Approximately one year ago the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee formed a task force to “review the past and present activities” of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The Baptist Press reporting on the Task Force’s formation is a helpful refresher:
The Executive Committee action comes in response to “ongoing concerns” cited by EC members, state leaders and other Southern Baptists that the ERLC is not adequately fulfilling its Convention-approved ministry assignments.
The motion specifically noted that concerns “have been expressed both publicly and privately to various members of the Executive Committee and other Southern Baptists regarding how the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s actions in relation to its ministry statements are affecting the Convention and its relationships with local churches, local associations, and state conventions.”
“We are looking for the facts,” said Executive Committee chairman Mike Stone, who will chair the task force. “We are hearing from state leadership and other pastors across the country. We are making a statement about effectiveness.”
This action creates “a formal process by which we can receive information and determine the level that this issue is affecting the Cooperative Program,” said Stone. “I’m fully aware that we may find, as we did in 2017, that what we are hearing is not as significant in fact as it is in perception. What we want to find is where the facts lead us.”
Following the action by the Executive committee the trustees of the ERLC issued a response, including instruction to the staff and leadership not to comply with the Executive Committee’s investigation.
The Task Force made its findings available yesterday and the report is an important read for all Southern Baptists, regardless of their opinion on the activity of the ERLC. Click here to read the Task Force’s report (PDF reader required).
Of particular interest are the following sections of the report:
Section V: The Long-Term Decline of the Cooperative Program [Excerpt]
In recent years, the allocation forwarded by the states to the national convention has increased
from an average of 37% (2009) to 42% (2018-2019). But total dollars received by our
state/regional convention partners has been in steady decline as noted in Appendix 4.
Percentage giving by churches has fallen by more than half over the last three decades. This is
despite the fact that total giving to SBC churches has grown from around $4 billion to around
$12 billion in this same time frame.
Sections X & XI: Conclusions & Recommendations
(1) That there seems to be confusion among Southern Baptists regarding increases and
decreases in national Cooperative Program giving.
(2) That while much of the work of the ERLC is praised and appreciated by Southern Baptists,
the ERLC is also a source of significant distraction from the Great Commission work of Southern
Baptists. The leader of a large state convention stated, “one of the major points of erosion of Cooperative Program support has been the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.” The task force finds merit in this statement.
(3) That the unacceptable handling of the amicus brief matter discussed in #9 above [in the report] is an
example of a concern raised by many SBC leaders that the ERLC is not as responsive as it ought
to be in correcting problems and controversies it creates. In this context, one state executive
responded about the ERLC that “National SBC controversy impacts CP giving through the state convention.”
(4) That the current perception of the leadership and direction of the ERLC by many Southern
Baptists is a substantial impediment to the growth of the Cooperative Program. Without quick
and significant changes in that perception, the findings suggest the potential for a measurable
decline in the near future and beyond. The executive director of one of our largest-contributing state conventions told the task force, “one of the major points of erosion of Cooperative Program support has been the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.”
(5) That there is considerable conversation across the Convention as to whether the ERLC is the
most effective and efficient structure and means for addressing the public policy concerns of
the Southern Baptist Convention.
(1) That the Executive Committee seek to provide even greater clarity about Convention-wide
giving trends as it reports giving to the national Convention budget.
(2) That the Executive Committee request that the ERLC Board of Trustees, in an effort to foster
greater unity among our churches, encourage ERLC staff to focus, where possible, on speaking
where the Southern Baptist Convention has already spoken through resolutions and The Baptist
Faith and Message.
(3) That the Executive Committee request that the ERLC Board of Trustees encourage the
president and staff of the ERLC to refrain from opposing specific candidates for public office.
(4) That the Executive Committee request that the ERLC Board of Trustees encourage the ERLC
staff to be more responsive to requests from Southern Baptists to address/acknowledge certain
news items as a means of better serving the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.
(5) That the Executive Committee request that the ERLC Board of Trustees work with the ERLC
staff to develop an intentional plan to demonstrate a greater appreciation for how its positions,
including social media usage, affect the spirit of cooperation among Southern Baptists.
(6) That the Executive Committee request that the boards of trustees of each of the entities of
the Convention adopt and implement a policy of submitting legal briefs, where those briefs
address the nature and work of Southern Baptists, to Convention attorneys, prior to their being
filed, for the purpose of receiving input regarding the effect of those briefs on the ministries of
the Southern Baptist Convention.
Read the full report here.