Controversies involving the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the International Mission Board (IMB), and the Trump administration arose at an annual meeting of SBC state convention executive directors and Southern Baptist newspaper editors in mid-February.
While SBC President Steve Gaines addressed the issues and IMB’s David Platt offered an apology of sorts at the metro Los Angeles meeting, Texas pastor Jack Graham announced his church will escrow it’s million-dollar Cooperative Program offering over concerns about the Convention’s direction.
Apology for mosque support
“I apologize to Southern Baptists for how distracting and divisive this has been,” Platt said when he met later with Baptist state paper editors.
“I can say with full confidence that in the days ahead, IMB will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission: partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams for evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”
The apology occurred amid ongoing discussion of an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, New Jersey (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board.
In December, U.S. district Judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, N.J., violated federal law when it required ISBR to include more than twice as much parking in its site plan for a proposed mosque as it required for Christian and Jewish worship places.
In his ruling, Shipp acknowledged the amicus brief, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.
Platt added, “I am grieved how the amicus brief in the recent mosque case has been so divisive and distracting. And my purpose in bringing it up here is not to debate religious liberty, but to simply say that I really do want IMB to be focused on [its] mission statement.”
Tennessee pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November because he said joining the brief did not comport with IMB’s mission and could be viewed as an improper alliance with followers of a religion that denies the gospel.
Gaines said he believes IMB President Platt would possibly think twice before the mission board enters such a case. “You may not agree with his theology but he has no arrogance whatsoever in his heart. I really don’t think he would have signed the document [favoring government permission for the construction of the mosque] if he knew the ramifications.”
The ERLC was previous criticized by some SBC pastors for joining the mosque case based on first amendment rights. ERLC President Russell Moore was also criticized for anti-Trump remarks during the election. Gaines said he hopes there would be less divisive talk coming out of the ERLC.
In a question-and-answer session Gaines (pictured at the Ontario, Calif. meeting), told editors he voted for Trump as president because of his pro-life stance. “Overall I’m pleased with the appointments; they are better than what we could have had [with Hillary Clinton],” Gaines said. The pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church also agreed with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s view to interpret the Constitution “the way it was written, not rewrite it.”
“A lot of people like me chose the candidate who was more friendly to pro-life [causes] and marriage between one man and one woman,” Gaines said. “I do not support many of the things Trump has said, especially what he has said about women. But he was the best choice that we had [in this election].”
Prestonwood escrows CP
Texas megachurch Prestonwood Baptist’s decision to escrow gifts previously forwarded through the Cooperative Program was announced Feb. 16. Mike Buster, executive pastor for the Plano, Texas, church, wrote that the action was taken because of “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,” and that it’s a temporary move.
The decision impacts $1 million the 41,000-member congregation would otherwise contribute through the Cooperative Program.
But Graham subsequently described to the (Louisiana) Baptist Message an “uneasiness” among church leaders about the “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.”
“I’m not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people,” Graham said, “and I’m not working to start a movement to fire anyone. We’re just concerned about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention, and feel the need to make some changes in the way we give.”
Moore told Baptist Press, “I love and respect Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. This is a faithful church with gifted leaders and a long history of vibrant ministry working and witnessing for Christ.”
– Reporting by Baptist Press, Georgia Christian Index, and Louisiana Baptist Message