When compared to the budgets of the International Mission Board, North American Mission, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is pretty small potatoes. In fact, going to the SBC homepage you find a graphic right at the top that shows the break-down of the Cooperative Program spending.
Why do you suppose that is right on the homepage of the SBC, right at the top and oversized? Maybe because a lot of SBC churches who didn't give much thought as to where their cooperative program funding was going are suddenly starting to check it out. In fact the ERLC budget is so small compared to the rest of the work the SBC does, it wouldn't really warrant mention...except that people are looking a lot more closely at the CP these days.
We are not currently involved with an SBC church but most of my formative years as a Christian were in SBC churches and I still have some affinity for them. In spite of some flaws, they are by far the largest faithfully conservative denomination around by a big margin but this public squabble is giving plenty of ammo to those who despise any Christian group that dares hold to basic principles of the faith. Something needs to be done, and pretty soon, because the only thing people are hearing about the SBC right now is that a bunch of Trump acolytes are trying to crucify Russell Moore.
I get it. Russell Moore was picked, in my humble opinion, to head up the ERLC to be the anti-Richard Land. Land, as you may recall, was the quintessential SBC culture warrior type and the long-time head of the ERLC preceding Dr. Moore. Dr. Land even looks like a Southern Baptist. What I didn't realize is that Dr. Land is Dr. because he has a PhD from Oxford. Yes that Oxford, which goes along nicely with his magna cum laude B.A. from Princeton. I had no idea. Anyway, Dr. Land was at ERLC for a long time until he got in trouble for comments he made about Trayvon Martin. There was some concern over allegations of plagiarism or at least failure to thoroughly attribute what he said but make no mistake that what was at the core of the issue and why it got any attention and led to his firing was the perception of his comments as being racially insensitive. So in comes Russell Moore from relative obscurity to lead a very visible ministry of the SBC. The direction he has taken the ERLC has often been at odds with the rank and file of the SBC and therein lies the problem. From the SBC website:
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is not a church. It is a set of ministries supported by a network of cooperating Baptist churches.The Southern Baptist Association is a voluntary association of evangelical churches. No SBC church is under obligation to fund any particular "ministry" of the SBC. The SBC exists as a cooperative association between like-minded autonomous local churches. So when you work for the SBC, you really work for a bunch of independent churches with autonomous budgets. Further, I understand why a lot of Southern Baptists wonder why they are sending checks that go in part to fund the ERLC and Russell Moore.
Let me say that the SBC has a major problem with being too involved with politics, specifically Republican politics. I think that is a serious issue and impediment to their mission so I have no problem with calling them out for it. I have as well. Where the issue comes in is how Dr. Moore makes this criticism. Too often it seems like Dr. Moore's criticisms of genuine issues in the church and even of specific politicians like Donald Trump end up bleeding over into what sounds like pretty pompous criticism of Southern Baptists in general, and that can sound a lot like some egg-headed ivory tower type scolding the ignert masses who he also expects to write checks to keep him employed. I absolutely do not think that is his real attitude but I also think that is how it sounds a lot and just as much I think the direction he is taking the ERLC is more reflective of "Stuff Russell Moore Likes" instead of issues Southern Baptists are concerned with.
With respect, it might be time for two things to happen.
First, Russell Moore might benefit from getting out of D.C./Nashville for a while and spending six months out among actual Southern Baptists, reconnecting with his roots and the people he is supposed to represent. Instead of running in the halls of power and writing articles for the New York Times and Washington Post, maybe some time ministering in Alabama and Oklahoma might help to reorient him with the heart of Southern Baptist life. It certainly couldn't hurt and getting out of the limelight is just what the doctor ordered.
Second, the very existence of the ERLC itself needs to be re-evaluated. I am not sure that what looks a lot like a lobbying firm has a place in the SBC ministry budget and it often seems to be a flashpoint for controversy and hurt feelings. It seems that no matter who is running the ERLC, it is distracting from the mission of the Southern Baptist Convention and that 1.65% of the cooperative program budget might be better spent on a dozen missionaries or something instead of partnering with a group that also partners with George Soros and other questionable priorities of the ERLC.
Russell Moore is a nice guy from what I can tell and I appreciate his work. I appreciated it a lot more before he went to the ERLC and I honestly think the time has come to jettison the entire ERLC from the Southern Baptist Convention. Make it an independent group if you want but right now it is a distraction and is threatening to divide the SBC however this works out. That is not entirely the fault of Dr. Moore but he is also not exactly an innocent victim in this fiasco. For the good of the SBC and the Gospel imperative, it is time for the ERLC to be shut down or spun off.