Southern Baptists extend olive branch to Russell Moore

Religion | Denomination leaders seek reconciliation amid internal strife
by Evan Wilt
Posted 3/14/17, 01:19 pm

Southern Baptist leaders dispelled speculation Monday that Russell Moore would resign as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) but acknowledged work ahead to repair an emerging rift within the denomination.

“We deepened our friendship and developed mutual understanding on ways we believe will move us forward as a network of churches,” Moore and Frank Page, the president of Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, wrote in a joint statement. “We fully support one another and look forward to working together on behalf of Southern Baptists in the years to come.”

Page and Moore met privately in Nashville on Monday in response to a growing list of congregations that are withholding donations to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over concerns about some of the positions Moore and the ERLC have taken. Moore pointedly criticized President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign and said publicly he did not plan to vote for either Trump or Hillary Clinton. The ERLC also raised eyebrows by signing a friend-of-the-court brief supporting a New Jersey Islamic society’s right to build a mosque.

The Washington Post reported about the meeting ahead of time under a headline that questioned whether Moore would lose his job. But denomination leaders said after the meeting they plan instead to work together to try to get Southern Baptists back on the same page.

With 15.8 million members in the United States, the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the nation. More than 100 of the 46,000 Southern Baptist congregations have threatened to withhold donations to the SBC’s umbrella fund, which helps finance the ERLC in addition to the denomination’s six seminaries and two evangelism agencies, the Post reported.

Most notably, Jack Graham, former SBC president and senior pastor of the Dallas-area megachurch Prestonwood Baptist , announced his congregration planned to escrow $1 million earmarked for the SBC because of statements Moore made.

In October, after a leaked video showed Trump making lewd remarks about groping women, Moore wrote a scathing op-ed in The Washington Post.

“This year, religious conservatism stands naked and exposed before the world, while Trump smugly surveys what he has come to own,” Moore wrote.

Graham told The Wall Street Journal in December after Trump won the election that Moore’s comments showed “disrespectfulness towards Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders.”

Earlier in the campaign season, Trump and Moore quarreled on social media.

“Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for,” Trump tweeted. “A nasty guy with no heart!”

Moore has been less vocal with criticisms of Trump since Election Day, and many who support Moore have rallied behind him.

SBC leaders recently launched an ad hoc committee to study why churches are escrowing money to the umbrella fund. The committee plans to present a full report on its findings this September.

According to Baptist Press, Page did not schedule the meeting with Moore with the intent of dismissing him, but rather to collaborate on bridge-building strategies to unite the network of churches.

Moore took over the ERLC in 2013 during a time when many minority Southern Baptist congregations felt ostracized after Moore’s predecessor, Richard Land, accused African-American leaders of turning the Trayvon Martin case into political fodder.

Last week, Byron Day, president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote in an open letter that Moore is a key figure in Southern Baptists’ reconciling with each other.

“Russell Moore has done nothing worthy of discipline or firing. He has not violated The Baptist Faith and Message and, in fact, has been outstanding as president of the ERLC,” Day wrote. “Southern Baptist have been uniquely gifted and called to have a great impact for the Kingdom of God. We must not be ignorant of the schemes of the enemy to divide us. Now is not the time for division but unity and we must be diligent to preserve the unity we have in Christ.”

Evan Wilt

Evan is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD reporter.

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  • My Two Cents
    Posted: Tue, 03/14/2017 02:05 pm

    So, to clarify, may I ask if "getting Southern Baptists back on the same page" means anyone who is a member of a SBC should vote for the same approved presidential candidate?

    The adult in the room besides Russell Moore is Byron Day. 

  • Meg I
    Posted: Tue, 03/14/2017 06:42 pm

    I have proudly said through all of this, "I stand with Dr. Moore."  If you have followed the ERLC since Dr. Moore took over, you would understand that his desire has been to be Biblical and not "Middle class American" through his time in leadership.   I attended "The Gospel: Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage," 2 and 1/2 years ago.  By far the best conference I ever attended.  Also, his weighing in on the building of the mosque in New Jersey is just his being faithful to the "Religious Liberty" part of the ERLC.  He knows God is sovereign over the nations and peoples.  Also, he is on staff at Southern.  Dr. Mohler would have no "slouches" on his staff.   God is doing a new thing within the SBC.  I may be almost 60 but totally behind these youngs guys, Greear, Chandler, Platt, Moore, etc who are fully committed to inerrancy, the Great Commission, the SBC and they are also not cessacionists with things of the Spirit which upsets some of the older crowd.  Again, "I Stand with Dr. Moore."

  • PaulC
    Posted: Tue, 03/14/2017 11:09 pm

    This is a tangent brought up in this article:  Moore's opposition to the building of a Muslim mosque in the US.  In the subject of "religion"  -- meaning the practice of a faith system,  Christian or non-Christian, it seems to me that an important distinction ought to be made in the public and private discussions that is not being made.  Both the Roman Catholic teaching system and practice  and the Muslim faith, teaching and practice is more than religion per se.  I am saying this because both groups officially marry their religious beliefs to political things, not in a private sort of way.  What I mean is that when Muslims control a government, they enforce their faith with laws that have almost no place for freedom of conscience.  Sharia law enforces the Islamic law codes or the objectors face the consequences.  Someone may legitmately ask me, "Why are you lumping the Roman Catholics with the Muslims?"  My answer is because the RC group does the same thing in a more subtle way.  Why does the US government have an official an official embassy or liason with the Vatican?  Why does that not get hollered about in the public press?  (This might be a rare instance in which some conservative Christians and liberal elites might agree.)  Our present VP and the previous one, both are RC.  So what?  Joe Biden was the Vatican's official link to Washington politics.  I do not know if Mike Pence is.  I do not intend to imply that by writing this that the RC group does not have genuine believers in Jesus within it.  But that situation will occur not because of their teachings but in spite of them.  I do not hate RC people.  But I do hate what the official teachings teach and where they lead.  F. Tupper's Saucy's book, Rulers of Evil exposes the dark underside of the RC group.  I know that I am opening a can of worms, and what I am writing can easily be misunderstood.  I am a follower of Jesus and am simply trying to point out that religious systems that bring the force of government (power of the sword, openly or clandestinely) and a faith system together, great harm is done to all.  Most Christians are rightly embarrassed by the Crusades.  They were the result of thinking that Christian faith could be spread by the power of the sword. The RC group now does it secretly, Islam openly.  When our Constitution required that Congress shall make no law establishing religion or prohibiting the free excercise thereof, that works with faith groups that do not take the power of the sword to enforce their faith.  It will not work with those who combine the two.  

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