A presidential candidate forum to be hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Aug. 4 at the Send Conference in Nashville has sparked discussion — and a variety of opinions — among Southern Baptists.
Some have defended the ERLC’s scheduled interviews with Republicans Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio as consistent with the goals of a missions conference sponsored by the North American Mission Board and International Mission Board. Others have asked why the ERLC did not invite other candidates and how the Bush and Rubio interviews differ from a highly criticized decision by the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference to invite then-likely presidential candidate Ben Carson to speak.
The Pastors’ Conference and Carson, who is now officially in the presidential field, later “mutually agreed” that Carson would not address the Columbus, Ohio, gathering because his presence might have been a distraction from the meeting’s emphases of unity and prayer.
ERLC President Russell Moore told Religion News Service he believes the candidate forum at the Send Conference is different from Carson’s invitation to the Pastors’ Conference because Bush and Rubio will be participating in a dialog rather than preaching sermons.
“What we’re doing at [Send] is quite different,” Moore noted. “We’re having a conversation with people and not treating them as spiritual leaders. We’re instead treating them as what they are — people who are running to lead the country.”
An ERLC press release said Republican candidates were eligible to be invited if they were polling, at the time their invitations were issued, at 10 percent in the Real Clear Politics national average, an aggregation of multiple polls. The ERLC said in an email to Baptist Press that each Republican candidate to reach 10 percent between May 1 and a month before the Send Conference was invited. According to the Real Clear Politics website, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker both reached 10 percent during that time period along with Bush and Rubio.
Moore wrote in a blog post that he invited Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, but she declined.
Baptist21, a network of younger Southern Baptist leaders that objected to Carson’s invitation to the Pastors’ Conference, published a blog article containing “a few initial thoughts about why [they] aren’t as concerned with the Send invites.” The Send Conference “has been marketed for all people” rather than just pastors and “seems to be broader in scope” than the Pastors’ Conference, B21 wrote. Candidates at Send will be “interviewed specifically on religious liberty issues” rather than speaking “in a sermonic fashion,” and the ERLC invited candidates of both major parties.
B21 concluded, “Whether or not there is enough progress [from the Pastors’ Conference to the Send Conference] to avoid diluting our message and mission is yet to be seen. Some B21 members are skeptical.”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press