Raised in a Southern Baptist church which I joined at age 7, educated in a college that belonged to a state convention, and a seminary that belonged to the denomination, in addition to years of ministry service through one of its mission agencies, I’m pretty familiar with how the Southern Baptist Convention works, and how it does business. There are times when its leaders can act in a way that is very provincial and backward, and get outside written documents prescribing how business is to be handled, but there are generally enough level headed people to require a level of accountability, and insist on going by the rules. So I can claim expert status when I say that I know how the SBC works.
SBC churches operate from an equal platform when exercising denominational participation. Actually, fewer than a fourth of the churches ever bother to send even one messenger to the annual meeting of the SBC. However, all but a few churches have the ability, based on their financial support and membership, to send the maxiumum number of 10 messengers to any convention meeting. The largest church is limited to 10, and some of the smallest churches have the ability to achieve the threshold for 10.
So when a large, influential church determines that it will escrow its denominational support to leverage some kind of denominational action, there are a couple of things that are happening. One, they are breaking the commitment they made to the denomination, when they affiliated, which included their agreement to submit to the way the denomination does business. Accountability of denominational agencies and their heads is through the trustees that have been nominated and elected to serve on their boards, a process in which every church has an equal opportunity to participate. Two, they are arrogantly flashing their own sense of self-importance, and elevating themselves over other churches that are honoring their agreement, using influence that most other churches don’t have, or wouldn’t consider using, to force an action that goes against denominational policy any way you look at it. They are saying, loud and clear, that they are too prominent, too big, and too important to have to follow the same rules that everyone else does.
The primary issue relates to Russ Moore, and his leadership of the ERLC. From what I can gather from reports in the Baptist press, at least one of the more “prominent” churches that is putting its CP giving in escrow is citing their own disagreement with his actions, particularly during the 2016 presidential campaign, as the reason for their action. I don’t see anything in the media reports about the church following Biblical principles by sitting down with Moore, and conversing him before publicly declaring their intentions, but they may have communicated with him in some way. The disagreement is apparently over his lack of enthusiastic support for Trump’s presidential candidacy, and perhaps the church leadership’s interpretation of things Moore may have said about Christians who supported him. Also mentioned is the position taken by the ERLC, supporting the religious freedom of a mosque in New Jersey.
Regardless of the content of the issues, as a Baptist entity, the ERLC is not directly accountable to any individual church. It is accountable to a board of trustees, key word “trust”, who are selected by messengers sent from the churches, collectively, that contribute to the expenses of its work. I believe that an individual church, or an individual member of a church, can address the trustees regarding the way any issue has been handled by the ERLC, but the final decision or determination of whether or not the ERLC has followed its directives consistent with its policy is made by its trustees. To support the SBC through the Cooperative Program is to agree to that way of doing things in advance. Integrity demands following that procedure in the event of a disagreement, and accepting the outcome and decision of the trustees.
There’s nothing, except integrity, that prevents churches from taking their football and going home when an SBC agency or entity does something it doesn’t like, and the church prefers not to follow the policy. But in making that decision, the church should realize that its actions are being interpreted as hostile to the denomination, because they are not following the prescribed method for dealing with these kinds of disagreements. They are publicly stating that, as a congregation, they are no longer in friendly cooperation with the SBC. If they were, they’d follow the rules to settle their differences, not attempt to force action using money as leverage, and not hold missionaries and seminary students hostage in order to get their own way.
Surely, among the messengers gathered for the next annual SBC meeting, there will be someone who rises, when the motion is made to seat messengers, and makes a motion to declare all churches that have escrowed CP funds during the past year as not being in friendly cooperation with the SBC, and therefore not eligible to be seated as messengers. Add to that a motion that any current member of those churches currently serving as a trustee or committee member, as a member of a church that is not in friendly cooperation with the SBC, be removed from their current denominational service, and you’ve resolved the problem.