What’s at Stake for the Southern Baptist Convention In Backlash Against ERLC Leader Russell Moore?

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Recent weeks must have been at least a little unsettling for Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s public-policy and advocacy agency.

Late last month, former SBC Executive Committee Chairman William Harrell wrote a blog post criticizing Moore for his political activism and opposition to Donald Trump. Harrell also claimed to speak on behalf of “a number of pastors, particularly from larger churches, who are seriously considering escrowing their Cooperative Program funds until something is done.”

Soon after, the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s state news site, which featured a similar editorial earlier this year, linked to Harrell’s article. The subject subsequently came up at the Louisiana Baptist Convention annual meeting, where messengers overwhelmingly approved a measure to “study the recent actions of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission with regard to issues of concern to Louisiana Baptists.” While this resolution is vague, it’s difficult not to read it in light of Harrell’s and Baptist Messenger editor Will Hall’s editorials calling for an end to Southern Baptist support of Moore and the ERLC due to his opposition to Trump and perceived hostility toward traditional conservative values.

Moderating voice

It would be naive to claim all of Moore’s political beliefs align perfectly with those of Southern Baptists at large. Speaking strictly in terms of politics, but not theology, Moore has been a consistent moderating voice in a convention that recently has been extremely conservative. However, silencing or dismissing Moore would be a grave mistake for Southern Baptists.

Again, Moore often is a dissenting voice within the SBC, a point both Harrell and Hall make in their calls for disassociation with the ERLC. Dissent is, however, a hallmark of Baptist history and identity. I’ve written before about the history of our denomination, which started as a persecuted group of dissenters from the Church of England. Historically, Baptists have striven to be a prophetic voice that stands apart from the dominant culture and calls it to faithfulness.

Harrell claims the ERLC has “egg all over their faces” because they were “completely out of touch with the reality of how the people felt” in the 2016 election. This defies Baptists’ oldest legacy. Should John Smyth and Thomas Helwys have stepped down from their congregations because the majority of Christians in England in the 17th century believed in infant Baptism? Baptists historically welcome dissent and caution.

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SOURCE: The Baptist Standard
Jake Raabe is a student at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas.