The Prestonwood Baptist Church of Plano, TX, (a Dallas suburb) led by Dr. Jack Graham, a former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, has determined to escrow funds totaling $1 million, that were previously designated for the Cooperative Program—the premier funding mechanism of the Southern Baptist Convention’s agencies— because of positions and policies taken by Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Other predominately White Southern Baptist Churches are also threatening to withhold Cooperative Program funds surrounding public positions taken by Russell Moore and the ERLC.
Consequently, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention has decided to investigate and explore the depths of why some churches aren’t giving and the best way to address the whole matter. They want to keep churches giving to the Cooperative Program while seeking a peaceful solution to the reactions to Russell Moore’s policies and position. Because of the Executive Committee’s approach to resolving this matter comprehensively, inevitably, the investigation will require determining the compatibility of Moore’s statements with the values, beliefs, and convictions of Southern Baptists.
Additionally, the Louisiana Baptist Convention has called for an investigation specifically targeting Dr. Moore. They are hostile toward Dr. Moore and would like to see him gone. Dr. Fred Luter, the first African-American President of the Southern Baptist Convention, who pastors the largest Southern Baptist Convention church in Louisiana, and Pastor David Crosby of First Baptist New Orleans have signed a statement vigorously dissenting to the Louisiana Convention’s call for an investigation of Dr. Moore.
The outcome of this investigation will speak volumes to Black Southern Baptist Convention Churches as to whether or not any church leader or entity head who publically, critically evaluated President Donald Trump will be welcome in the Southern Baptist Convention and eligible to serve in any and all levels of denominational life.
If Russell Moore cannot give a candid evaluation of Donald Trump without being publically humiliated and without White Churches withdrawing and threatening to withdraw funds, and the Southern Baptist Convention and a state affiliate, launching an investigation, I pity the Black SBC officeholder who would dare whisper a word of disagreement on a Trump statement or action.
Before increasing Cooperative Program gifts or affiliating with the Southern Baptist Convention, Black Baptist Churches may want to consider awaiting the Executive Committee’s investigation results regarding Russell Moore. Why am I singling out Black Churches to take a cautionary attitude toward supporting the Cooperative Program pending the outcome of this investigation? Why am I encouraging Black Baptist Churches who are considering affiliating with the Southern Baptist Convention to take a probative and aggressive approach to understanding the dynamics, roots, results and implications of the investigation before affiliating?
Estimates are over 80 percent of White evangelicals supported presidential candidate Donald Trump. Russell Moore did not support Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for President. In keeping with his responsibilities as the designated prophetic voice to Southern Baptists and the nation on ethics issues, Moore gave critical, ethical evaluations of both candidates. However, it was his critique of Trump that has caused a tremendous backlash that appears to be potentially as divisive as the “inerrancy battle” in SBC life that birthed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and consequently tremendously weakened the numerical, financial, and more importantly, the missionary strength of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The implications of such an investigation are clear, and the outcome will speak volumes to Black Southern Baptist Churches, and the Convention as a whole. History has proven that God often places prophetic voices in a community to lovingly and authoritatively challenge the powers-that-be on controversial moral, ethical, spiritual and political concerns.
Why such huge implications for Blacks in the Southern Baptist Convention? It is because the vast majority of Black Southern Baptist Convention Church leaders and pastors and future potential entity heads are not Trump-leaning, blindly loyal Republican voters. The majority of Black Baptist Church leaders would agree with Moore’s assessment of Trump, wholeheartedly. Therein lies the potential for the outcome of this investigation to be tremendously and racially polarizing.
There has never been a minority entity head in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. Until the advent of Frank Page in recent years as President of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, the highest ranking Black person working on staff at the seven-story Southern Baptist Convention Executive Building in Nashville, TN, was the head custodian.
If the Executive Committee’s investigation results in reprimanding, marginalizing, or firing Russell Moore—the message being sent is strict adherence to Republican Party loyalty is absolutely necessary to be elected as an entity head and to maintain one’s position in SBC organizational life. The implications of the Executive Committee’s investigative report is staggering and could be tantamount to an earthquake in the Convention. If Moore is marginalized or fired, 80-90 percent of Southern Baptist Black Churches who share Moore’s views on President Trump, would also simultaneously feel as if their political convictions regarding the current President of the United States would also be officially reprimanded, rejected and rebuked by the Southern Baptist Convention. Unintended consequences as a result of this shortsighted investigative decision should be weighed by the Executive Committee before they render a verdict. The attempt to mute a respected voice amongst us is plainly a step in the wrong direction.
The investigation was triggered because Prestonwood Church in Dallas announced on February 16 that it was escrowing $1 million in Cooperative Program funds. Mike Buster, Executive Pastor for Prestonwood, explained why:
A Southern Baptist layman and attorney in private practice in Nashville, TN, sums up the roots of the Moore controversy in a comment stream at SBC Voices (http://sbcvoices.com/prestonwood-and-the-erlc-the-ec-responds/) (He blogs using the name “Louis”):
“This goes beyond last year’s election. It also involves ERLC initiatives on things such as immigration and race. Sometimes, as on immigration, there are real differences of opinion. The ERLC has gone on record as having a very convictional view of the immigration issue. I suspect that position and the policy prescription advocated by the ERLC is very different than most common folks in the SBC. On that issue, and others, I suspect the ERLC is going to have to pull back.”
“I believe that Dr. Moore and the ERLC may handle racial issues differently from some Southern Baptist churches. I believe that is a matter of strategy and emphasis. I do not believe that all SBC churches might agree on the strategy. And that would include things such as which groups to meet with, what policy prescriptions to support, how to balance concerns about race with law enforcement concerns etc.”
“On issues like race, there is not really a substantive disagreement, but a question of tone and cobelligerance. Most in the SBC are very comfortable with our good brothers like Fred Luter and Dwight McKissic, but they are not comfortable with groups like Black Lives Matter. I believe the ERLC is more comfortable with affiliating with some groups than the SBC base.”
There has been no contact at all between Russell Moore and “Black Lives Matter.” But the association between the two is often mentioned to rile the SBC base against him without any supporting evidence.
Louis, the lawyer, is a friend of mine. He is not in favor of Dr. Russell Moore being fired, and my interactions with him have been mutually appreciative and respectful. I totally agree with Louis’ assessment of the roots and reasons of the Moore controversy. The only area where we differ is Louis’ concerns about Moore’s “tone” in addressing racial matters. Moore’s “tone” is a Kingdom “tone” seldom heard in SBC life on matters of race and justice. This newness of his “tone” in SBC life is what his critics are responding to. Moore speaks with a prophetic mantle that is more common to African-American Baptist church tradition than historic Southern Baptist tradition. Many of us find his “tone” refreshing and biblical. It’s the same Kingdom “tone” that Southern Baptists sound on abortion and homosexuality; but for some reason, Southern Baptists are uncomfortable with this same tone being sounded on race and justice.
The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee is largely White, Republican and Trump-supporting. According to Louis, the attorney—immigration, tone and emphasis on race relations and positions taken on race and law enforcement are the root causes of the Moore controversy. On each of the positions, Moore tended to voice the pain, fears, hopes and dreams of the majority of the minorities in the SBC. Trying to find a SBC minority person, who would object to Moore’s published statements on the above three items, would be like attempting to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. Minorities in the SBC are ecstatic about Moore and his leadership.
What is it about the “tone” of Moore on race—as noted by Louis—that is problematic for White Southern Baptist Churches?
When Prestonwood questions Moore’s “beliefs and values” not reflecting the Southern Baptist Convention, just who are they referring to?
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William Dwight McKissic, Sr. is a prominent African-American Southern Baptist minister from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He is the founder and current senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. You can read his blog at http://dwightmckissic.wordpress.com/