Having laid out some principles we can use in sensitive situations in the last two articles, let me now begin to address the four major cultural shifts I mentioned. These changes provided us with opportunities that we have not always handled well. I will begin by addressing the impact that the huge political shift in the traditional SBC states has had on us.
In those states, we moved from a convention whose church members were overwhelming of the Democrat Party to a convention with church members from both major parties. It wasn’t that many years ago that in the traditional SBC states you could not get elected if you didn’t have a D next to your name on the ballot. In recent presidential elections, those states have voted primarily for the Republican candidate. I believe some of the conflicts surrounding the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) are related to this major political shift.
Remember, I said we would be talking about very complex issues in a relatively simplistic way. My purpose is to bring a broader perspective to avoid getting lost in the weeds, and my goal is to initiate constructive dialogue in emotionally charged contexts. I also admitted that my perspective is shaped by my life experiences. As a Wyoming native, my “heart language” is Mountain West. That means I will tell you what is on my mind and I expect you to do the same thing with me. And God is slowly teaching me how to say it with grace.
To the above provisos, let me add that the president of every SBC entity has stepped into a role where his personal opinions must be filtered by his leadership responsibility to the entity he serves. Also, I learned from a wise leader an important leadership principle: the higher my position of responsibility and the greater my authority, the less I can and should say on certain topics. That’s wise counsel for all of us. Just because it’s in your mind, doesn’t mean you need to say it. One last comment: We live in a politically charged and deeply divided nation. Actions and statements that can be viewed as political in nature WILL create division.
With this background, let me state the mission of the ERLC as specified in The Organizational Manual of the Southern Baptist Convention:
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission exists to assist the churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel, apply Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy, and to promote religious liberty in cooperation with the churches and other Southern Baptist entities.
With that four-part mission in mind, I would suggest that if the ERLC or its president takes a position or makes a comment that will be seen as primarily political, then they have knowingly and willingly stepped outside of their mission assignment. Some of the more vocal among us who are very upset with the actions of the ERLC are upset because of political positions or political comments made by President Russell Moore and the ERLC. Years ago, those positions might have simply received a quiet “amen.” Today, those actions will stand in direct opposition to the political opinions held by many across the breadth of SBC life, as well as many church members in the traditional southern states.
Because of an ongoing history of such actions, the SBC Executive Committee appointed a Study Task Force to “assess whether the actions of the Commission and its leadership are affecting Cooperative Program giving.” Six specific recommendations were listed in the Study Task Force’s report to the Executive Committee. (Click here to view the full report.)
For the sake of brevity I am listing the three that are most applicable to ERLC actions that have been viewed as political (emphasis added by me):
Ultimately, when leaders continue to give personal opinions that are negatively impacting their organization, and they seemingly refuse to acknowledge those errors in judgment, then that leader’s personal agenda has risen above their leadership responsibility to that organization. In the long run, every organization will falter (church, association, state convention, or SBC entity) if it does not hold leaders accountable for actions that are negatively impacting their organization. There are times when a leader becomes such a focal point or lightning rod that an organization’s mission becomes severely compromised.
I have intentionally avoided other issues that some people have raised concerning ERLC actions. My emphasis has been on the impact of political issues in the context of SBC life that is politically very different than it has been in the past. I also threw in some leadership principles that magnify the impact of such comments. My prayer is that all leaders will have a laser focus on the purpose of the organization God has called and equipped them to lead. And, if a time comes when their personal agenda becomes more important to them than the health of the organization, then the Holy Spirit will convict them so they will either amend their ways or find a place to serve where their agenda and the purpose of the entity are compatible.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, DoM
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.