In an effort to help an Islamic group build a mosque in May 2016, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) joined an amicus brief to help protect the religious liberties of this group. This action, combined with comments the president of the ERLC, Russell Moore, has made about Trump-supporters, has caused a church in Texas to express concern over the direction of the SBC and to temporarily withhold their financial support.
Jack Graham, senior pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and former president of the SBC, told the Baptist Message he and his congregation are “concerned about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention, and feel the need to make some changes in the way we give.” This conviction is going to cost the SBC $1 million worth of support for its state and national initiatives from the 41,000-member megachurch.
The amicus brief the ERLC joined was to help the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, New Jersey (ISBR) secure their right to build a mosque. The court ruled in favor of ISBR in December, 2016. The judge decided the Planning Board of Bernards Township, New Jersey, violated the 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,” the Baptist Press reported.
In addition to the ERLC, the missions arm of the SBC, the International Missions Board (IMB) was also involved in the amicus brief to help ISBR. The IMB has also been met with opposition to its involvement in the case, with several pastors and lay leaders expressing their concern. In November, Tennessee pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee because he felt the move did not lend itself to the mission of IMB and that it could be seen as an improper alliance with followers of Islam.
David Platt, president of IMB, recently apologized to the SBC for how “distracting and divisive” this move was. He met with a group of editors representing different Baptist papers and journals on February 15, 2017 and said, “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.”
It is not unusual for IMB to join an amicus brief. As Platt noted in a statement, going back to 2010 (before he took the role of President of the Board), IMB’s legal department has been involved in similar briefs concerning religious liberty. It is also not unusual for the ERLC to take up a religious liberties cause. In fact, Moore addressed the reasoning behind fighting for the religious liberty of all people at the SBC Annual Meeting in 2016.
However, Russell Moore has stirred up even more tension by calling out Trump-supporters who call themselves evangelicals. In a Washington Post article, he said such self-identifying “evangelicals” may actually be people who are “drunk right now, and haven’t been into a church since someone invited them to Vacation Bible School sometime back when Seinfeld was in first-run episodes.”
Graham assured the Baptist Message he’s not “angry at the SBC, and neither are our people.” Furthermore, he’s not “working to start a movement to fire anyone,” but he and his congregation are concerned—a fact they are making painfully clear with their withdrawal of support, however brief it may be.