Will Russell Moore Be Defunded? Southern Baptists Decide

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaks at Evangelicals for Life, January, 26, 2017, Washington, D.C.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaks at Evangelicals for Life, January, 26, 2017, Washington, D.C. | (Photo: Josh Shank/Rocket Republic)

Southern Baptists will decide this week whether they will reduce funds for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission headed by Russell Moore in part because of his anti-Trump rhetoric and characterizations of fellow Southern Baptists who supported the president during the elections.

The Southern Baptist Executive Committee meeting began Monday in Nashville, Tennessee, and representatives from across the nation are convening to plan and budget for the upcoming year. In what has been a tumultuous year for many evangelicals, the SBC is experiencing some notable theological and generational differences, and where the money goes will in part determine the overall direction of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

But moves to pressure Moore with reduced funding will be hard to pull off, according to sources knowledgeable of the inner workings of SBC institutions who spoke with The Christian Post on condition of anonymity.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, of which Moore is president, receives 1.65 percent of funds from the denomination's Cooperative Program. If individual churches are unhappy with Moore and want to withhold financial support from the ERLC they can earmark their giving with a "negative designation" from their contributions.

But that money could be easily recouped from other churches supportive of Moore to make up the difference or even exceed what was withheld.

In the 2016 election cycle, Moore was an outspoken critic Trump, a position at odds with many Southern Baptists. Though the number is disputed by some, exit polls suggest that upwards of 80 percent of white evangelicals backed Trump for president over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

But the real issue, sources say, was Moore's characterization of fellow Christians as compromising the Gospel, much to the chagrin of older Southern Baptists. His efforts to "re-brand" the denomination, to the delight of many millennial Christians, including conservative-leaning ones, did not yield an accurate representation of Southern Baptists as a whole and cost them a proverbial seat at the table to engage the new president, they argue.

Meanwhile, left-wing secularists were content to showcase Moore, as were media elites opposed to Trump who invited him onto their platforms to speak, sources insist. Moore's words provoked Trump himself, who sent tweets to Moore, one of which called him a "nasty guy with no heart."

Insiders tell CP that the Executive Committee is not likely to defund Moore's budget and that the real issue that has upset so many Southern Baptists was not so much the ERLC leader's expressed distaste for Trump, but for the way he impugned the motives of Trump-supporting Southern Baptists. Moore had previously intoned that those Southern Baptists who were supporting Trump were essentially denying the Gospel and that they cared more about having political influence than sharing the Good News of salvation through Jesus.

Such remarks have deeply offended evangelism-minded Southern Baptists, particularly some in Louisiana, whose pastors emphasize winning people to Christ and have implemented ministry plans to do so vigorously.

Sources add that even if large churches, like the 40,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, whose Pastor, Jack Graham, has said his congregation's contributions to the Cooperative Program are in escrow, were successful, to significantly reduce funding for the ERLC is nearly impossible because of the horizontal structure of the Convention.

Yet, according to the Baptist Press on Friday, Graham said he is "not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people, and I'm not working to start a movement to fire anyone" and hopes that his church will continue as "a cooperating partner [with the SBC] as we have been for many years." Nevertheless, some church leaders are distressed about the "disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches," he said.

Should funding be cut for the ERLC the money would be allocated to another organization — perhaps the missions board or an SBC seminary — and it becomes much more difficult to regain funds the following year because the groups to whom it was given make their plans for the fiscal year and budget accordingly.

Considerations to defund the ERLC have been building for some time. CP reported on Dec. 20 that several prominent pastors were displeased with the direction of the ERLC and were thinking about redirecting their resources elsewhere.

The SBC Executive Committee meeting will conclude on Wednesday.

Follow Brandon Showalter on Twitter: @BrandonMShow Follow Brandon Showalter on Facebook: @BrandonMShow

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