An extended statement by Russell Moore and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) executive committee, “Seeking Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention,” has drawn praise from Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Steve Gaines and former SBC President Jack Graham among others.
Meanwhile, Christian worldview analyst John Stonestreet said in a radio interview that controversy surrounding Moore, the ERLC’s president, gives Southern Baptists an opportunity to “model what it looks like to have deeply held differences … on political issues” yet “keep the main things the main things and move forward in a way that improves the reputation of the gospel.”
The March 20 statement by Moore and the six-member ERLC executive committee acknowledged criticisms of Moore surrounding the 2016 presidential election. Moore apologized in his portion of the statement “for failing to distinguish” in some instances between supporters of Donald Trump who appeared to compromise core Christian principles and those who did not.
The ERLC executive committee, drawn from among the commission’s 34 trustees, said Moore “has taken appropriate measures to address” criticism and will continue to lead the ERLC “with the confidence of our support.” See related article here.
In response to the statement, Gaines told Baptist Press (BP) the SBC should put division over the ERLC “behind us” and more forward in support of the Cooperative Program (CP), Southern Baptists’ unified method of funding missions and ministries in North America and across the globe.
“I am grateful for the statement from Dr. Russell Moore and the ERLC executive committee,” Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, said in written comments. “They have been assigned with a very difficult task. Indeed it is impossible to please everyone regarding issues of conviction and conscience. I know Dr. Moore to be a very godly servant of Jesus Christ. He has preached at Bellevue Baptist Church and he did a wonderful job.
“Regarding his work at the ERLC, I have agreed with most of his statements, especially those regarding the sanctity of human life, the sacredness of heterosexual, monogamous marriage and religious liberty,” Gaines said. “However, I have disagreed with some of the statements he made during the election and I especially disagreed with the tone with which he made some of those statements. I have discussed all of this privately with him. He has genuinely apologized for his mistakes and that is good enough for me.
“I believe all of us who are recipients of grace and forgiveness should grant him the same forgiveness that we desire from the Lord. It is high time that we put all of this behind us. None of these matters will prevent Bellevue Baptist Church from continuing our support of the Cooperative Program, the ERLC and Dr. Moore. It is time to move ahead and work together to double our efforts to take the gospel to our nation and the nations,” Gaines said.
Shortly after the ERLC’s statement was released, Graham tweeted, “This is a gracious and unifying statement from [Moore].”
Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church, where Graham is pastor, announced in February it would escrow CP funds over “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.” Graham had complained previously of alleged “disrespectfulness” by Moore toward evangelical supporters of Trump.
Other churches have taken or are considering similar action over concerns related to multiple SBC entities, according to reports received by the SBC Executive Committee (EC).
EC President Frank S. Page told BP following release of the ERLC’s statement, “I stand ready to assist Dr. Moore in any possible way, and I’m praying for him as he connects with our convention’s various constituencies. I deeply appreciate his intentionality in building relationships within a convention which is truly diverse in many ways. I certainly do and will pray for his receptivity, as he holds such a prophetic role in our convention.”
In related news, Stonestreet analyzed the controversy surrounding Moore in a March 17 interview on WORLD Radio’s The World and Everything In It.
Stonestreet, president of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, said the concern of some Southern Baptists was that Moore at times failed to distinguish “between those who were cheerleaders for Donald Trump and those who were essentially voting against Hillary [Clinton] because they didn’t see any other good way forward.”
Moore “is responsible to reflect the opinions of Southern Baptists in the political and policy space,” Stonestreet said, acknowledging the difficulty of that task because “Trump has divided religious conservatives in a pretty powerful way.”
Moving forward, Stonestreet said, Southern Baptists can continue to hold different opinions on “this particular crazy election year” while maintaining common worldview principles.
“The reputation of the gospel” is not going to be harmed simply because Christians disagree on some matters, Stonestreet said. “But how we handle those disagreements … really matters.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)