Nashville, Tenn. | After a March 13 meeting, SBC leaders Frank Page and Russell Moore issued a statement saying they “fully support” one another, following several weeks of controversy surrounding Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Moore and Page, CEO of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, met for two hours to, in Page’s words to a Washington Post reporter, “find bridge-building solutions to an unnecessary divide that has been created across the landscape of our Southern Baptist network of churches.” Moore has come under fire for his anti-Donald Trump comments during the presidential election, as well the ERLC’s position on a New Jersey Islamic group’s right to build a mosque.
A Post story titled “Could Southern Baptist Russell Moore lose his job?” created a social media frenzy prior to the meeting, but Page told Baptist Press he planned on “bridge-building” with Moore with no anticipation of requesting a resignation. He also said he told the reporter, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, that he has “no authority over Dr. Moore; that is vested in his board of trustees.”
Bailey tweeted in clarification less than two hours after her story was published, “Nothing in my story suggests Moore might be fired. SBC dynamics are more complicated. [Plus] the story is complicated (surprise!)”
Following their meeting, Page and Moore released a joint statement that read in part, “We met as colleagues committed to the same priorities of proclaiming the gospel to every man, woman, boy, and girl while also addressing biblical and gospel issues on a wide range of topics to a culture that seems to have lost its way—issues ranging from religious liberty and racial reconciliation to Kingdom diversity and the sanctity of human life from the womb to the grave.
“…We fully support one another and look forward to working together on behalf of Southern Baptists in the years to come.” The meeting between Page and Moore came less than a month after Executive Committee trustees approved two studies that will explore conflict within the denomination that is causing churches to temporarily withhold their giving through the Cooperative Program, or to consider doing so. Bailey’s article reported more than 100 SBC churches “have threatened to cut off financial support for the SBC’s umbrella fund.”
Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, announced last month it would escrow $1 million in CP giving due to “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.” Speaking about the decision, Prestonwood Pastor Jack Graham told Louisiana’s Baptist Message newspaper he is “not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people, and I’m not working to start a movement to fire anyone.”
Graham expressed a desire for his church to remain a cooperating partner with the SBC, but cited “uneasiness” among church leaders about the “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.” An overwhelming majority of white evangelical voters chose Trump in last fall’s election, despite strong words against the candidate from Moore and some other evangelical leaders during the campaign.
At their February meeting, the Executive Committee (EC) voted to appoint an ad hoc committee to “study and recommend redemptive solutions to the current reality in Southern Baptist life of churches’ either escrowing or discontinuing Cooperative Program funds, with the report being brought back to the September 2017 Executive Committee meeting.”
A separate study was also approved, instructing EC officers to explore how the activities of SBC entities could adversely affect stewardship.
Executive Committee Chairman Stephen Rummage said earlier this month on the SBC This Week podcast that EC staff had reported more letters, calls, and e-mails from people considering defunding or withholding Cooperative Program funds over the ERLC’s actions than for “any other issue in memory.” Additionally, Roger S. Oldham, EC vice president for convention communications and relations, told Baptist Press the EC office has processed 49 requests from churches to withdraw from the SBC over the past year, up from the usual annual total of a half dozen or so.
Moore told BP, “As a servant of our churches, we are happy to work with the Executive Committee, and more broadly, grateful to be able to serve our churches daily, whether by answering their questions, providing resources and assistance, or standing alongside them in the public square contending for the fundamental issues of life, family, and religious liberty.”