Big news yesterday from the church of an ex-SBC president. Jack Graham said that Prestonwood Baptist has decided to “to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support Southern Baptist cooperative missions and ministries while the congregation discusses concerns about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention,” according to Will Hall at the Baptist Message, the “news journal” of Louisiana Baptists.
While each church has the right to determine how to support the cooperative efforts of the SBC, this particular decision takes on a more public light given Graham’s previous position as SBC President, the significance of the sum of money, and the decision of Prestonwood leadership to speak with the Baptist Message about their decision.
According to Hall’s article, Mike Buster, executive pastor of the church, said the decision stems from “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.” Hall goes on to write, “Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has created tensions among Southern Baptists by signing a friend of the court brief in support of the construction of a mosque, and, for making strident insults against evangelical supporters of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election process.” It is not clear, though, from Hall’s article if these are specific concerns stated by Prestonwood representatives or interjections by Hall himself.
Nonetheless, Hall’s words raise the specter that the church’s decision is rooted in positions taken by Dr. Moore on the issues of religious liberty and political candidates. To be fair to both sides, Moore did state some of his positions in a calloused manner, a reality for which he later apologized.
I want to return to the statement: “Various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.” In light of Hall’s article, significant positions center especially on the ERLC’s filing of the amicus brief and Moore’s opposition to Trump as president.
My question in response to this is: When did the beliefs and values of many in the SBC change?
I would like to point to three resolutions adopted by the messengers of the SBC since the mid-1990s. Though non-binding, resolutions do reflect the opinions held by messengers of Southern Baptist Churches present at the conventions. First, messengers adopted a resolution on Religious Liberty in 1995 at the Atlanta, GA, convention. The resolution states:
Therefore, be it RESOLVED, By the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, June 20-22, 1995, that the Southern Baptist Convention express its support for all peoples suffering denial of religious liberty, but especially for those who are of the household of faith, and even more particularly for those who share Baptist convictions and commitments…
Taking a Galatians 6 angle of doing good to all people and especially to those of the household of faith, the resolution states that we as the SBC support religious liberty for all people. Yes, our main focus should be upon our Christian brothers and sisters, but not to the denial of liberty for others. If you read the resolution, this attitude is rooted in the desire to help Christians in persecuted countries worship and evangelize freely. In other words, the messengers understood a connection between freedom for all religions and our liberty as Christians to evangelize the nations.
Another resolution, passed at the 2011 convention in Phoenix, AZ, expresses a similar idea. The desire within the resolution is to want people in Islamic countries to have the freedom to convert away from Islam. Yet, with this in mind, the first five resolveds state:
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011, restate our long-standing view that religious liberty is an inalienable human right, rooted in the image of God and possessed by all human beings; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we affirm that this freedom entails the civil liberty to convert to another religion or to no religion, to seek to persuade others of the claims of one’s religion, and to worship without harassment or impediment from the state; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we oppose the imposition of any system of jurisprudence by which people of different faiths do not enjoy the same legal rights; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we deny that any government should use any coercive measure—including zoning laws or permits—to restrict religious speech or worship, based on the theological content of that speech or worship; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call on the United States government to maintain complete religious liberty for all Americans, as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution; and be it further…
In short, the messengers to the SBC spoke their view that people of different faiths than Christianity deserve the same rights of freedom as Christianity, and the government should not use coercive measures against such freedoms.
So, if the resolutions of 1995 and 2011 speak an opinion of the SBC, it would seem that the view presented by Hall and Prestonwood representatives is out of step with the beliefs and values of many in the SBC. Unless, that is, they are contending that our beliefs and values on religious liberty have changed over the past six years.
As to Moore’s positions against Trump, I point to a resolution adopted at the 1998 convention in Salt Lake City, UT. The “Resolution on the Moral Character of Public Officials” concludes:
“Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”
In the midst of the moral scandals of the Clinton administration, we Southern Baptists spoke firmly on our belief that character matters in politics. We did not expect our politicians to be perfect, but we urged one another and our fellow citizens to vote for men and women of “consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”
With the election of President Trump, some SBC leaders came out in strong support of the candidate despite him not meeting these qualifications. Dr. Moore was not one of these. Yet, despite the voice of the SBC, historically, speaking to high moral standards for politicians, Hall’s article states that it is Moore who was out of step with the view of many Southern Baptists. If so, what changed?
Again, Dr. Graham can lead his church how he sees fit and Prestonwood is free to decide how to contribute to the Cooperative Program. Yet the reasons given for their decision seem spurious. We Southern Baptists have consistently spoken in favor of religious liberty for all people, not just Christians. We have also spoken of the need for high moral character in political leadership, and especially in the nation’s highest office.
Why is it that in 2016-17, we are being led to believe by Baptist news journals, former SBC presidents, and other SBC leaders that stances by men like Russell Moore on such topics are now out of step with many Southern Baptists? If that is true, then what changed?