Posted on : Thursday November 20, 2014

Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research and director of the Research Institute of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention

By Sharon Mager

LINTHICUM, Md.—Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research and director of the Research Institute of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, was the guest speaker at the second annual “President’s Breakfast” held at The Westin BWI hotel on Tuesday, Nov. 12 in conjunction with the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network’s Annual Celebration.

Duke shared about the ERLC’s mission to engage the culture with the gospel of Jesus and to speak to issues in the public square for the protection of religious liberty and other cultural challenges. The Commission partners with the church, helping to educate and impact the church so members can then engage and promote change in the culture around them.

Duke addressed several issues, including payday lending and same sex marriage.

Regarding payday lending, Duke said payday lenders are preying on those on the edge of poverty. He described the trap. People take a loan until payday at a 15 percent interest rate for two weeks. They can’t pay it back, and the lender extends the loan, compounding the interest due. That pattern continues, leading up to 390 percent annual interest rate served up in two-week bites of 15 percent.

Duke said the ERLC is responding to this problem, working with congress and the administration to get lenders to offer loans to people who need them in ways that treat them with dignity and not as “easy marks.” The Commission encourages churches to contact elected officials and  ask that they do something to help protect vulnerable people.

When asked about rumors that the SBC is softening its tone regarding the gay agenda, Duke said that the confusion was partly in response to a national conference regarding the future of marriage.

“All people are still created in the image of God and must be treated with love. We must be motivated by love, not by fear or hatred,” Duke said, explaining the SBC has not changed its stance on the sinfulness of homosexual behavior but has recognized that rhetoric and shrill harsh voices drown out opportunities to have real dialogue.

Duke said there were a number of people who shared testimonies at the conference who came out of the homosexual lifestyle. “Regardless of what people tell you, it is possible to change orientation,” Duke said. “God does that.”

He noted the radical homosexual faction is not interested in coming to a coexistence with the church.  They want total capitulation. “It’s our religious freedom or their sexual freedom,” Duke said, referencing the recent incident in Houston, where lawyers for the mayor subpoenaed information from churches to analyze sermons.

“These are the times we are living in,” Duke said. “The government is trying to dictate to churches which parts of faith apply in the public square and which can’t apply.”

Victor Kirk, pastor of Sharon Bible Church, said the 501c(3) status is a significant concern in the midst of the attack on churches.

Duke said the church is a divine institution,  entitling her to function without government interference but at some point, congregations may have to decide between freedom of speech or tax exempt status. If we continue along the path we’re going, we may have to answer that question.

“The ultimate answer is revival. God can turn things around in a minute. I’d rather have God turn it around than have a national fight. Let’s call people to prayer and ask God to bring revival,” Duke said.

One pastor shared that a family with a homosexual relative recently left his congregation due to the church’s stance on homosexuality. The family had “novel views” on passages regarding homosexuality, the pastor said.

Duke said the ERLC has information on its website to help pastors navigate through those situations.

Another concern regarded pastors handling counseling requests or referrals from people who struggle with same sex attractions.

Noting there is a strong movement that people should not be counseled regarding a desire to change sexual orientation, Barrett urged pastors to be careful in their referrals.

“Just because you know of a counseling service that claims to be Christian does not mean it’s right for counseling regarding orientation,” he cautioned.

Having an in-house or sourcing a counselor who will share from a biblical perspective is going to be very important, he said.

Duke told leaders he is available to visit churches to share about the ERLC and ways churches can partner to educate their members to speak to current issues in truth and love and how to protect religious freedom.