HOUSTON – It was a changing of the guard, so to speak, during the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s (ERLC) annual report to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting in Houston.
And judging from their response, it appeared messengers were pleased with where the convention’s moral concerns entity had been and the direction it was going.
Photo by Adam Covington
Former Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land delivered his final report to messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 11. Land urged Southern Baptist churches not to be “thermometers” but to be “thermostats” that dictate the “temperature” in society. He also endorsed the anti-pornography “Join One Million Men” campaign.
Russell Moore assumed the reins of the ERLC June 1 from Richard Land, who is retiring this year after 25 years of service to Southern Baptists as ERLC president. Moore was dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., before coming to the ERLC.
In his final report to the SBC June 11, Land said if America perishes it will be because of “self-inflicted wounds,” suggesting America faces a “far greater peril” from its own immorality than it ever has from its geopolitical enemies.
“For a quarter of a century now we have rejoiced together with tears of joy and in seasons of spiritual victory. We have consoled each other with tears of sorrow in times of spiritual setback as together we have endeavored to be God’s watchmen on the wall warning Americans that the greatest dangers to our beloved country are within the walls, not outside the walls,” said Land, who was named president emeritus of the ERLC.
“Together we have attempted to champion Christ, confront our culture, defend the good and oppose the evil,” Land said, adding that society’s problems are “God-sized.”
Moore expressed deep appreciation for Land’s contribution to Southern Baptist life.
“When the history of this era of Baptist Christianity is written, there will be so many things to commend Richard Land and his revolutionary leadership, but there is nothing greater than this in my opinion: no one stood more courageously toe-to-toe with the spirit of the abortion culture, with the spirit of death, than Richard Land,” Moore said.
“No one did more to lead Southern Baptists out of the wilderness of the spirit of death and back to the biblical truth that Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, born and unborn,” Moore said.
In turning his attention to his vision for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Moore said the entity is not a political action committee.
“We are instead fiercely independent, prophetically near, and we exist to equip free churches in a free state to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” adding, “We’re about the gospel of Jesus Christ and the mission of His Kingdom.”
Photo by Adam Covington
New Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore described his view of the entity to messengers at the SBC’s Annual Meeting: “We are not a political action committee.” The ERLC, he said, is “fiercely independent.” “We are about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Moore said the Bible Belt culture of nominal Christianity is withering.
“Let’s not seek to resuscitate it. Let’s work instead for something new, and something old: the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven, gathered in churches of transformed people, reconciled to one another, on mission with one another, holding that old, old gospel that changed us in the first place,” Moore said.
Under his leadership the ERLC will “push back against the fallenness and injustice around us,” Moore said.
“We live in a world where too many children are disposed of as medical waste, and where too many languish in orphanages and foster care systems; where too many children are living in the wreckage of the divorce culture, robbing them of mother and father and home,” Moore said, “where too many are trafficked and molested; and where too many are placed in shallow graves as a result of famine or AIDS or malaria or genocide.”
Moore said although great progress has been made in the SBC, a denomination that was “founded partly to protect the sin of slaveholding racial supremacists,” it is critically important for the ERLC to continue leading in the area of racial reconciliation.
“We must work toward racial justice in the public arena and in our denomination consistently and persistently, and even more importantly, we must work for churches that aren’t divided up by skin color or by social class but are united and on mission together, by the blood of Christ and the bond of the Spirit,” Moore said.
He promised to not shrink back in the fight for religious liberty for all.
“We will say everywhere that because Jesus will not allow a government bureaucrat to stand with a sinner at the judgment seat, no government has authority over a free conscience,” Moore said, noting, “The gospel doesn’t need government subsidies or government supervision. The gospel is big enough to fight for itself.”
The ERLC’s new president said the entity will encourage churches to model a healthy marriage culture. “A government bureaucracy did not invent marriage and a government bureaucracy cannot reinvent it either,” he said.
The ERLC sponsored an event during the convention focused on helping churches foster a marriage culture that is distinctly biblical.
In the face of new and challenging ethical and moral questions that will need answers that have not yet been considered or imagined, Moore said this is one reason the ERLC exists.
“We are not here simply to register our outrage and to protest. Satan is undisturbed by all that bluster. Satan isn’t afraid of culture warriors or values voters; Satan is afraid of a crucified Galilean who has a great deal of trouble staying dead for very long,” Moore said, adding that because of that truth, “We can’t fight like the devil to please the Lord.”
“We will stand with conviction, and we’ll contend, as the prophets and apostles did in the public square, against injustice, but we’ll do so with a tone shaped by the gospel, with a convictional kindness that recognizes that our enemies are not persons of flesh and blood,” Moore said. “Our enemies are invisible principalities and powers the Scriptures say are in the air around us. We oppose demons; we don’t demonize opponents.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dwayne Hastings is a vice president at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. See SBC 2013 for more about the annual meeting.)