By Will Hall, Message Editor
WOODWORTH – The Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Board has forwarded a letter to the Ethics and Religious Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention acknowledging an apology from the ERLC trustee officers and Russell Moore, the embattled president of the entity, relating to the rift Moore created in the Southern Baptist Convention.
The letter is a balance of firmly stated counsel and an attempt “to look for a positive, rather than punitive ways to work with the ERLC going forward,” following a second statement issued by Moore that was more direct than his first attempt in apologizing for controversies that led to a motion, made at the 2016 LBC Annual Meeting by Clark Stewart, pastor of New Zion Baptist Church in Covington, to “study the recent actions of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission with regard to issues of concern to Louisiana Baptists.”
The letter cites Moore’s latest statement as “key in helping the Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Board arrive at a proper response to the referred motion.”
Moore was a strident opponent of then-candidate Donald J. Trump, and he castigated Trump’s evangelical supporters, calling them drunks and “doctrinally vacuous” among other things; and, he even created a hierarchy of sorts to describe evangelical voters during the Republican primary campaign season, saying, “Ted Cruz is leading among the ‘Jerry Falwell’ wing, Marco Rubio (whom Moore favored) is leading in the ‘Billy Graham’ wing, and Trump is leading the ‘Jimmy Swaggart’ wing.”
But he also attacked evangelicals in general, calling Millennial Christians “far more theologically rooted” than their parents and describing the legacy of Boomer Christians as “a pseudo-Christian culture;” and, he specifically referred to the Bible belt (a region heavily populated by Southern Baptists) as perpetuating an “almost Christianity” a kind of “God-and-Country civil religion that prizes cultural conservatism more than theological fidelity.”
Moreover, he took positions that also raised concerns among Southern Baptists:
— Regarding same-sex marriage, which he opposes, he said he would not attend a gay wedding but that he would go to the reception (which he suggested showed “I love you” but also “I disagree with you.”).
— He flouted the 2006 SBC Resolution on Alcohol, appointing to his leadership council two young pastors (one subsequently was removed after revelations about inappropriate relationships) who are supportive of Christians who consume alcohol.
— He was a signer of a friend of a court brief, indicating support (in principle, not financially) for the right of a Muslim group to construct a mosque in New Jersey.
The situation grew to such proportions that the ERLC was named in Baptist Press, Southern Baptists’ official news service, as having caused “more letters, more calls, more emails … in memory,” and two panels were formed by the SBC Executive Committee to study the way “churches are responding” to all SBC entities.
Reports indicate at least 100 congregations are withholding contributions normally given through the Cooperative Program, and that 49 congregations withdrew membership from the SBC last year—more than eight times the normal amount of such requests.
Moore’s first statement, “Election Year Thoughts at Christmastime,” published Dec. 19, last year, blamed the situation on “misunderstandings,” specifically citing “a handful of Christian political operatives” as the target of his harsh insult.
Referring to his statements about others during the 2016 presidential campaign as “pointed criticisms,” he said, ‘’Pastors and friends who told me when they read my comments they thought I was criticizing anyone who voted for Donald Trump.
“I told them then,” he wrote, “and I would tell anyone now: if that’s what you heard me say, that was not at all my intention, and I apologize.”
In his second statement, included with separate comments from ERLC trustee officers in a March 20 release titled, “Seeking Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Moore broadened his apology beyond others’ “misunderstanding.”
He said he was not “intending to talk about Southern Baptists” but was meaning to target “most often prosperity gospel teachers.”
He also said he regretted his “contextless or unhelpful posts on social media,” but that he could not “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,” he wrote.
EXECUTIVE BOARD LETTER
The LBC Executive Board letter, May 4, commended Moore “for plainly confessing his failings that had resulted in the serious breach of fellowship we were observing in our Southern Baptist family” and encouraged him “to listen carefully and respectfully to Southern Baptists even as we listen to him.”
“We hope that we will be able to forge consensus among Southern Baptists as we attempt to bear witness in cultural conflicts,” board members wrote, calling for the ERLC “to tread carefully in those matters where our people have genuine differences of opinion.”
Thanking him for his stances on “sanctity of human life, the biblical view of marriage and sexuality, and racial justice,” they emphasized that “Southern Baptists are most encouraged when they are confident their ERLC is vigorously representing their cherished spiritual convictions in the public square.”
“For our part, we pledge to pray for our Lord to make the ERLC ‘strong and courageous,’” they offered. “Neither will we leave it to our agency to fight the battles alone but will engage the task as the church of the Lord. Furthermore, we will encourage our people to be thoughtful in their judgments, forbearing in their disagreements, and generous in their continued financial support for all our convention work.”
The letter completes the Executive Board’s action related to the referred motion from messengers to study ERLC actions “of concern to Louisiana Baptists,” and represents multiple meetings by the Executive Committee of the Executive Board to research articles and other inputs about the ERLC and Moore, as well as a four hour meeting with Moore and his staff in Nashville — set up by Executive Board President Eddie Wren, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rayville, who was joined on the trip by LBC President Gevan Spinney, pastor of First Baptist Church in Haughton, and LBC Executive Director David Hankins.
Based on what Wren described as “a good meeting” and Moore’s March 20 statement, the Executive Committee recommended a motion, approved by the full Executive Board during its spring meeting May 3, to report to messengers at the 2017 LBC Annual Meeting, “that it has evaluated the complaints lodged against the ERLC, that its leadership has met with Dr. Moore and has sent a letter to the trustees of the ERLC and encourages the churches to continue their generous financial support for all our convention work.”
The 40,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, one of the largest Southern Baptist congregations to announce (Feb. 16) it was escrowing funds to the SBC because of the ERLC, reversed itself (April 26) and said it will resume giving through the Cooperative Program.
The decision followed two months of “prayerful evaluation,” according to Baptist Press.
Jack Graham, Prestonwood Baptist’s pastor and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, previously had rebuked Moore for his “disrespectfulness” toward other evangelicals. Following Moore’s most recent apology, Graham tweeted that it was “a gracious and unifying” statement.
Read the LBC Executive Board letter: http://baptistmessage.com/louisiana-baptist-convention-executive-boards-letter-russell-moore-erlc/
Read the ERLC statement: http://baptistmessage.com/seeking-unity-southern-baptist-convention/