ERLC, EC Trustee Officers Respond to Task Force Announcement

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NASHVILLE (BP) — Officers of the Board of Trustees of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) strongly objected Thursday (Feb. 20) to the formation of a task force to study the ERLC’s effectiveness and instructed the entity and its leadership “not to comply” with the inquiry.

In an open letter to SBC Executive Committee chairman Mike Stone and EC members, the ERLC trustee officers called the task force, which was formed by the EC earlier this week, “unwarranted, divisive, and disrespectful.” Signed by ERLC Board of Trustees chairman David Prince and the board’s other officers, the letter suggested the EC was attempting to usurp the role delegated to the ERLC’s trustees and included a statement of support for ERLC president Russell Moore.

“We find the action of the Executive Committee … disappointing, unnecessary, and harmful to our cooperative work in the SBC,” the ERLC trustee officers wrote, adding: “At a time where a unified voice is needed for our cooperative Gospel work, the Executive Committee is sowing needless division, treating trustees with disrespect, and spreading suspicion with this unnecessary task force.”

EC members voted Tuesday (Feb. 18) to form the seven-member task force, which will be headed by Stone. It is designed to address concerns that “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.”

In a written response to the ERLC trustee officers’ letter, the officers of the SBC Executive Committee noted that the action “passed unanimously among the (EC) officers, unanimously in subcommittee, and by an overwhelming majority” of the full EC. The full text of the EC’s response to the open letter follows this article.

“We respect the right of the ERLC trustees and chairman Prince to respond to the SBC Executive Committee’s formation of a study task force,” the EC officers wrote in the response. “It was never our intention to communicate disrespect or seek to divide. This is not an attempt to remove Dr. Moore or to direct his staff.

“We believe in the trustee system and understand clearly that Dr. Moore’s presidency and the work of his team are matters for the ERLC board of trustees.”

But the response also noted the EC has a responsibility to “present and recommend the SBC Cooperative Program Allocation” to messengers at the SBC Annual Meeting, and “to promote the entire Cooperative Program.”

In 2017, the EC created a similar task force. A 13-member ad hoc committee was tasked with monitoring the activities of Southern Baptist entities in relation to how their activities might adversely affect the Cooperative Program and churches.

It received reports then from executive directors of state Baptist conventions that 75 churches across the SBC “were withholding, designating or escrowing Cooperative Program funds.” While only 14 churches were confirmed by the committee, those 14 were estimated to have diverted a total of about $1.5 million away from the Cooperative Program.

The EC’s action Tuesday to form a task force specifically stated three bylaw responsibilities, beginning with its responsibility to recommend the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget annually to the SBC, as required by SBC Bylaw 18.E(6).

The EC is also tasked with studying or making recommendations to entities, and the Convention when advisable, concerning adjustments required by ministry statements or by established Convention policies and practices, as described in SBC Bylaw 18.E(9). Finally, the EC is directed by the Convention to present to the Convention recommendations required to clarify the responsibilities of the entities for ministries and other functions, as provided in SBC Bylaw 18.E(13).

Shortly after the EC vote Tuesday, Stone noted the prevalence of “fake news” about the ERLC, and said the task force would be “looking for the facts.”

“We are hearing from state leadership and other pastors across the country,” he said then. “We are making a statement about effectiveness.”

But among several objections, the ERLC trustee officers said the EC’s action “inappropriately seizes the responsibility and work of the ERLC trustees,” that “evaluating the effectiveness of Dr. Moore and the ERLC team is uniquely the work of the trustees of the ERLC, and that formation of the task force was “a vote of no confidence” in ERLC trustees, “which is both insulting and … inappropriate and out of step with Southern Baptist cooperation.”

Source: Baptist Press

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