Home Christian News SBC Report Calls ERLC’s Trajectory ‘Distraction’ from Great Commission

SBC Report Calls ERLC’s Trajectory ‘Distraction’ from Great Commission

More recently, it claims, the ERLC was critical of protesters who stormed the U.S. Capitol but not of Black Lives Matter protests.

The report also cites what it calls “disrespectful and condescending responses” to questions raised by messengers — the SBC’s terms for church delegates to its annual meeting. As one example, the report mentions the response to Arkansas pastor John Wofford at the 2016 meeting.

Wofford asked Moore why the ERLC would support the rights of Muslims to build mosques. Moore replied that Baptists had always supported religious liberty and that if a government could ban mosques it could also ban Baptist churches, a response that earned a standing ovation.

Moore is not the first head of the ERLC to be met with disapproval. Two of his predecessors left office because of controversy.

In 2011, longtime ERLC President Richard Land was criticized for his support of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and for joining an interfaith coalition that defended the rights of Muslims to build houses of worship. Criticism from other Southern Baptists eventually forced Land to leave the coalition. Land, a longtime Republican activist, left office after a scandal over plagiarism and comments on race.

Land’s predecessor, N. Larry Baker, lasted just 16 months in the role in the 1980s, where his views on “abortion, capital punishment, and the role of women in the church” were considered controversial, according to Baptist Press. Baker was part of the moderate wing of the SBC that was ousted by a conservative movement in the denomination.

David Gushee, professor of ethics at Mercer University, said that the head of the ERLC has always been in a precarious position. Tasked with bringing Christian ethics to bear on social issues, the ERLC’s president often has to navigate clashes between Christian ethics and popular political positions.

That conflict, he said, was one reason for the conservative turn taken by the denomination, known as the Conservative Resurgence or the “Fundamentalist Takeover.”

“Politically conservative Southern Baptists wanted an ethics commission that reflects those values,” he said.

The nature of SBC funding, which asks churches to give voluntarily to national ministries, means that the ERLC president may at times have to criticize views held by people in the pews.

“The trick was always to be the most conservative person in the room,” said Gushee, who did some work for the ERLC in the 1990s before breaking with the SBC.

Nancy Ammerman, a religion sociologist who had studied the SBC culture war of the 1970s and 1980s, noted that Land and Foy Valentine, a longtime head of the Christian Life Commission, as the ERLC was formerly known, were able to connect with large numbers of their fellow Baptists.

“Russell Moore, on the other hand, has been publicly going against the majority of his denomination for the entirety of Trump’s ascendancy,” she told RNS in an email.

“He is at odds with them on little else, so if they oust him, it will follow the pattern of Trump loyalty throughout the culture-war movement. Loyalty to Trump, rather than any discernible issue position, would define the denomination’s ‘ethical’ stance.”

The executive committee is expected to discuss the report at its upcoming meeting in Nashville.

A prior task force found in 2017 that concerns the ERLC had led to reduced giving were “not as significant in fact as it is in perception,” Baptist Press reported.  A 2018 attempt to defund the ERLC failed.

This article originally appeared on ReligionNews.com

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Bob Smietana is an award-winning religion reporter and editor who has spent two decades producing breaking news, data journalism, investigative reporting, profiles and features for magazines, newspapers, trade publications and websites. Most notably, he has served as a senior writer for Facts & Trends, senior editor of Christianity Today, religion writer at The Tennessean, correspondent for RNS and contributor to OnFaith, USA Today and The Washington Post.