I wasn’t raised Southern Baptist, but I became one when I was seventeen years old. I pastored my first Southern Baptist Church when I was twenty, and have since had the privilege of pastoring in the denomination for thirteen years. I also have the honor of serving on both the Southern Baptists of Texas Executive Board (SBTC), as well as the Southern Baptists Executive Committee. I am a deeply invested Southern Baptist, and deliberately so. I relate to the man in the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, and feel the Cooperative Program is like a treasure buried in a field we call the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I joyfully sold the traditions of my denominational upbringing to buy the field so I could own the treasure. It’s a brilliant treasure that has been used to see countless people come to know Christ.
It is for this reason I entreat those who are considering altering their CP giving over their ERLC concerns. It is my conviction that such a move would not merely devalue the treasure, but destroy the field.
A diagnosis is first in order. Many of the articles I’ve read on the subject acknowledge the symptoms of the division, but few consider the malady, which is a philosophical difference of opinion over the purpose of the ERLC. That is, whether the ERLC echoes the SBC’s ethics, or helps the SBC fashion its ethics.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), for example, emphasizes several SBC individual’s concerns over Moore’s representation of them. William F. Harrell’s comment is perhaps the clearest on how several understand the ERLC’s purpose, in which he says, “the ERLC should continue under Mr. Moore’s leadership only if ‘he will start doing what the ERLC was meant to do, and that’s simply represent the Southern Baptist people in Washington.’” In an NPR article Harrell is quoted saying, “Since Dr. Moore has taken over, there are a lot of things that are being said on various issues that the Southern Baptist people at large don’t agree with.”
This summarizes how several understand the ERLC’s purpose. It isn’t to set the ethical tone for the SBC, so much as it is to parrot what the SBC by and large asserts, in this case the support of Donald J. Trump. This is an important distinction, because it demarcates how the entire ERLC operates.
Insofar as his commentary shows, Moore would agree that his job is to represent the SBC, but he also believes it is to help the SBC think ethically through complex issues, in this case a Southern Baptist’s support for Trump. Moore has clarified his intention was not to disrespect anyone who voted for Trump, but to exposit the ethics of the dilemma many faced. “There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on biblical convictions, and voted their conscience … If [criticism of anyone who voted for Trump is] what you heard me say,” Moore says, “that was not at all my intention, and I apologize.”
Nonetheless, Moore has incensed several SBC members, who are now threatening to withhold or designate their CP funding unless something changes. This, however, would be a nuclear option to the SBC, and this brings up the impetus for this particular article: Withholding or designating CP funds away from the ERLC volcanically undermines the spirit and functionality of the Convention.
It reburies the treasure, and lights a match to the field.
For one, this would be a catastrophic hit to some state conventions, like the one in Texas on which I serve as an executive board member. Under our governing documents, any designated gift to the CP goes into a reserve fund, which cannot be used for operations. Joe Davis, the SBTC’s CFO, outlines the logistics in saying, “when funds intended to be CP are designated, they are no longer CP funds, and can therefore no longer fund the budget of operations. Cooperative Program funds are necessarily undesignated. So, under strict terminology there is no such thing as ‘designated’ CP funds”. Thus, the SBTC’s budget of operations would plummet, and I imagine the same might be true for other state conventions.
State Conventions play a key role in our national Convention, and designating CP funding would be like breaking our Convention’s kneecaps.
Cutting CP funding also sets a dangerous precedent for churches who might want to “designate” their gifts away from other SBC agencies, like the IMB or NAMB. This is worse than breaking our own kneecaps; we’d be cutting off our own legs.
Rather than withholding or designating CP funding, Southern Baptists should contact the trustees and boards of the respective entity to express concerns and enact changes. Moreover, Southern Baptists who are opposed to the ERLC because of Russell Moore should consider employing the same cooperative spirit they espoused for the election of Trump. The nature of Moore’s latest articles and tweets shows his desire to work alongside the SBC, and it would behoove us to take advantage of that.
The field is too good, and the treasure too precious to cast before the swine of division.