The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention is creating a task force to take a hard look at the denomination's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
According to Baptist Press, there's growing concern that Southern Baptist churches are withholding their money from the Convention because they are upset with the ERLC. In other words, it is "a budget issue" and "not a governance issue," in the words of Mike Stone, who will chair the task force.
"The motion specifically noted that concerns 'have been expressed both publicly and privately to various members of the Executive Committee and other Southern Baptists regarding how the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's actions in relation to its ministry statements are affecting the Convention and its relationships with local churches, local associations, and state conventions.'" (Baptist Press)
In an interview with OneNewsNow, Stone confirms "we have heard increased reports of churches that are not comfortable supporting the work of the Cooperative Program because they're concerned over various entities within the Convention – and ERLC is one that is commonly mentioned."
Although not spelled out in the motion creating the task force, ERLC president Russell Moore and others around him have been drifting left and in the last four years very vocally "anti-Trump."
According to SBC pastor Alex McFarland that position is at odds with the vast majority of Southern Baptists.
"The ERLC, [as indicated by its actions] over the last seven or eight years, does not represent their views," he describes. "They believe that statements made by Russell Moore are not what they believe and frankly have been concerning, if not embarrassing."
Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist-Dallas, confirms the concerns being voiced. "There are some agencies like the ERLC that we no longer fund, and we're putting money into the things that we feel good about," he states. "We're not mad at anybody … but we feel like we have a responsibility to be good stewards of the resources God has given us."
The Executive Committee found that as many as 75 churches have been withholding part or all of their Cooperative Program funds – used to pay for missions, evangelism, and other shared SBC tasks (14 churches were confirmed). The shortfall amounts to millions of dollars. All this comes amid mounting tension that the denomination is leaving its conservative moorings – to which McFarland advises: "I do think the Southern Baptist [Convention] is at a very crucial juncture that they're going to have to decide their theological DNA."
Stone emphasizes that the task force has limited authority. "This is not about defunding the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission," he clarifies. "This task force is not delving into the issues of the governance of the commission, but rather looking into issues about the relationship of the ERLC to the churches."
The ERLC, like most Southern Baptist entities, is governed by its own board of directors who alone have the power to demand changes.
A group of concerned pastors and lay people have started the Conservative Baptist Network of Southern Baptists in an effort to push the denomination back to orthodoxy. It had several thousand churches join in the first two days. Other conservatives within the denomination say they are planning to "show up and take control" of the SBC at the Annual Meeting in Orlando in early June.
2/21/2020 - Comments from Mike Stone and Robert Jeffress added.
2/24/2020 - Link and clarification added to 4th-from-last paragraph.