issues of religious liberty and political candidates. To be fair to both sides, Moore did state some of his positions in a calloused manner, a reality for which he later apologized.

I want to return to the statement: “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.” In light of Hall’s article, significant positions center especially on the ERLC’s filing of the amicus brief and Moore’s opposition to Trump as president.

My question in response to this is: When did the beliefs and values of many in the SBC change?

I would like to point to three resolutions adopted by the messengers of the SBC since the mid-1990s. Though non-binding, resolutions do reflect the opinions held by messengers of Southern Baptist Churches present at the conventions. First, messengers adopted a resolution on Religious Liberty in 1995 at the Atlanta, GA, convention. The resolution states:

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, By the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, June 20-22, 1995, that the Southern Baptist Convention express its support for all peoples suffering denial of religious liberty, but especially for those who are of the household of faith, and even more particularly for those who share Baptist convictions and commitments…

Taking a Galatians 6 angle of doing good to all people and especially to those of the household of faith, the resolution states that we as the SBC support religious liberty for all people. Yes, our main focus should be upon our Christian brothers and sisters, but not to the denial of liberty for others. If you read the resolution, this attitude is rooted in the desire to help Christians in persecuted countries worship and evangelize freely. In other words, the messengers understood a connection between freedom for all religions and our liberty as Christians to evangelize the nations.

Another resolution, passed at the 2011 convention in Phoenix, AZ, expresses a similar idea. The desire within the resolution is to want people in Islamic countries to have the freedom to convert away from Islam. Yet, with this in mind, the first five resolveds state:

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011, restate our long-standing view that religious liberty is an inalienable human right, rooted in the image of God and possessed by all human beings; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm that this freedom entails the civil liberty to convert to another religion or to no religion, to seek to persuade others of the claims of one’s religion, and to worship without harassment or impediment from the state; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we oppose the imposition of any system of jurisprudence by which people of different faiths do not enjoy the same legal rights; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we deny that any government should use any coercive measure—including zoning laws or permits—to restrict religious speech or worship, based on the theological content of that speech or worship; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on the United States government to maintain complete religious liberty for all Americans, as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution; and be it further…

In short, the messengers to the SBC spoke their view that people of different faiths than Christianity deserve the same rights of freedom as Christianity, and the government should not use coercive measures against such freedoms.

So, if the resolutions of 1995 and 2011 speak an opinion of the SBC, it would seem that the view presented by Hall and Prestonwood representatives is out of step with the beliefs and values of many in the SBC. Unless, that is, they are contending that our beliefs and values on religious liberty have changed over the past six years.

As to Moore’s positions against Trump, I point to a resolution adopted at the 1998 convention in Salt Lake City, UT. The “Resolution on the Moral Character of Public Officials” concludes:

“Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

In the midst of the moral scandals of the Clinton administration, we Southern Baptists spoke firmly on our belief that character matters in politics. We did not expect our politicians to be perfect, but we urged one another and our fellow citizens to vote for men and women of “consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

With the election of President Trump, some SBC leaders came out in strong support of the candidate despite him not meeting these qualifications. Dr. Moore was not one of these. Yet, despite the voice of the SBC, historically, speaking to high moral standards for politicians, Hall’s article states that it is Moore who was out of step with the view of many Southern Baptists. If so, what changed?

Again, Dr. Graham can lead his church how he sees fit and Prestonwood is free to decide how to contribute to the Cooperative Program. Yet the reasons given for their decision seem spurious. We Southern Baptists have consistently spoken in favor of religious liberty for all people, not just Christians. We have also spoken of the need for high moral character in political leadership, and especially in the nation’s highest office.

Why is it that in 2016-17, we are being led to believe by Baptist news journals, former SBC presidents, and other SBC leaders that stances by men like Russell Moore on such topics are now out of step with many Southern Baptists? If that is true, then what changed?

What Changed? (a question in light of Prestonwood Baptist’s decision to escrow gifts to the Cooperative Program)

Big news yesterday from the church of an ex-SBC president. Jack Graham said that Prestonwood Baptist has decided to “to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support Southern Baptist cooperative missions and ministries while the congregation discusses concerns about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention,” according to Will Hall at the Baptist Message, the “news journal” of Louisiana Baptists.

While each church has the right to determine how to support the cooperative efforts of the SBC, this particular decision takes on a more public light given Graham’s previous position as SBC President, the significance of the sum of money, and the decision of Prestonwood leadership to speak with the Baptist Message about their decision.

According to Hall’s article, Mike Buster, executive pastor of the church, said the decision stems from “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.” Hall goes on to write, “Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has created tensions among Southern Baptists by signing a friend of the court brief in support of the construction of a mosque, and, for making strident insults against evangelical supporters of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election process.” It is not clear, though, from Hall’s article if these are specific concerns stated by Prestonwood representatives or interjections by Hall himself.

Nonetheless, Hall’s words raise the specter that the church’s decision is rooted in positions taken by Dr. Moore on the issues of religious liberty and political candidates. To be fair to both sides, Moore did state some of his positions in a calloused manner, a reality for which he later apologized.

I want to return to the statement: “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.” In light of Hall’s article, significant positions center especially on the ERLC’s filing of the amicus brief and Moore’s opposition to Trump as president.

My question in response to this is: When did the beliefs and values of many in the SBC change?

I would like to point to three resolutions adopted by the messengers of the SBC since the mid-1990s. Though non-binding, resolutions do reflect the opinions held by messengers of Southern Baptist Churches present at the conventions. First, messengers adopted a resolution on Religious Liberty in 1995 at the Atlanta, GA, convention. The resolution states:

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, By the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, June 20-22, 1995, that the Southern Baptist Convention express its support for all peoples suffering denial of religious liberty, but especially for those who are of the household of faith, and even more particularly for those who share Baptist convictions and commitments…

Taking a Galatians 6 angle of doing good to all people and especially to those of the household of faith, the resolution states that we as the SBC support religious liberty for all people. Yes, our main focus should be upon our Christian brothers and sisters, but not to the denial of liberty for others. If you read the resolution, this attitude is rooted in the desire to help Christians in persecuted countries worship and evangelize freely. In other words, the messengers understood a connection between freedom for all religions and our liberty as Christians to evangelize the nations.

Another resolution, passed at the 2011 convention in Phoenix, AZ, expresses a similar idea. The desire within the resolution is to want people in Islamic countries to have the freedom to convert away from Islam. Yet, with this in mind, the first five resolveds state:

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011, restate our long-standing view that religious liberty is an inalienable human right, rooted in the image of God and possessed by all human beings; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm that this freedom entails the civil liberty to convert to another religion or to no religion, to seek to persuade others of the claims of one’s religion, and to worship without harassment or impediment from the state; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we oppose the imposition of any system of jurisprudence by which people of different faiths do not enjoy the same legal rights; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we deny that any government should use any coercive measure—including zoning laws or permits—to restrict religious speech or worship, based on the theological content of that speech or worship; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on the United States government to maintain complete religious liberty for all Americans, as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution; and be it further…

In short, the messengers to the SBC spoke their view that people of different faiths than Christianity deserve the same rights of freedom as Christianity, and the government should not use coercive measures against such freedoms.

So, if the resolutions of 1995 and 2011 speak an opinion of the SBC, it would seem that the view presented by Hall and Prestonwood representatives is out of step with the beliefs and values of many in the SBC. Unless, that is, they are contending that our beliefs and values on religious liberty have changed over the past six years.

As to Moore’s positions against Trump, I point to a resolution adopted at the 1998 convention in Salt Lake City, UT. The “Resolution on the Moral Character of Public Officials” concludes:

“Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

In the midst of the moral scandals of the Clinton administration, we Southern Baptists spoke firmly on our belief that character matters in politics. We did not expect our politicians to be perfect, but we urged one another and our fellow citizens to vote for men and women of “consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

With the election of President Trump, some SBC leaders came out in strong support of the candidate despite him not meeting these qualifications. Dr. Moore was not one of these. Yet, despite the voice of the SBC, historically, speaking to high moral standards for politicians, Hall’s article states that it is Moore who was out of step with the view of many Southern Baptists. If so, what changed?

Again, Dr. Graham can lead his church how he sees fit and Prestonwood is free to decide how to contribute to the Cooperative Program. Yet the reasons given for their decision seem spurious. We Southern Baptists have consistently spoken in favor of religious liberty for all people, not just Christians. We have also spoken of the need for high moral character in political leadership, and especially in the nation’s highest office.

Why is it that in 2016-17, we are being led to believe by Baptist news journals, former SBC presidents, and other SBC leaders that stances by men like Russell Moore on such topics are now out of step with many Southern Baptists? If that is true, then what changed?

Casting the CP Under the Swine of the ERLC Division

I wasn’t raised Southern Baptist, but I became one when I was seventeen years old. I pastored my first Southern Baptist Church when I was twenty, and have since had the privilege of pastoring in the denomination for thirteen years. I also have the honor of serving on both the Southern Baptists of Texas Executive Board (SBTC), as well as the Southern Baptists Executive Committee. I am a deeply invested Southern Baptist, and deliberately so. I relate to the man in the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, and feel the Cooperative Program is like a treasure buried in a field we call the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I joyfully sold the traditions of my denominational upbringing to buy the field so I could own the treasure. It’s a brilliant treasure that has been used to see countless people come to know Christ.

It is for this reason I entreat those who are considering altering their CP giving over their ERLC concerns. It is my conviction that such a move would not merely devalue the treasure, but destroy the field.

A diagnosis is first in order. Many of the articles I’ve read on the subject acknowledge the symptoms of the division, but few consider the malady, which is a philosophical difference of opinion over the purpose of the ERLC. That is, whether the ERLC echoes the SBC’s ethics, or helps the SBC fashion its ethics.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), for example, emphasizes several SBC individual’s concerns over Moore’s representation of them. William F. Harrell’s comment is perhaps the clearest on how several understand the ERLC’s purpose, in which he says, “the ERLC should continue under Mr. Moore’s leadership only if ‘he will start doing what the ERLC was meant to do, and that’s simply represent the Southern Baptist people in Washington.’” In an NPR article Harrell is quoted saying, “Since Dr. Moore has taken over, there are a lot of things that are being said on various issues that the Southern Baptist people at large don’t agree with.”

This summarizes how several understand the ERLC’s purpose. It isn’t to set the ethical tone for the SBC, so much as it is to parrot what the SBC by and large asserts, in this case the support of Donald J. Trump. This is an important distinction, because it demarcates how the entire ERLC operates.

Insofar as his commentary shows, Moore would agree that his job is to represent the SBC, but he also believes it is to help the SBC think ethically through complex issues, in this case a Southern Baptist’s support for Trump. Moore has clarified his intention was not to disrespect anyone who voted for Trump, but to exposit the ethics of the dilemma many faced. “There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on biblical convictions, and voted their conscience … If [criticism of anyone who voted for Trump is] what you heard me say,” Moore says, “that was not at all my intention, and I apologize.”

Nonetheless, Moore has incensed several SBC members, who are now threatening to withhold or designate their CP funding unless something changes. This, however, would be a nuclear option to the SBC, and this brings up the impetus for this particular article: Withholding or designating CP funds away from the ERLC volcanically undermines the spirit and functionality of the Convention.

It reburies the treasure, and lights a match to the field.

For one, this would be a catastrophic hit to some state conventions, like the one in Texas on which I serve as an executive board member. Under our governing documents, any designated gift to the CP goes into a reserve fund, which cannot be used for operations. More specifically, when funds intended to be CP are designated, they are no longer CP funds, and can therefore no longer fund the budget of operations. Cooperative Program funds are necessarily undesignated. So, under strict terminology there is no such thing as “designated” CP funds. Thus, the SBTC’s budget of operations would plummet, and I imagine the same might be true for other state conventions.

State Conventions play a key role in our national Convention, and designating CP funding would be like breaking our Convention’s kneecaps.

Cutting CP funding also sets a dangerous precedent for churches who might want to “designate” their gifts away from other SBC agencies, like the IMB or NAMB. This is worse than breaking our own kneecaps; we’d be cutting off our own legs.

Rather than withholding or designating CP funding, Southern Baptists should contact the trustees and boards of the respective entity to express concerns and enact changes. Moreover, Southern Baptists who are opposed to the ERLC because of Russell Moore should consider employing the same cooperative spirit they espoused for the election of Trump. The nature of Moore’s latest articles and tweets shows his desire to work alongside the SBC, and it would behoove us to take advantage of that.

The field is too good, and the treasure too precious to cast before the swine of division.

Cited:

http://www.npr.org/2016/12/20/506248119/anti-trump-evangelical-faces-backlash

http://www.wsj.com/articles/baptist-figure-faces-backlash-over-his-criticism-of-donald-trump-1482162791