From the ERLC news office
Compiled by B&R staff
NASHVILLE — Tennessee’s governor and legislature have approved a grant that will enable the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission to place seven ultrasound machines at pregnancy resource centers in the state.
Gov. Bill Lee signed into law May 17 a $42.6 billion budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year that includes $182,900 for the Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC’s ministry to help provide ultrasound technology to pro-life pregnancy centers.
In addition, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board provided its first ultrasound machine in April to Birth Choice in Trenton with funds from the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the TBMB, said the TBMB’s goal is to “see an ultrasound machine placed in every crisis pregnancy center supported by local Baptist churches across our state.” [Read more…]
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Messengers from across the Southern Baptist Convention will travel to Music City in June (COVID-permitting) for their annual meeting to be held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
The last time the SBC annual meeting was held in Nashville in 2005 , it drew 11,641 messengers. That number likely will go unchallenged in 2021, primarily because a large number of people probably will be hesitant to travel due to uncertainties about COVID-19.
Still, with a large number of Southern Baptists who live within a six-hour drive to Nashville, attendance could be better than expected. A number of Tennessee Baptists will be involved as volunteers at the annual meeting. We will have information in an upcoming issue about Crossover Nashville which takes place on June 13. So, with the SBC looming close, my thoughts have been more on the SBC than normal. [Read more…]
By George Schroeder & Scott Barkley
NASHVILLE — A task force studying the effectiveness of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission issued its report today (Feb. 1), acknowledging both support within the Southern Baptist Convention for the entity and that some see it as “a source of significant distraction from the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists.”
Commissioned in February 2020 by the SBC Executive Committee, the task force was charged with reviewing the activities of the ERLC – which is tasked with helping churches understand the moral demands of the Gospel and public policy, as well as promoting religious liberty on behalf of Southern Baptists – and to “assess whether the actions of the (ERLC) and its leadership are affecting Cooperative Program giving or the further advancement of the Cooperative Program.”
The ERLC has at times been a flashpoint of controversy during the tenure of president Russell Moore, for reasons including Moore’s position in opposition to Donald Trump’s candidacy during the 2016 election and during Trump’s subsequent presidency.
More recently, the ERLC came under fire for submitting an inaccurate amicus brief in a federal lawsuit filed in August 2020 in support of the North American Mission Board. The brief wrongly described the SBC as a hierarchy. In its report, the task force called the brief, as well as the ERLC’s response and subsequent handling of the brief, “unacceptable.”
The report asserted that “the current perception of the leadership and direction of the ERLC by many Southern Baptists is a substantial impediment to the growth of the Cooperative Program,” with “potential for a measurable decline in the near future and beyond” if there are not “quick and significant changes in that perception.” [Read more…]
NOTE: The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which recently joined an amicus brief in a lawsuit involving the North American Mission Board, has issued an apology and explanation for an inaccurate description of Baptist polity and church autonomy.
By ERLC staff
NASHVILLE — Several weeks ago, the ERLC was presented with an invitation to join a brief written by lawyers at the Thomas More Society, in support of one of our SBC entities. We decided to join the brief because of the importance of the underlying religious liberty issues at stake.
But there’s no avoiding the fact that there were problems with language in the brief, specifically, language and statements that inaccurately describe Baptist polity and church autonomy and that are inconsistent with the positions the ERLC has repeatedly taken. We wish, instead of joining Thomas More Society’s brief, that we had written our own. We fully recognize this brief created concern and unnecessary confusion. Before we say anything else, let us say — we apologize.
Last week, we issued a statement to Baptist Press, focused on the principal point of the autonomy of local churches. But over the last week we’ve asked ourselves how else we can serve Southern Baptists to the best of our ability. One thing that may be helpful is simply more information, particularly on the amicus brief itself and the legal doctrine at the heart of it. We’re happy to provide that information.
The Autonomy of the Local Church
There are few issues nearer the center of what it means to be Southern Baptist than the autonomy of the local church. As Russell Moore has noted, “Some churches and denominations have decisions made at the top – by bishops or other leaders – and these decisions filter down to the churches. Our decisions go the other way. We think every church – no matter where or what its size – is governed by Jesus through His Word and by His gifts and is free from dictation by any other church or by some religious bureaucracy.” In fact, Moore argues, the issue of autonomy is the very reason “the SBC was able to turn around from its direction toward theological liberalism in the 1970s and 1980s toward orthodox, evangelical conviction. The people had the final say.”
This Baptist distinctive is something we point out regularly. For example, in the most recent brief we filed against the Governor of New York concerning religious liberty violations, the Southern Baptist Convention is described as “comprised of more than 46,000 autonomous churches and nearly 16 million members.” In a recent legal comment letter to the Internal Revenue Service, we noted that Southern Baptists “are congregationally governed. The key feature of congregational governance is the autonomy of the local church or church-associated organization.”
But autonomy is not only a Baptist theological distinctive but also an important legal category, commonly referred to as the ecclesial abstention doctrine or “the doctrine of church autonomy.” This legal doctrine of church autonomy means that the inner workings of local churches are free, or autonomous, from interference by the state. We advanced this argument in another amicus brief we filed in Whole Woman’s Health v. Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops alongside the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Christian Life Commission of the BGCT. In that brief, we argued that the First Amendment rights held by churches “not only includes autonomy in their selection of religious leaders, but also ‘the freedom to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.’”
To the brief in question, the argument the brief was seeking to establish was not one about “hierarchy” or “umbrella organizations” (and, again, should not have used that language) but rather about the inherently religious character of Southern Baptist cooperative ministry. All Southern Baptist churches are autonomous, self-determining and subject only to the lordship of Christ. At the same time, we freely cooperate with each other for the sake of the Gospel, and any associations, entities or conventions are, as the Baptist Faith and Message puts it, “voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner.” But the fact that they are organized by and for our churches also means these bodies are inherently religious, and therefore protected by the First Amendment and fully autonomous from interference by the state.
The ERLC, in service to the SBC, has always doggedly opposed state interference with the internal affairs of local churches and religious organizations. This is why we felt it was important to engage in this case in the first place. This does not dismiss concerns about the inaccurate language in the brief, but it does explain our underlying conviction, namely, the conviction that courts have no business interfering with the work of the church, whether deacon meetings or church discipline or even our cooperative Gospel work together as Southern Baptists. B&R
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — A state convention leader has publicly challenged the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for stating that there is a denominational hierarchy in an amicus brief filed by the SBC entity in August.
“There is absolutely no denominational hierarchy when it comes to the Southern Baptist Convention,” Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board in a column released Dec. 2 on the Baptist and Reflector website.
Davis also wrote a letter to Russell Moore, president of the ERLC. Referring to an amicus brief, written on behalf of the Thomas More Society and the ERLC, Davis wrote that he “was deeply distressed that our Southern Baptist polity, our historical practice and our SBC constitutionally-protected relationships were so blatantly misstated and misrepresented.”
ERLC filed the amicus brief on behalf of the North American Mission Board which is involved in a lawsuit with Will McRaney, former executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. [Read more…]
By Randy C. Davis
President and executive director, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board
Seldom does my Clarity column address matters involving SBC or Tennessee Baptist Convention entities or institutions, and never in a negative manner. However, this column is birthed out of a significant burden I have regarding an issue too important to bypass. Bear with me; I’ll get to the issue in a moment.
First, some context. There are two important bedrock values Southern Baptists hold dearly and historically: Biblical confession and voluntary cooperation. These were shaped by a unity gathered around the basic tenets of faith as expressed in the Baptist Faith and Message. Together we embrace non-negotiable doctrines like the exclusivity and sufficiency of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; biblical inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible; substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross for the atonement of our sins; and the literal, physical resurrection of Christ from the grave.
These are a few of the essentials. We provide a broad tent on non-essentials. [Read more…]
WASHINGTON (BP) — Churches should partner with government officials to fight the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) while receiving First Amendment protections as they cooperate, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said in a new statement.
The ERLC issued a document July 10 that provides guidance to church and civic leaders regarding the effort to protect public health, particularly through the process known as contact tracing. In the procedure, trained workers contact people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 so those potentially infected individuals can isolate from others and thereby prevent the spread of the virus. [Read more…]
WASHINGTON — Pro-life leaders expressed deep disappointment with the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal 29 to uphold a Louisiana law designed to protect the lives and health of women by requiring hospital admitting privileges for doctors who perform abortions.
In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled the law — which mandated a physician must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of a facility where he or she performs an abortion — violated the U.S. Constitution by imposing an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to the procedure. The justices found the Louisiana measure was nearly identical to a Texas admitting privileges law they struck down in 2016. [Read more…]
By Russell Moore
President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court of the United States released its long-awaited decision in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., over whether sexual orientation and gender identity are included in the definition of “sex” in Title VII of the federal non-discrimination laws. The Court ruled, in an opinion written by Justice Gorsuch, that “sex” does, in fact, include sexual orientation and gender identity, despite the fact that legislators repeatedly voted against including those categories in the legislation. So, what now?
That this case is not well-known in the American public, and not much a part of the ongoing “culture wars,” might cause one to think that this is an unimportant case, but this would be the wrong conclusion. [Read more…]