The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) will maintain the same aim in its work while the search is underway for a new leader, acting president Daniel Patterson said.
Acknowledging it is “a time of change” at the ERLC, Patterson said in written comments June 4, “[T]he primary thing remains the same: Our commission is relentless in our focus on the Great Commission. So whether it’s standing for life, advocating for religious freedom, engaging in courts and Congress or equipping the church, we’ll continue to serve Southern Baptists by speaking from our churches into the public square for the sake of the gospel.
“It’s a privilege to do so with the convictional and Christ-like team we have at the ERLC.”
Patterson’s remarks came after the ERLC’s presidential post became vacant June 1, when Russell Moore’s resignation became effective. Moore, who served eight years as president, announced his departure May 18 to become public theologian for Christianity Today and lead the evangelical magazine’s new Public Theology Project. Additionally, Immanuel Church in Nashville announced June 1 that Moore would become a minister in residence with the non-denominational congregation.
David Prince, chairman of the ERLC’s trustees, echoed Patterson’s comments.
The ERLC’s record during the last eight years “speaks for itself,” Prince said in a written statement. “Much of that was due to the leadership of Russell Moore, but, as our trustees recently discussed, it is also a credit to the talented staff serving Southern Baptists at the commission.
“I have no doubt, during this interim period under Dr. Patterson, the ERLC will continue to equip the church, apply the moral demands of the gospel to issues in the public square and promote religious liberty and human dignity in ways that Baptists have come to expect.”
Prince, pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., said, “As trustees, we have a significant task in front of us to find the next leader of the ERLC who can continue this track record of excellence, but I am confident the Lord is already moving to identify that person for us in the months ahead.”
A presidential search committee from the ERLC trustees has not been named, but recent efforts to find Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity leaders have succeeded within a year.
The ERLC trustees elected Moore as president in March 2013, nearly eight months after Richard Land announced his retirement to complete 25 years in the post. A review provided to Baptist Press of transitions at six SBC entities since 2018 showed those searches for and elections of new presidents required from 8 months to a year.
A review of the ERLC’s ministry during Moore’s presidency demonstrated a focus on applying the gospel of Jesus, including on contentious issues in the culture. That concentration was displayed in multiple ways, such as the themes of its national conferences – including “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage” in 2014 and “The Cross-shaped Family” in 2018, its The Gospel for Life book series and in spoken and written messages from Moore and others.
Moore made the entity’s gospel focus clear at his presidential inauguration in 2013.
The mission of the ERLC, as well as God’s people, “is not simply to speak of the ethical norms that the scripture has given to us,” Moore said. “It is to speak primarily with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In two letters released within the last week – one addressed to ERLC trustees’ executive committee in 2020 and one sent to SBC President J.D. Greear only days ago – Moore outlined the pushback he said he faced from some SBC leaders in his attempts to address racial justice and sexual abuse in the SBC.
During the last 8 years, the ERLC expanded its reach to young pastors and church members, women and ethnic minorities while seeking to guide Southern Baptists to think in a gospel-focused manner and advocating for biblically based policies regarding such issues as abortion, freedom of religion and conscience, sexuality and marriage, racial reconciliation, parenting, adoption and immigration.
Included in the ERLC’s work and accomplishments the last eight years were:
- A national conference annually from 2014 to 2019 that was attended by as many as 1,650 people and addressed topics including homosexuality and marriage at the height of the same-sex marriage debate, politics, parenting and the sexual abuse crisis in the church.
- Advocacy in Congress, the federal executive branch and states for such positions as implementation or protection of pro-life policies and abortion funding bans; defeat of the pro-gay and transgender rights Equality Act; support for international religious freedom; reform of the criminal justice system; defunding of Planned Parenthood; defense of faith-based, child-welfare agencies from government discrimination; and a permanent remedy for undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children.
- An Evangelicals for Life conference each January from 2016 to 2021 that was co-hosted with Focus on the Family the first three years and was held in conjunction with the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
- “MLK50: Gospel Reflections From the Mountaintop,” a conference on racial unity attended by about 4,000 people and co-hosted with The Gospel Coalition in Memphis upon the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
- Friend-of-the-court briefs at the Supreme Court and lower courts in defense of such causes as religious free exercise, freedom of conscience, pro-life laws, the ministerial housing allowance and conscientious objections to the abortion/contraception mandate.
- The Caring Well Challenge, an endeavor that began in 2019 in partnership with the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group to confront church sexual abuse and to guide congregations in enhancing their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors.
- The ERLC Academy, an annual event held in either or both Nashville and Washington, D.C., to equip the next generation of leaders to apply the gospel to the moral and ethical issues facing the church.
- The continuation and expansion of the Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC’s ministry to help place ultrasound machines in pro-life pregnancy centers.
- Leadership summits on “The Gospel and Human Sexuality” and “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
- The yearly Leadership Council, consisting of Southern Baptist pastors and other church members whom the ERLC spent time training through regular meetings to apply the gospel to all areas of life.
- Capitol Hill events regarding religious liberty in Southeast Asia and North Korea that accompanied the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
- The Gospel for Life nine-volume book series, a partnership with B&H Publishing Group that addressed such issues as racial reconciliation, same-sex marriage, religious liberty, abortion, adoption, parenting and pornography.
- Publication in 2015 with Alliance Defending Freedom of a legal guide to help protect Southern Baptist churches and other evangelical institutions in the face of the advance of same-sex marriage and the enactment of sexual orientation and gender identity laws.
- Periodic Capitol Conversations panel discussions in Washington, D.C., and Leadership Luncheons interviews in Nashville.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)