NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Facing a full agenda, trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) opened their annual meeting with an extended time of intercession. The meeting was punctuated with even more time dedicated to prayer over its two-day session.
In his address to the trustees, Richard Land, ERLC president recalled the board’s Tuesday morning meeting 11 years earlier as the nation came under attack from al-Qaeda operatives. Land led the trustees in praying for the “families who are being reminded of what they lost on that day.”
The trustees’ Sept. 11-12 slate included a meeting of the group’s presidential search committee, created following Richard Land’s July announcement that he was retiring as ERLC president in October 2013.
The trustees’ presidential search committee met in executive session with the full board but has not yet released a report. Barry Creamer, vice president of academic affairs and professor of humanities at Criswell College in Dallas, chairs the search committee.
During their meeting trustees voted to name Land “president emeritus” of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission upon his departure from the commission. While noting the title was “purely honorary,” trustees indicated their desire to recognize Land for making the SBC entity “into what it is today.”
The board also voted to disburse $250,000 to the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, upon Land’s retirement from the ERLC.
The amount, which is being given in honor of what will be Richard Land’s 25 years of service at the ERLC, includes approximately $100,000 in funds previously designated for the center by the trustees. The center, which was established in 2007, encourages the study and research of ethics, public policy and other cultural issues.
Land nearly D.C.-bound
Land recalled that he was originally considered third in line in the eyes of the search committee that eventually tapped him for the top position at the Christian Life Commission, now the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in 1988. Land said three weeks before his meeting with the search committee, George W. Bush had asked him to consider joining his father’s administration if he was elected president.
George H.W. Bush did win the presidency in November of that year but by that time Land had been chosen to head the Southern Baptist Convention’s moral concerns and religious liberty entity.
“I was stunned; my wife was stunned,” Land said of the committee’s decision to select him for the position. “I took it as providential.”
Land noted he was now in his 50th year of ministry, having begun preaching as a 16-year-old in Houston.
“It has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime to serve the Lord and His people called Southern Baptists through the ERLC,” he continued.
Progress in race relations
Land told the trustees as a youngster growing up in Texas in the 1960s, he was impressed with the work of the then-Christian Life Commission in its willingness to engage the race issue.
Even as a teenager Land said he appreciated the commission’s “uncompromising and courageous” stance on race relations.
“It was very important for me as a child growing up in Houston in the 1960s that the then-Christian Life Commission was on the right side of the race issue when too much of Southern Baptist life and American life was on the wrong side,” he said.
Land said he was grateful for the role the commission played in the SBC’s 1995 resolution on racial reconciliation, which was, he admitted, “a step in a long journey.”
“A convention that was born in slavery and one that endorsed, by and large, segregation could come to the place where God could change our hearts and be the most ethnically diverse denomination in the country and now has elected our first African-American president is a trophy of God’s grace and monument to the fact that God does change hearts,” he said.
Land went on to say: “We haven’t arrived. That is just another step in the process.” He said the SBC’s goal should be to have a convention that reflects the demographic makeup of the U.S.
Earlier in the year Land’s commitment to racial reconciliation was seriously questioned by a number of African-American leaders and others after he suggested, among other things, that President Obama’s comments following the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin were politically motivated.
Land later acknowledged his remarks were “racially insensitive and hurtful,” noting, “I have been committed to the cause of racial reconciliation my entire ministry.”
The commission is working with African-American Southern Baptists in conjunction with the SBC’s Historical Library and Archives in planning a series of consultations beginning next February designed to advance the cause of racial reconciliation in the SBC. A prayer event focusing on racial reconciliation is scheduled by the ERLC for early summer 2013.
Threat from pornography
The ERLC president went on to talk about the damage pornography is causing to families, suggesting Satan had seized upon perversions of God’s plan for human sexuality as an effective tool to destroy individuals.
“We cannot afford to not talk about this in our churches,” Land insisted. “Pornography is as lethal a threat to the family and as lethal a threat to the country as anything we face.”
The average age of a boy’s first exposure to pornography in the U.S. is 11, Land said, adding the ERLC is committed to continuing the fight against this scourge.
The ERLC executive told trustees the commission was looking forward to resources being published by the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) that focus on pornography. Land said the resources were being built on a foundation provided by extensive research on the pornography issue done by Jay Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall, in Lakeland, Fla.
Land noted that Dennis had met with him about the issue and he suggested WMU might be interested in publishing the material. Land said WMU was anticipating the release of the first resource focusing on building a “movement of men committing to living porn free with the support of women praying for them and their families.”
WMU plans to roll out the complete campaign at the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston in June 2013. The WMU’s publishing arm, New Hope Publishers, is producing the resources.
Religious Liberty Awards
ERLC trustees awarded two men the John Leland Religious Liberty Award for 2012 – Youcef Nadarkhani and Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor who was imprisoned for more than 1,000 days for refusing to renounce his faith in Christ, is a hero for religious freedom, Land said. The Iranian’s death sentence for apostasy was met by an international outcry that led to his release. Nadarkhani was freed Sept. 8.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who serves as archbishop of New York, was also honored with the religious liberty award.
Land recognized Dolan for his role in pushing back against the Obama administration’s mandate that requires religious institutions to provide health insurance coverage that “violates their deeply held religious or moral convictions on contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs and devices.”
“While we may disagree with Roman Catholics on the issue of contraceptives, we are 100 percent in agreement with them that the government has no right to coerce them to subsidize and pay for that which they find unconscionable,” Land said.
Distinguished Service Award
Trustees also announced Tony Perkins as the recipient of the 2012 Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award.
Land emphasized Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is a “longtime defender of faith, family and freedom,” noting Perkins is “standing in the gap to call our nation back to righteousness.”
“Tony’s courageous and eloquent stands in defense of traditional, Judeo-Christian values have been a tremendous resource in the culture war,” he added.
In other business, trustees:
– elected Richard Piles, pastor of First Baptist Church of Camden, Ark., as chairman of the ERLC’s board of trustees. Stephen Long, Church Planter Catalyst with the Northwest Baptist Association in Toledo, Ohio, was selected as vice chairman. Lynn Fruechting, a pediatrician in Newton, Kan., was elected secretary of the board.
– tapped ERLC trustee Barry Creamer, vice president of academic affairs and professor of humanities at Criswell College in Dallas; Trey Dimsdale, research associate at the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement; and Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Seminary, as fellows of the ERLC’s Research Institute.
– approved a $3.259 million budget for the ERLC’s 2012-2013 fiscal year, up 4.87 percent from the previous year’s budget. The ERLC receives 1.65 percent of Cooperative Program funds received nationally.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dwayne Hastings is a vice president with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)