After meeting yesterday, March 13, 2017, Frank Page, president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, and Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Committee (ERLC), released the following statement:
We met as colleagues committed to the same priorities of proclaiming the Gospel to every man, woman, boy and girl while also addressing biblical and Gospel issues on a wide range of topics to a culture that seems to have lost its way — issues ranging from religious liberty and racial reconciliation to Kingdom diversity and the sanctity of human life from the womb to the grave.
We deepened our friendship and developed mutual understanding on ways we believe will move us forward as a network of churches. We fully support one another and look forward to working together on behalf of Southern Baptists in the years to come. We will collaborate on developing future steps to deepen connections with all Southern Baptists as we work together to advance the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It appears Page’s comment to the Washington Post about the possibility of asking Moore to resign was misinterpreted. According to Page’s report to the Baptist Press, the intention of the meeting from the beginning was “to find bridge-building solutions to an unnecessary divide that has been created across the landscape of our Southern Baptist network of churches.” Page explained he does not have the authority to fire Moore, nor would he want to. That authority lies with the ERLC’s board of trustees, the chairman of which, Ken Barbic, has said they “wholeheartedly support [Moore’s] leadership,” calling Moore a “prophetic voice” for Southern Baptists.
Following Prestonwood Baptist Church’s decision to suspend contributions to the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Cooperative Program due to its grievances over the direction of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Committee (ERLC), more and more churches have followed suit. On Thursday, March 9, 2017, several influential pastors—most of whom represent African-Amercian congregations—signed an open letter appealing to their SBC peers to reconcile with the ERLC and its leader, Russell Moore.
Churches in the Louisiana Baptist Convention are the ones who appear to be most upset with Moore and his recent actions. Among their concerns are Moore’s outspoken critique of President Trump (particularly in the months leading up to his election) and his stance on using the ERLC to fight for the religious liberties of all—including Muslims. In light of these decisions, the Louisiana Convention passed a resolution calling for the Executive Committee (EC) of the SBC to investigate the direction of the ERLC.
In Support of Moore and Appealing for Reconciliation
However, not all SBC ministers feel as the Louisiana Convention does—including some within Louisiana itself. Those for and against Moore appear to fall along racial lines, with the majority of African-American congregations in agreement with Moore’s leadership. The open letter that was penned by Byron Day, president of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) of the SBC, isn’t just an appeal to support Moore and his decisions, though. It is an appeal to take a cue from Matthew 18 and practice reconciliation.
Day writes, “What would happen if those offended by Dr. Moore were to take a biblical approach and talk to him privately concerning comments that offended them and then give him opportunity to apologize and be reconciled, to the glory of Christ? What would happen if Dr. Moore would receive their calls and agree to meet with them and experience reconciliation, to the glory of God?”
As Day so eloquently states in his letter, a far greater thing than funding to the CP is at risk if the SBC doesn’t “get together.” “The name of Christ is far too valuable and the preaching of the Gospel to the whole world too important that we should allow political disagreements to distract us from that which is most significant.”
Political disagreement is precisely the issue those signing the letter want to see take a back seat to the more important mission of the SBC. David Crosby, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of New Orleans, told the Christian Post “people of color have seen politics from a different point of view than the white majority, and if we truly want to be diverse in our Convention…we must not only invite people of all ethnicities and cultural backgrounds into our churches, but we also must give them space intellectually and politically and not make these tertiary matters a condition for fellowship.”
Day iterates in the letter that requests to fire or discipline Moore are uncalled for since he has done nothing to warrant such action. Day feels Moore has represented the SBC well, citing Moore’s work to advance the pro-life movement, his stand for traditional marriage and his commitment to addressing the “long overlooked” issue of racism.
Also speaking to the Christian Post, Frank Page, the president of SBC’s Executive Committee, says many African-American Southern Baptists “feel that Dr. Moore has spoken to issues that are of importance to them and so it would be very hurtful if he were to leave.”
Missionaries Also Affected by Churches Withholding Funds
Not only is the ERLC affected by churches withholding funds from the CP, but also missionaries. Students from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary penned their own letter, this one addressed to Jack Graham, senior pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, asking him to consider the affect his church’s decision to suspend funds to the CP has on the SBC’s missions work. The letter points out this stance jeopardizes the SBC’s ability “to operate one of the largest mission-sending agencies in the world.”
Pivotal Meeting Scheduled for Today
Despite the support Moore is receiving from the African-American SBC community and others, EC president Page is going to address the concerns others have with him. A Washington Post article states that over 100 SBC churches have threatened to cut their funding. Page and Moore are scheduled to meet today, Monday, March 13, 2017, and Page has indicated he has not ruled out the possibility of asking for Moore’s resignation.
The tension the SBC is facing points to a broader tension churches face across the U.S.—that of walking a tight line between staying committed to the mission of Jesus Christ and using influence in politics as a means to advance this mission. And, as this recent development in the SBC indicates, we often disagree on how to walk those lines.