The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee task force charged with studying and reviewing the effectiveness of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) released their findings yesterday, damning the embattled organization with faint praise for a bit of support (or at least tolerance) engendered to them by a handful of churches, but overall noting them to be “a source of significant distraction from the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists.”
The full report can be accessed here and all the appendices here. In the report, the committee describes how the ERLC has been by and large obstreperous and uncooperative throughout the review and investigation.
Commissioned early last year, the task force sought to assess “whether the actions of the [ERLC] and its leadership are affecting Cooperative Program giving or the further advancement of the Cooperative Program” by seeking to discover to what degree the ERLC’s positions and President Russell Moore’s statements and actions have been the cause of Churches withholding their funding, which has been in decline. (In SBC Churches, they all give a portion of tithes and offerings so that they can be pooled together in a way that maximizes their impact, with some doing to their missions board, some funding ERLC, some helping fund post-secondary education, etc.)
Mike Stone, chairman of the task force and former Executive Committee chairman explained that the report was not “based on anecdotes or third-hand reports. It is based, almost exclusively, on documented facts received from the chief executive officers of various state conventions.” He further writes:
The task force sought to find objective verifiable facts…and based on the statistical information we received, the direction of the ERLC is a significant source of division and creates a very real challenge to reversing CP decline.
This sentiment is echoed by leader of a large state convention who explains that “The ERLC has been a stumbling block not worth the mission dollar investment.”
The task force sent out a host of questionnaires to all of the SBC’s state conventions, and while a minority of them responded, those that did represent 60% of the SBC’s 47,000 churches that gave 74% of Cooperative funds.
While some of the state executives who responded “reported little to no negative effect from the ministry of the ERLC,” the report notes that “No state convention reported data that any church had verifiably increased Cooperative Program support because of an appreciation for the ERLC.”
In contrast, several state executives reported many instances of churches either reducing their giving or flat out refusing to give any funds at all, along with withdrawing from the state and/or national conventions on account or the ERLC, citing the actions and directions of the ERLC and Russell Moore as a reason for doing so. They write:
One state convention reported that more than 250 churches are considering withholding or negatively designating funds or have already done so. This number represents a significant percentage of the churches currently in friendly cooperation with that state convention.
Some churches are considering a complete withdrawal from the SBC because of the belief that the national convention is moving in a liberal direction. The ERLC is listed as one of those concerns. The state convention reported that serious concerns about the ERLC exist with 10 of the top 30
CP-giving churches, potentially impacting a total of $2,448,000 from those 10 churches alone.
Another state convention verified that $1,147,000 has been withheld due to the ERLC. Based on communications with other churches considering the same approach, the state executive estimated that $1,500,000 of Cooperative Program giving is in jeopardy in the state.
As far as what exactly the ERLC and Russell Moore has done that has the people so vexed, they cite these concerns:
- The open opposition of a candidate for president of the United States
- The accusation of receiving funding from an organization with ties to George Soros
- Amicus brief in support of a New Jersey mosque
- That the ERLC is not available or responsive
- ERLC stance on immigration
- Silence on certain issues including timely public support for the religious liberty of California churches during the COVID-19 pandemic
- The appearance by a recently departed senior staffer on an online panel sponsored by the Joe Biden campaign, contributing to perceptions of a leftward political drift.
- Dr. Moore’s stated support of attending homosexual wedding showers and receptions
- Disrespectful and condescending responses to the questions of messengers. Repeatedly noted was the response given to Pastor John Wofford of Armorel Baptist Church at the 2016 annual meeting.
- That conservative political figures are criticized more frequently and more harshly than moderate to liberal figures
These of course are all true and we have covered them at length here.
The report also dedicates a large portion to the amicus brief in McRaney v North American Mission Board – how it was botched, was unacceptably handled, was the source of friction between the ERLC and the task force, and was cited by many pastors as a cagey, stupid thing that was done that contributed to the breakdown of confidence and trust in the ERLC.
Summarizing their findings, the task force writes:
…that the current perception of the leadership and direction of the ERLC by many Southern Baptists is a substantial impediment to the growth of the Cooperative Program. Without quick and significant changes in that perception, the findings suggest the potential for a measurable decline in the near future and beyond.
They conclude with a series of recommendations, which amount to “tell Moore to stop popping off about his never-Trumpism or publicly opposing political candidates for office. Focus your message on where the SBC and BF&M2K has already spoken.
Stop lying, stop being so secretive, inaccessible, and hard to reach. Come up with a plan to understand how you’re contributing to disunity within the ranks and what steps you can take to mitigate that, and let us vet your amicus briefs so that you don’t embarrass us again and show you don’t know what you’re doing.