There are a lot of Southern Baptists who do not like Russell Moore‘s leadership of the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It looks like court evangelical and Texas pastor Jack Graham is part of the resistance. Here is a taste of Yonat Shimron’s piece at Religion News Service:
Jack Graham believes in the Southern Baptist Convention.
He’s a former president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and once traveled the country drumming up support for the Cooperative Program, the church giving program that funds much of the convention’s missions.
Yet, after three years, Graham’s congregation, Prestonwood Baptist Church, which claims 45,000 members, started to withhold money from the SBC. At issue: Graham’s disagreement with Russell Moore, Southern Baptist ethicist and Never Trumper, who once referred to Donald Trump as “an arrogant huckster.”
Graham, one of the president’s evangelical advisers, felt that Moore’s criticisms of Trump and his evangelical supporters was out of bounds. He didn’t want his church’s dollars to support Moore’s work at the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Prestonwood eventually starting sending money to the SBC again. But it has opted out of funding the ERLC, which Graham thinks has outlived its usefulness.
“The focus of the ERLC is not the focus of the mainstream of the SBC in terms of its approach to politics, to conservative thought and theology,” Graham told RNS in a phone interview this week.
Graham is not alone. About 100 of the denomination’s 46,000 churches said they would withhold funds from the Cooperative Program because of the ERLC back in 2017, according to published reports. Since that time, more churches have threatened to do the same, according to leaders of the SBC’s Executive Committee.
Mike Stone, chair of the Executive Committee, said this week that committee members have heard anecdotal evidence that churches are displeased with the ERLC and withholding money. So the committee voted to launch a new task force to review the ERLC to see if it is fulfilling its “ministry assignment” or if its actions have threatened donations to the cooperative program.
Graham said that the Executive Committee made the right move. He has long believed that Southern Baptists should “address the direction of the ERLC and the disposition of its leader, Russell Moore.”
Read the rest here.
Graham says that Moore is outside the “mainstream of the SBC in terms of its approach to politics, to conservative thought and theology.” Last time I checked, Moore believes in the Baptist Faith and Message, a 2000 doctrinal statement adopted by the SBC in the wake of the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination in the 1980s and 1990s. The Baptist Faith and Message requires Southern Baptist leaders to believe, among other things, in the inerrancy of the Bible and a complementary view of gender roles.
But this is apparently not enough for some Southern Baptists. What does Graham mean when he says that Moore’s politics are outside the mainstream? Is this a reference to the fact that Moore is a vocal critic of Donald Trump? This is significant in the sense that politics is now dividing the largest Protestant denomination in North America, a denomination that has historically championed the separation of church and state.
And what about Graham’s reference to “conservative thought?” Does one have to believe that the Bible and conservative political ideology are compatible in order to hold a leadership position in the Southern Baptist Convention? If Graham represents the mainstream of the Southern Baptist Convention, then I think it is fair to say that the thoughts of Southern Baptists are is no longer captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), but captive to a Trumpian brand of conservative GOP politics. It looks like the SBC is ready for another rupture.
ADDENDUM: February 21, 2020 at 11:23:
A helpful correction from a Twitter follower. I changed the title of this post: