NASHVILLE (BP) — Russell Moore, president-elect of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, sat down with a Baptist21 leader to discuss the role of the ERLC and related matters in a set of short videos, the first three of which were posted online April 9.
“B21 is extremely excited that Dr. Moore has been called to the ERLC, and we are praying that God will work through him in a great way,” the website, baptisttwentyone.com, states.
Jonathan Akin, who interviewed Moore, founded B21 along with several other younger Southern Baptists to address issues relevant to Southern Baptists in the 21st century, “embracing the past, working in the present and cooperating for the future.”
Among the topics covered in the videos with Moore: What is the role of the SBC? How does the ERLC serve the local church? Should the SBC be culture warriors? What is “convictional kindness”? How should the SBC engage hot topic issues like marriage, immigration and more in the public square?
Subsequent videos are scheduled for release during the next couple of weeks.
In the first video, Moore, who officially begins his duties June 1, discusses the role of the ERLC.
“There are two primary focuses for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. One is to speak to Southern Baptists and other evangelicals about ethical issues revealed in the Scripture and those things that we ought to be seeing transform our lives within our churches,” Moore said.
The ERLC also speaks for Southern Baptists to the larger culture, including Washington, state legislatures and the culture at large, Moore continued.
“There are all sorts of ways that the outside culture trickles down in ways that affect our neighbors and our churches and the advance of the Gospel,” he said.
“That would include the political structures. That would also include the culture makers — film and music and all of those things that influence the world that we live in, kind of the cultural ecosystem around us,” said Moore, who currently is dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
In the second video, Moore addresses how the ERLC serves the local church, noting that the primary way is as a catalyst for local congregations to consider how the Gospel impacts the way Christians live. Sometimes, he said, this includes raising issues that aren’t popular.
“In previous years, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission was very, very controversial in Southern Baptist life for speaking to the dignity of African American persons in a denomination that was largely situated in the Jim Crow South,” Moore said of the SBC entity which was known as the Christian Life Commission until the mid-1990s.
“Every year at the SBC there were people who wanted to defund and do away with the ERLC because it was meddling in business that they didn’t think ought to be meddled in. Well, of course, that was business that had to be meddled in because the question of racial justice wasn’t simply a political issue. It was a Gospel issue,” he said.
The ERLC of that time, Moore said, had to confront the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention by pointing to the hypocrisy of saying Jesus’ blood is offered to all and all people are from one blood in Adam, and of sending missionaries all over the world yet not allowing people to be part of their churches based on their skin color.
“In the same way, I think the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has to raise questions that in the ordinary flow of life we don’t stop to even consider,” Moore said. “For instance, how are Southern Baptist churches going to deal with transgendered persons? In some ways, you can go to many Southern Baptist churches and ask that question and the response would simply be a laugh. It seems somehow freakish.
“Well, the transgendered situation is not freakish. These are people who are created in the image of God, these are people for whom Christ died, and what we have to be able to say to them as we are evangelizing them is, ‘This is what repentance looks like. What does it mean for somebody who is living as a woman who was born a man to follow Christ?’ Those are the sorts of questions we have to be ready to answer,” Moore said.
Another question many Southern Baptists may not consider, he said, is what to do when a doctor lays out multiple options for infertility. Some options are within the bounds of ethics and some are not, he said.
“Or questions of ‘What do I do with my aging parent when the doctor is saying you need a living will or the doctor is talking about taking this person off of life support?’ How do we as Christians make those decisions?” Moore said, noting that the ERLC must help churches as they “equip Christians to answer those sorts of questions.”
In the third video, Moore explains how the ERLC represents the SBC.
“I think you do that by not becoming a politically partisan interest group but by becoming the sort of organization that speaks to rulers and those who are in authority, as Jesus tells us and as the apostles tell us, with a winsome salt and light voice about what we as Christians believe is important for the advance of the church with religious liberty and for maintaining the common good and maintaining civil society.”
Moore pointed to the apostle Paul, who did not see rulers and those who were in authority as ultimate but did acknowledge them as important.
“He appealed to his Roman citizenship to say, ‘You really can’t imprison me without a trial,’ and then when he went to trial, he is appealing for his freedom. Why? It’s not because he was claiming his own rights,” Moore said. “Everywhere Paul is giving those rights up. It’s because he saw that question as having direct consequences for the churches and for the advance of the Gospel.”
When Southern Baptists stand in the public square and advocate for religious liberty, “we’re pleading for religious liberty not for ourselves because ‘there are a lot of us and we’re powerful enough that you ought to listen to us,’ but because this is part of the image of God.”
Southern Baptists, Moore said, believe in religious liberty for all people because they believe in the Gospel, “and the Gospel doesn’t come at the point of the sword, it comes through the sword of the Spirit, through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, which means that Caesar doesn’t have authority over the conscience, and we have to prophetically speak and remind the public square that that’s the case.”
Baptists, Moore said, have a long heritage of doing just that.
“Our Baptist forebears were the ones who were going to prison for preaching without a license or for refusing to sprinkle their babies and who spoke in the pre-Revolutionary era and said to the founding generation, ‘You have to include protections for people — all people — to be able to practice their religion and hold their convictions freely and without fettered consciences.’ I think we have to continue in that vein now.”
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).