The SBC report calls By no means-Trumper Russell Moore’s company a “vital distraction”.

(RNS) – In a long-awaited report released on Monday (Feb.1), a task force charged with investigating the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Freedom Commission named the convention’s public policy arm one “Significant distraction from the work of the Great Commission of Southern Baptists. “

The task force, led by Georgia Pastor Mike Stone, blames the ERLC for the loss of more than $ 1 million in Church donations to the denomination, citing the chairman of a state Baptist convention as saying, “The ERLC has been a stumbling block Mission dollar investment not worth it. “

However, there seems to be as much politics as economics in the conclusions of the report. It should be noted that in recent years fear of a “liberal” drift in denomination has led some churches to leave the SBC or withhold giving. Some of this dissatisfaction is directed towards the ERLC, and in particular Rev. Russell Moore, who has led the ERLC since 2013.

Although Moore is a staunch opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, two of the most important issues for politically conservative evangelicals, Moore’s views on other issues in the course of the Trump administration – most notably immigration, race, and Donald Trump himself – have ended up in hot water .

The report does not call for the overthrow of Moore, but recommends that the ERLC stop making public comments on political candidates and only deal with issues on which the SBC has already issued resolutions.

An ERLC spokeswoman told RNS that Moore would not comment on the report. The agency’s board of trustees had instructed him not to speak about it publicly.

But David Prince, chairman of the agency’s trustees, said in a statement that “Southern Baptists can see this report exactly as it is,” claiming that the ERLC was “Southern Baptists at a time more political, cultural, and in some.” Cases of confessional chaos. “

Prince added, “Much of this chaos remains with us, including widespread news that many of our black and brown brothers and sisters have left the SBC. That should alarm us all. Notwithstanding this and all, I am grateful that the ERLC gives our churches a living and courageous testimony of the gospel to our churches every day. “

The ERLC’s investigation began in February 2020 after members of the SBC’s Executive Committee raised concerns about supporting the denominational cooperation program that funds national and denominational ministries.

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The new report claims that hundreds of churches have either left denomination or withheld funds. It mentions a state where $ 1,147,000 was “withheld due to the ERLC.” In another state, the report suggests that giving “$ 2,448,000” is at risk because of “serious concerns about the ERLC.” The members of the committee did not identify the states or particular churches.

The report also lists a number of direct complaints, including Moore’s opposition to Trump, alleging that the ERLC received funding related to progressive philanthropist George Soros, the ERLC’s stance on working with COVID-19 restrictions, and the agency’s support for immigration reforms receives.

More recently, the ERLC has criticized protesters who stormed the US Capitol, but not protests against Black Lives Matter.

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

Wofford asked Moore why the ERLC would support Muslim rights to build mosques. Moore replied that Baptists have always supported religious freedom and that if a government can ban mosques, it can also ban Baptist churches, a response that earned a standing ovation.

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Moore isn’t the first ERLC leader to be frowned upon. Two of his predecessors resigned due to controversy.

In 2011, longtime ERLC President Richard Land was criticized for supporting a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and for joining an interfaith coalition that defended the right of Muslims to build places of worship. Criticism from other Southern Baptists eventually forced Land to leave the coalition. Land, a longtime Republican activist, left office after a plagiarism and racial comment scandal.

Land’s predecessor, N. Larry Baker, served only 16 months in the 1980s when his views on “abortion, the death penalty and the role of women in the Church” were considered controversial, according to the Baptist Press. Baker was part of the moderate wing of the SBC, which was ousted by a conservative movement within the denomination.

David Gushee, professor of ethics at Mercer University, said the ERLC director has always been in a precarious position. The ERLC President is charged with incorporating Christian ethics into social issues and often has to deal with clashes between Christian ethics and popular political positions.

This conflict is one reason for the conservative turn of the denomination known as Conservative Resurgence or “Fundamentalist Takeover”.

“Politically conservative Southern Baptists wanted an ethics committee that reflected these values,” he said.

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The nature of SBC funding, which encourages churches to volunteer to national ministries, means the ERLC president sometimes has to criticize the views of people in pews.

“The trick has always been to be the most conservative person in the room,” said Gushee, who worked for the ERLC in the 1990s before breaking up with the SBC.

Nancy Ammerman, a religious sociologist who 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 get along with it a large number of people to join their fellow Baptists.

“Russell Moore, on the other hand, has spoken out publicly against most of his denomination for the entirety of Trump’s rise,” she told RNS in an email.

“He disagrees with them on little else. If they oust him, it will follow the pattern of Trump loyalty throughout the culture war movement. Loyalty to Trump and not some recognizable problem would define the “ethical” attitude of the denomination. “

The Executive Committee is expected to discuss the report at its upcoming meeting in Nashville.

A previous task force in 2017 that had concerns that the ERLC had led to a reduction in donations was “in fact not as significant as it is perceived,” Baptist Press reported. A 2018 attempt to defuse the ERLC failed.

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