Despite a Washington Post article suggesting Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee President Frank S. Page could ask Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Russell Moore to resign amid ongoing controversy, the two SBC entity leaders reported a collegial meeting March 13 and said they “fully support one another.”
Earlier in the day, amid a social media flurry following the Post’s report, Page told Baptist Press (BP) he planned on “bridge-building” with Moore with no anticipation of requesting a resignation.
The Post reporter who broke news the meeting would occur, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, tweeted in clarification less than two hours after her story was published, “Nothing in my story suggests Moore might be fired. SBC dynamics are more complicated. [Plus] the story is complicated (surprise!)”
The meeting between Page and Moore came less than a month after the Executive Committee (EC) launched a study of churches’ escrowing Cooperative Program (CP) money and two months after Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church announced it would escrow CP funds over “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.” The EC has received reports of similar actions by other churches.
Churches have expressed concern about alleged disrespectfulness by Moore toward evangelical supporters of President Trump and about a friend of the court brief signed by the ERLC in support of a New Jersey Islamic society’s right to build a mosque.
Following their two-hour meeting at the SBC Building in Nashville, Page and Moore said in a joint statement, “We met as colleagues committed to the same priorities of proclaiming the gospel to every man, woman, boy and girl while also addressing biblical and gospel issues on a wide range of topics to a culture that seems to have lost its way – issues ranging from religious liberty and racial reconciliation to Kingdom diversity and the sanctity of human life from the womb to the grave.
“We deepened our friendship and developed mutual understanding on ways we believe will move us forward as a network of churches. We fully support one another and look forward to working together on behalf of Southern Baptists in the years to come. We will collaborate on developing future steps to deepen connections with all Southern Baptists as we work together to advance the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Page and Moore stated.
Prior to the meeting, The Post reported – under a headline that asked “Could Southern Baptist Russell Moore lose his job?” – that a meeting between Page and Moore was to occur March 13. Page declined to discuss specific plans for the meeting with The Post and told Bailey he hoped Moore and his opponents would pursue reconciliation.
Page told Baptist Press he had “requested a private meeting with Dr. Moore” last week and that Bailey apparently became aware of the meeting.
When Bailey called Page on March 12, “I insisted that the meeting with Dr. Moore was a private meeting intended to seek bridge-building strategies,” Page said, acknowledging that “nothing was off the table” in his efforts to facilitate reconciliation within the convention.
“I also informed [Bailey] that I have no authority over Dr. Moore; that is vested in his board of trustees,” Page said, adding his desire for the meeting was “to find bridge-building solutions to an unnecessary divide that has been created across the landscape of our Southern Baptist network of churches.”
Ken Barbic, chairman of the ERLC’s board of trustees, told The Post, “Russell Moore is a gospel-centered, faithful and prophetic voice for Southern Baptists.” Barbic and the board “wholeheartedly support [Moore’s] leadership.”
An EC ad hoc committee has begun work to “study and recommend redemptive solutions to the current reality in Southern Baptist life of churches’ either escrowing or discontinuing Cooperative Program funds, with the report being brought back to the September 2017 Executive Committee meeting,” according to a motion unanimously adopted in February by the EC’s CP Committee.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)