A Texas megachurch has decided to at least temporarily withhold funds from the Southern Baptist Convention over concerns about the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), one of its component organizations.
Prestonwood Baptist Church is a 41,000-member congregation in Plano. In a statement to the Baptist Message, Executive Pastor Mike Buster spoke of “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, “a network of 50,000 cooperating churches and church-type missions banded together to make an impact on God’s Kingdome,” is located in Nashville, Tennessee.
The decision impacts $1 million the church would give to Southern Baptist state and national causes, according to the Baptist Message. The church will escrow the funds while further discussing the matter.
Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, created a controversy by signing a friend of the court brief supporting construction of a New Jersey mosque involved in a zoning dispute. The Tennessee Star reported previously that a large church in East Tennessee has also decided to escrow funds while considering future support of the ministry program that funds the ERLC. The ERLC is the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Moore has been a source of tension since becoming ERLC president in 2013 because of his liberal-leaning positions, including on immigration, Islam and racial reconciliation. He has been outspoken in criticizing older leaders of the religious right and portraying younger evangelicals as more multi-ethnic and focused on the gospel.
During the 2016 election cycle, Moore’s criticisms of President Trump and his supporters, which included many evangelicals, attracted national media attention to the divide between many everyday Baptists and the ERLC, which has offices in both Washington, D.C. and Nashville, Tennessee.
In an October 2016 column for the Washington Post, Moore wrote that the religious right is motivated by “doctrinally vacuous resentment over a lost regime of nominal, cultural ‘Christian America.’ ” In an earlier piece in September 2015 in The New York Times, he portrayed President Trump as a divisive figure who would cause Christians to compromise their values. Moore wrote that “Mr. Trump incites division, with slurs against Hispanic immigrants and with protectionist jargon that preys on turning economic insecurity into ugly ‘us versus them’ identity politics. When evangelicals should be leading the way on racial reconciliation, as the Bible tells us to, are we really ready to trade unity with our black and brown brothers and sisters for this angry politician?”
After facing a backlash that was the subject of numerous news stories, Moore wrote in his blog in December 2016 that he never meant to criticize every Trump voter and that there is 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.”
However, given his numerous statements over time that are at odds with the perspective of many Southern Baptists, he remains controversial.
Christian radio host Janet Mefferd wrote in her blog in January that concerns about Moore extend beyond his opposition to President Trump. Mefferd accused Moore of hypocrisy for criticizing conservative Christian involvement in politics while engaging in politics himself.
“He’s chastised conservatives for embracing politics at the expense of the gospel, as he’s regularly commented on and engaged in (largely liberal) politics,” Mefferd wrote.
“While it is true that Moore opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, while also advocating for religious liberty, focusing merely on those positions does not paint the entire picture. Moore, as many have noted, is a former aide to a Democrat, Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi, who was a Blue Dog nonetheless criticized for voting for Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker and voting with Pelosi 82 percent of the time. And Moore’s disdain for Republicans has been on display over and over again,” she concluded.