NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Trustees of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) noted the establishment of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and committed to pray for its work during their Sept. 15-16 annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
Trustees offered themselves as “prayer warriors” for the task force as it addresses “critically important issues.”
The task force was established by a vote of messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Louisville in June to study how Southern Baptists can work “more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”
In the motion adopted by ERLC trustees, they asked God to “guide every discussion and every decision (of the task force) in such a way that He alone will receive glory.”
In affirming the ERLC’s ministry assignment, trustees expressed a deep commitment to the “protection of religious freedom in the United States and around the world.” The motion commits trustees to pray that God will use the ERLC’s influence “to help open doors that have been closed to the Gospel and keep doors open among people that have been historically free.”
Trustees also pledged their support and the assistance of the ERLC staff to the task force as the need arises.
Looming life questions
America faces a “gathering storm” related to the value of human life, ERLC President Richard Land said in an address to trustees.
Land warned of the institutionalization of a quality of life ethic in American society. “Actions in our legislative and judicial systems are symptomatic of a moral and spiritual disease,” he said, reminding the trustees of Moses’ call to the Israelites to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
“Unfortunately for about half my life we have far too often chosen the path of death and cursing rather than the path of life and blessing,” Land said, warning of the danger of a quality of life ethic totally supplanting a sanctity of human life ethic.
“We need to combat the systems like any good doctor,” Land said, “but we need to be treating the source of the disease as well.”
The Bible teaches essentialism, that our Creator has conferred on every human being a right to life from conception to natural death, Land said.
This biblical perspective is increasingly being replaced by what ethicists call biographicalism, Land explained, which holds that individuals are defined by their biography. According to this view, he said, individuals forfeit their personhood and value as they lose quality of life, to the degree that they become less productive and less able to care for themselves.
“This storm has been gathering for a long time,” Land said, suggesting a quality of life ethic is reflected in much of the machinations behind the proposals related to health care reform.
“Human life is sacred by God’s involvement and declaration,” Land said. “We are different in nature and design and kind from all the rest of creation. The differences are not differences of degree; they are differences of kind,” he continued.
“We are not merely the most advanced life in the animal kingdom; we are the unique creation of God.”
This reality should have an impact on all of human life, including ethical, medical, moral and legislative decisions, he insisted.
“We have a biblically appointed task to call Southern Baptists and all people of faith to be the watchmen on the wall in the face of this gathering storm,” Land said, citing Ezekiel 3.
“Silence is complicity,” he said. “We must speak the Word.”
Religious liberty champion honored
ERLC trustees recognized Fan Yafeng as the recipient of the John Leland Religious Liberty Award. Fan, a leading advocate for constitutional democracy and religious liberty in China, is a senior researcher at the Official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a founding member of the Association of Human Rights Attorneys for Chinese Christians.
Land told trustees their decision to honor Fan “puts a spotlight on our suffering Christian brothers and sisters in China” and that the Chinese government will become aware of the resolution honoring Fan.
Land noted that while a growing number of Chinese are confessing Christians, religious expression is still repressed in the communist nation.
In a Dec. 14, 2006, Christianity Today article, Fan noted, “More and more Christian public intellectuals say that only Christianity can provide a solid foundation for the rule of law in China.”
Land said Fan’s authorship of the “Taishi Village Incident Memorandum” is credited with contributing to the Chinese government’s decision to allow direct elections for village leaders in the nation.
Trustees also voted to honor Rep. Joseph Pitts. R.-Pa., with the Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award for 2009. Pitts, in his seventh term as a representative for the Lancaster, Pa., area, is chairman of the House Values Action Team.
Land said Pitts, a staunch defender of traditional values and fiscal conservatism, is “strongly pro-life and strongly pro-marriage” and has distinguished himself in championing human rights and humanitarian efforts around the world.
- elected Ronnie Wilburn, senior pastor at Meridian Baptist Church in Jackson, Tenn., as trustee chairman; Don Mason of Locust Grove, Ga., as vice chairman; and Gene Kendrick, pastor of Mims Baptist Church in Conroe, Texas, as secretary.
- responded to five motions referred from the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention, including one motion addressing PepsiCo’s apparent support of the homosexual agenda. In acknowledging efforts by some to portray the homosexual lifestyle as normative, trustees affirmed the ERLC’s call to Southern Baptists and others to “take their faith into the marketplace, seasoning the culture, including corporate America, and allowing the Light of the gospel to permeate the darkness.”
- were briefed on the commission’s Internet initiative for spiritual development among students, josiahroad.com. Trustees learned that a downloadable multi-part student Bible study focusing on the life of King Josiah is now available online.
- were reminded of the commission’s work in Washington, D.C. ERLC staff celebrated the passage of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008 and Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, but recounted their opposition to federal legislation that devalued human life and threatened both freedom of speech and religious liberty.
- were introduced to the ERLC’s new Issues at a Glance web pages. Each of these new Internet-based resources focus on one moral or ethical issue, providing downloadable materials in addition to a focused scripture index and related SBC resolutions. The web pages also feature a full-color bulletin insert on each issue that can be printed and distributed.
- approved a $3.246 million budget for the ERLC’s 2009-10 fiscal year, a 6.1 percent decrease from the previous year’s budget. Land said the entity’s budget was trimmed primarily to account for recent Cooperative Program trends. The ERLC receives 1.65 percent of CP funds received at the national level.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hastings is a vice president with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)