I was quite taken aback to see the recent opinion piece, “Does the ERLC Represent the SBC?” I was disappointed not only to find this piece published in the Louisiana Baptist Message but republished by our own Christian Index (Georgia). This type of rhetoric and opining is a continual wedge between the generations in the Southern Baptist Convention. Though the title question is couched in the language of the ERLC as a whole, it becomes evident quite quickly that the sights are set on the entity president, Dr. Russell Moore.
First, I must state my respect for former Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) head, Dr. Richard Land. Dr. Land was a formidable representative during a monumental time in our history and was a great diplomatic voice to many notable persons and heads of state for Southern Baptists. In recent years, it became evident to Southern Baptists and Dr. Land himself that the shifting landscape in America (more like a landslide) called for a fresh and articulate voice to lead the ERLC. That voice was found in Dr. Russell Moore. (It is also worth noting that Dr. Richard Land has recently publically expressed his concerns about Donald Trump).
The right to disagree in a biblical and loving way is part of what holds our local churches together and will continue to hold our convention of churches together. Who we need at the helm of the ERLC is not someone with an innocuous and polite voice with a warm southern drawl (though Moore does have the drawl), but someone who thinks biblically, ethically, and speaks directly, prophetically and poignantly to the outside and to the inside. Too often we have drug our feet on being where we need to be on issues that Dr. Moore runs to and says, “Southern Baptists – here, pay attention to this!”
The author speaks from the erroneous perspective that not only does the leadership of the ERLC not speak for the majority of those within the ranks of the SBC, but that they always should. This type of rhetoric and writing assumes a monolithic nature to the membership of the churches in our convention that frankly astounds me at best and saddens me at worst.
I, for one, am thankful for the variety of people on the membership rolls of our local churches and who serve as messengers to our conventions. A quick survey will find though together on the major tenants of the gospel and major Biblical convictions, Southern Baptists are not always as lock step as the author seems to assume. One of the great strengths of Dr. Russell Moore is his ability to speak to all of us. Moore’s personal political pedigree includes having once worked for a blue dog Democrat, and he does not hide nor feel ashamed of this fact, nor should he. There was a time when this demographic characterized a large portion of those in Southern Baptist life. In fact, this demographic still characterizes a large portion of our eighty to ninety year old widows who whisper to me, “I’m a Democrat.” For people like my grandmother who taught Sunday School for decades and led hundreds to the Lord, a Donald Trump would have been a bad political dream come true. (Though, she was much more concerned with and has already joined a much more sure Kingdom.)
Often (near daily), I wonder how to biblically and ethically process and address the whirlwind of issues around me and need a voice encouraging me to speak up as a local Southern Baptist church pastor. Most often, after arriving at my own convictions, I find them to be shared by the quick thinking and ever articulate Moore. These wide ranging issues include the sanctity of human life, race, sex, gender, bioethics, the use and display of Confederate emblems and even the concerns I have had regarding a vociferous populist running for President of the United States. Not only have I sought the words and thoughts of our well-written and thoughtful entity head, he has also encouraged me to the point that I called my congressman’s office for the first time last year and showed up at my first protest both in support of the sanctity of life. Is this not the involvement we hope for in my generation of Baptist pastors and church leaders?
The author makes reference to Dr. Moore’s use of social media. When Moore takes to social media, especially at a fast pace, he is speaking the language of my peers and I in a way that draws us in and keeps us in before we get out of hand. I cringe sometimes at the ready availability and usage of this media by pastors and church leaders – but the reality is, it’s there. The proof is in the pudding that Dr. Moore has wielded it effectively and most likely cut us off before we have said too much (or too little!).
It is also worth positing the question of whether or not Dr. Moore is entitled to have his own opinions and even speak them (or tweet them) publically. There are many times I can recall when our former entity head was interviewed by print or on the radio that I said, “there he goes, not unexpected, and not where I would go, but there he went.” Dr. Land definitely held positions and made statements of a political nature that I found myself at odds with, but it never occurred to me to write a piece questioning his right to do so. It is quite likely that many Southern Baptists (especially in the millennial crowd) feel just as uncomfortable with Dr. Moore’s love of Johnny Cash and Fanny J. Crosby (which he continually asserts) but are not so inclined to run to the web or to print and say, “that man does not sing for me.” When he tweets about his musical preferences, he speaks (or sings) for himself, which he is entitled to do.
I fail to see how anyone who loves the gospel of Jesus Christ and religious liberty could not have been roused by Dr. Moore’s rallying cry at last year’s convention reminding us his job is to keep us from going to jail and to make us ready to go to jail. He reminded us that “Baptists are a jailhouse religion”, and that extends from John Bunyan to Martin Luther King, Jr. Rest assured, if I land in jail, I want to know why I am there and that I should be there. I am thankful Dr. Moore will have informed me as to why I am behind bars long before I am indicted. I am thankful we have a leader who is willing to firmly say, “Here we stand” on issues which Southern Baptists know the Bible to be explicitly clear. It is evident his conscience is captive to the word of God and if he says “Here we stand,” I have found we should strongly consider standing there too. God help us.