Is It Time to Call It a Day?
I remember when I was a young man working for my father in the family furniture business, he would often say after a very hard day's work: "Well, son, I think it's time to call it a day." With that we would finish the particular task at hand and then we would turn off the lights, lock the doors and make our way home. Now, we didn't do that until we were pretty well convinced that it was time to do it.
Every institution or group was founded to meet a certain need and, for the useful life of that institution or organization, it focused on its purpose. If and when that purpose was no longer a valid reason for its existence, it would cease to exist. We have just such a situation in the Southern Baptist Convention today.
At the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans in 1990, I, as Chairman of the Program and Budget Subcommittee of the Executive Committee, made a motion which was roundly accepted and carried by a huge margin in the ensuing vote. That motion had to do with separating ourselves from the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs and forming our own lobbying group in Washington. It ended our BJC relationship and authorized the Christian Life Commission to take the monies used to fund the BJC and set up our own lobbying office in our nation's capitol. It was a bold move but it enabled us to have a voice in Washington which was more in tune with the thoughts and beliefs of the people of the SBC.
In those days we were dealing with that old nemesis, liberalism and the BJC, led by a liberal, who took many stances and said many things which went against the grain of the conservatives in the SBC which were the vast, vast majority of the people. Many battles had been won during the "conservative resurgence" and the BJC was the last bastion held by the liberals and they defended it vigorously. On that bright June day in 1990, the people of the SBC voted to end their relationship with it and with that the conservative resurgence was just about complete. The funds were appropriated from those which had been given to the BJC and the Christian Life Commission was given the authority to open its Washington Office with the direct responsibility of representing the views of the Southern Baptist People.
The Christian Life Commission was later named The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC. It was never meant to be a political voice which would promote a certain candidate or to discourage people from voting for another one. Somehow the ERLC has morphed into something that it was not meant to be. Strong stances have been taken on issues in the past without alienating the masses of the Convention. Today, we find that many things we fought against in the Conservative Resurgence are finding a welcome home with the ERLC or at least those things are comfortable with the opinions emanating from the leadership of this Commission of the SBC. It seems that the more we hear from Russell Moore the more we have to conclude that the ERLC has become a divisive entity in our midst. It was not meant to be so. It was meant that it would represent the values and opinions of those who are responsible for its existence, the people of the SBC. It now engenders more tension and negative feelings than anything else. Lately, people have been wondering what will be next? What will be the next pronouncement by Russell Moore and the ERLC which flies in the face of the Southern Baptist People? Quite frankly, the ERLC is causing more disturbance than it is serving us in a positive way and addressing the opinions of the people of the SBC. Many feel it would serve us better if we ceased to fund this entity. In fact, it has been reported to me that there are a number of pastors, particularly from larger churches, who are seriously considering escrowing their Cooperative Program funds until something is done about this entity of ours.
This writer has to believe that after all the negative rhetoric and positioning done by the leadership of our lobbying entity concerning this recent election, they must have egg all over their faces. They were almost completely out of touch with the reality of how the people felt. In addition, it was not meant for the ERLC to get so involved in trying to influence the Southern Baptist people to reject a certain candidate. They have gone into an area that the people don't appreciate. Also, I think it shows them just how little attention they are commanding. That's what happens when leaders start living in a bubble and thinking that their opinions and actions in that bubble are applicable to everyone outside of their little intellectual world populated by only those who agree with them. The opinions of their "groupies" become the standard by which they operate and they lose touch in the process. Some of the things which have been said and Tweeted are insulting to the people of the SBC and they point to the fact that the leadership of the ERLC feels that our people are intellectually inferior and just outright dumb. In the New York Times (that bastion of truth and honesty) Russell Moore said that it was "illogical" for "evangelicals to support Trump and that they must repudiate everything they believe in" to do so. No, Mr. Moore, we don't have to do that. We understood that candidates are always flawed it seems but we were not electing a Pastor in Chief, we were electing a Commander in Chief. The polities and not the personalities were the issue. For instance, the Supreme Court would have been loaded down with liberals if Mrs. Clinton had gone into office. It would have taken our country one hundred years to undo the damage if, indeed, it could ever be undone. But it was glaringly evident that while Dr. Moore unloaded on Trump at every chance he had, his silence on Hillary Clinton was deafening. His own party affiliation got in his way, I suppose. How about this little quote: "Ted Cruz is leading among the Jerry Falwell wing, Marco Rubio is leading in the Billy Graham wing and Trump is leading in the Jimmy Swaggart wing." How condescending can you be and not expect some kick back from the people who provide the monies for you to occupy the office you are misusing? Quite frankly, Moore and those who have supported and encouraged his position (Al Mohler, Danny Akin and David Dockery and others) are either avowed Calvinists or are sympathetic to it. I am sure the minions who follow them without question will not like for that to be pointed out but it is true.
But the political situation is not the only thing of which people have taken note. The Bible specifically condemns the act of homosexuality but the ERLC has made several statements which suggest the convention should rethink and adjust their stance on that which God roundly condemns in the Old Testament and the New Testament as well. One of his research fellows wrote in Christianity Today that Christians "must now repent of the injustices we have perpetrated on LGBT people." She also said, "gay marriage remains an act rooted in love" and Christians should be able to "affirm the longing to be loved and belong." We can affirm the "longing to be loved and belong" but not in the context in which the research fellow was writing. Why do we even have someone who thinks like this working in our ERLC? They must remember that the people in the SBC are volunteers. They don't have to give their monies to fund such thinking.
There are numerous other things which have emanated from the ERLC since Russell Moore was declared the president but those mentioned here make the point that the ERLC and its leadership are disconnected from the positions held by mainstream Southern Baptists. Most of those things have to do with the condescending attitude that the leadership of the ERLC displays toward the people of the SBC. The complaints have been heard from far and wide but no one wants to say much about it for fear of being labeled a "troublemaker." Well, it's time for people to be willing to be so labeled if the problem is going to be addressed. Since I am the one who made the motion to create our lobbying office in Washington and also the motion to fund it, many have asked that I write such an article as this one. It has not been a pleasant task. But, the ERLC was intended to represent the views of the people of the SBC. It was not meant that it would evolve to become a platform for its President and his friends to use as a political tool to try to influence people to do as they want them to do. It was meant to represent our Convention and our spiritual and moral positions in order to bring soundness and wholeness to a world desperately in need of it. When the ERLC represents the SBC concerning moral and social problems "out there" which concern the people of the SBC at large, then they are functioning properly. When they try to use the ERLC to influence the people of the SBC and bring them to their political position then that is wrong. They are not a stand-alone entity. They are born of the SBC and should not cause divisions in it for the sake of their own opinions or positions.
There was a time in which the governmental bodies from the county commissions, to the state, to the federal government actually cared about what the SBC thought on certain issues. It meant something for us to stand strong and offer stable leadership in crucial times. They actually considered what we thought as important to the direction of the nation. But that influence is almost gone. They really don't care what we think any longer and it is, in great part, due to the fact that our voice and positions are sending the wrong signals at who we are and where we stand on the issues of the day. The ERLC has had a lot to do with the confusing sound coming from our convention.
As my father used to say at the conclusion of a hard task: "Son, I think it's time to call it a day." I, for one, think he was right and as pertaining to the ERLC, I would say that, unless it can stop exhibiting the attitudes it has been displaying and unless it can stop taking stances on issues that the people of the SBC don't hold, and unless it can cease to be a divisive force among our people,....It's Time to Call it a Day.
William F. Harrell