Last week, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee (EC), Frank Page, met with the head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Committee (ERLC), Russell Moore, in response to a growing call for Moore’s resignation. Yesterday, March 20, 2017, the ERLC’s executive committee released a statement in support of Moore and commended his work to reconcile with those in disagreement with his leadership.
The statement from the EC says “we affirm Dr. Moore in his leadership of the ERLC.” Alluding to the pressure Moore was under to address controversial subjects during last year’s election, the committee affirmed Moore’s dialogue on issues of “religious liberty, racial reconciliation, character in public office and a Christian understanding of sexuality.” These rarely convenient and often unpopular” issues were necessary to address, but stirred controversy within the SBC.
The committee believes the problem was not so much with Moore’s principles as his “delivery, tactics and approach” to communicating those principles. In response to this criticism, the committee encouraged Moore to seek out his critics in private conversations (taking a cue from the instructions of Jesus in Matthew 18), which he did willingly.
Wrapping up their statement, the committee concludes by affirming Moore’s ability to speak “prophetically both to our culture and to our Convention,” This sentiment, that Moore’s is a prophetic voice, is something others, like Pastor Dwight McKissic, have stated previously.
Moore included a personal response to the criticisms and the meetings he has held over the last several months. Calling himself a “son of both the long Baptist tradition of missionary cooperation and of the Southern Baptist conservative resurgence,” Moore started his statement by appealing to his SBC peers’ sense of camaraderie. He assured them he is committed to the mission of the SBC: “that the kingdom of God would be seen in gospel churches of those from every tribe, tongue, nation and language.”
Moore says looking back over the last year and the tensions caused by “the state of American politics and the role of religion in it” has caused him much grief. In December, he sought to bring about unity in the midst of conflict by expressing some of his convictions in writing. Some, he says, received his words (even if they disagreed with his viewpoint) and linked arms with him in solidarity. Others, however, did not. It is to these people that Moore offers an apology and takes responsibility for his part of the disagreement.
Although he does not mention specifics or names, Moore seems to be alluding to the problems he pointed out with some who supported Donald Trump’s run for President.
Social media, Moore concedes, was perhaps not the best platform to air some of his concerns, which he expresses by saying:
As the year progressed, I felt convicted—both by my personal conscience and by my assignment by Southern Baptists—to speak out on issues of what the gospel is and is not, what sexual morality and sexual assault are and are not, and the crucial need for white Christians to listen to the concerns of our black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ. I stand by those convictions, but I did not separate out categories of people well—such that I wounded some, including close friends. Some of that was due to contextless or unhelpful posts on social media about the whirl of the news cycle. I cannot go back and change time, and I cannot apologize for my underlying convictions. But I can—and do—apologize for failing to distinguish between people who shouldn’t have been in the same category with those who put politics over the gospel and for using words, particularly in social media, that were at times overly broad or unnecessarily harsh. That is a failure on my part.
I was aware that there were many—including many very close to me—who were quite vocal in critiquing on those areas even candidates they were able to support. These people made clear what they were supporting and what they were rejecting on the basis of the biblical witness, and did not celebrate or wave away the moral problems. I did not speak much about those people because I wasn’t being asked about them, and I didn’t think they were causing the confusion that frustrated me as I was talking even to people I was seeking to win to Christ. But I didn’t clearly enough separate them out. Again, that is a failure on my part, and I apologize.
After outlining his apology, Moore goes on to tell his readers what they can expect from him the future: a continued effort to hold the SBC line and spread the gospel. “My job is to speak to consciences, and to endeavor to provide the resources to pose the right kinds of biblical questions—even if you come to different answers,” he says.
In conclusion, Moore appeals to his SBC peers to consider what is at stake if they allow disunity to disrupt their common mission.