Unless Russell Moore resigns from his post between now and summer, the controversy surrounding the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission will most certainly show up at the convention in Phoenix this June. While there are some who will never be satisfied, I am hopeful that Dr. Moore and those who have been offended can sit down in the same room together and agree to walk together as brothers even if they do not reach a place of agreement on the issues that have caused the current rift. It is my hope that Russell Moore stays in his position, Prestonwood decides to restore funding, and we can put this whole thing behind us. But until then, we’re going to keep discussing it ad-nauseum. It’s what we do.
So what are some ways this might show up at the annual meeting? I’m listing five of them from most-likely to occur to least likely to occur.
- A messenger makes a motion that Russell Moore be fired from his job as President of the ERLC.
I judge this to be very likely. While I still think they are a smallish loud minority, there are people within our convention who want Russell Moore gone. One of them will step to the microphone in Phoenix thinking that he will get Dr. Moore fired once and for all. Of course he won’t really accomplish anything. We have a system whereby we elect trustees to govern our entities. Messengers cannot direct an entity to do anything, and they certainly cannot order the firing of an entity head. That’s why the Conservative Resurgence took so long.
But none of that will keep Pastor Billy Bob from trying. After his motion is ruled out of order, he’ll get mad and complain that the big dogs never listen to the little people. “We don’t have a voice!” some will say. But nothing will change. There’s a way to get an entity head fired, but it takes time. It’s hard. And it should be.
- A messenger will question Dr. Moore about either the amicus brief or his opposition to President Trump during the Q & A time after the ERLC report.
While I also think this is likely to happen, I am placing it second on my list only because of the tongue lashing received by the last messenger who attempted this. No one likes to look like a fool on the floor of the convention. Well, maybe there are a few. No, I’m not mentioning names!
It’s relatively easy to get to a microphone during this time. It’s an opportunity for messengers to have their concerns heard by the entity head and the rest of the convention regardless of whether or not the concern being raised has any validity.
If this happens, look for an answer from Dr. Moore that is equally articulate to the one he gave in St. Louis, but is a kinder, gentler response. That’s been the issue for some people. Dr. Moore’s tone has seemed abrasive and condescending at times.
- The ERLC trustee chairman will make a statement in support of Russell Moore.
We saw this in Baltimore with Southwestern and the situation where Paige Patterson admitted a Muslim to the seminary’s Ph.D. program. Patterson offered an apology, and the trustee chairman spoke in support of Patterson. Perhaps we could see something similar with Russell Moore in Phoenix. Perhaps Dr. Moore will apologize for the way he spoke at times during the presidential campaign and for the offense it caused. Then perhaps the trustee chair, who is a member of Capitol Hill Baptist, will make a statement in support of Moore on behalf of the entire board. I judge this to be somewhat likely.
- We will discuss and vote on a resolution in support of Religious Liberty.
It would probably be wise for the Resolutions Committee to leave this one alone this year. Southern Baptists have already spoken clearly on the subject of religious liberty in previous resolutions. There is no ambiguity regarding where we have stood in the past.
Any discussion concerning a religious liberty resolution this year in Phoenix would not be about the merits of the resolution itself. The discussion would inevitably be colored by the events that have taken place over the last year with the ERLC. The resolutions time is not the best time to attempt to solve this issue.
- Steve Gaines will be challenged for the presidency of the SBC.
I don’t see this one happening. Nor do I have any reason to think that it should happen. SBC presidents are only elected for a one year term. But typically, their re-election for a second term is a mere formality. Without this brouhaha, I can’t imagine any scenario in which someone might challenge Gaines for the presidency this June.
I am hopeful that Steve Gaines will rise to the occasion here and lead our convention forward. On Twitter the other day he hinted that he would be doing this, but that it would not be done in public. Maybe Steve Gaines can get Jack Graham and Russell Moore sitting together in the same room. Maybe he can play the role of mediator in all of this and lead our convention in unity. I expect that he will give it his best shot.
But if for some reason he decides to take sides publicly, you can bet it will almost assure us of another presidential showdown this summer.
While these kinds of situations can frustrate us at times, perhaps it has turned what might have otherwise been a pretty uneventful SBC into a must-attend event. I’m looking forward to Phoenix, but none of the above possible scenarios come anywhere close to my top 5 reasons for being excited.