WASHINGTON (BP) — “Convictional kindness” became the new catch phrase for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in 2013.
The term entered the entity's lexicon when Russell D. Moore was elected its president in March — the first time trustees had needed to select a new head for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in nearly a quarter of a century. Moore quickly offered a vision of cultural engagement marked by faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus and Scripture as well as by grace toward those whom Christians disagree with on the issues.
“We will stand with conviction, and we'll contend, as the prophets and apostles did in the public square, against injustice, but we'll do so with a tone shaped by the Gospel, with a convictional kindness that recognizes that our enemies are not persons of flesh and blood,” Moore said in giving his first report to the annual SBC meeting last June in Houston. “Our enemies are invisible principalities and powers the Scriptures say are in the air around us. We oppose demons; we don't demonize opponents.”
Moore — whom the website Real Clear Religion named Dec. 27 as one of 2013's top 14 religious newsmakers — and the ERLC had plenty of chances to demonstrate “convictional kindness” throughout the remainder of the year. This was especially true when espousing a biblical perspective in the face of the effort to redefine marriage and of threats to unborn children from the Obama administration's abortion/contraception mandate.
TEN OF THE ERLC'S KEY NEWS AND FEATURE STORIES FOR 2013
ERLC trustees ushered in a new generation of leadership March 26 by electing Moore, then 41, as the eighth president in the ERLC's history. He took office June 1. At his Sept. 10 inauguration in Washington, D.C., Moore said, “We will stand as good American citizens, and we will fight for justice, and we will fight for liberty, and we will fight with our forefathers for all of those things that have been [guaranteed to us] by the Constitution as Americans, but we will also remember that we are not Americans first. We belong to another kingdom.” He came to the ERLC after nine years as dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Richard Land concluded a quarter-century of service as head of the ERLC and was named president emeritus upon his retirement. At a June 8 dinner honoring Land, SBC leaders commended him for his courageous leadership in directing the commission to become a stalwart advocate for the sanctity of human life and religious freedom while it maintained its biblical stances on such issues as racial reconciliation and marriage.
The Supreme Court struck down the section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that had defined marriage as a heterosexual union for purposes of such matters as federal benefits and had barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The ERLC responded with a fact sheet to help churches understand the effect of the high court's action. While the justices' opinion did not legalize gay marriage nationwide, a series of advances at the federal and state levels followed for the movement.
The ERLC bolstered its call for the Obama administration to overturn the religious coercion in its abortion/contraception mandate, a rule implementing the 2010 health care law that requires employers to carry insurance for workers covering drugs defined by the federal government as contraceptives, even if they can cause chemical abortions. The entity is co-leading with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops a diverse coalition opposed to the mandate. In addition, the ERLC signed onto friend-of-the-court briefs in support of several legal challenges, including ones by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties that will be considered by the Supreme Court in 2014.
The ERLC joined the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in support of Southern Baptist military chaplains as they deal with the U.S. Armed Forces' recognition of same-sex marriage. In late August, NAMB issued new guidelines for chaplains that reinforced Southern Baptist beliefs on the issue.1
A federal judge in Wisconsin struck down Nov. 22 the part of a 1954 law that allows ministers to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. The ERLC and GuideStone Financial Resources, the SBC's health and financial benefits entity, opposed the ruling and said they would work to protect the allowance.
The ERLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court in support of prayers before legislative meetings as constitutionally protected expressions by private citizens. The justices heard oral arguments Nov. 6 in the important religious freedom case and will issue their ruling in the next few months.
A federal judge in Utah essentially decriminalized the state's ban on polygamy in a Dec. 13 decision. The ERLC's Moore criticized the ruling, saying, “This is what happens when marriage becomes about the emotional and sexual wants of adults,” instead of the needs of children. Utah's attorney general has announced that he will appeal the ruling.
The ERLC continued to work throughout the year for responsible immigration reform that is both just and compassionate. The Senate approved a broad legislative proposal, but the House of Representatives has yet to vote on measures to address the issue.
The ERLC inaugurated several new enterprises after Moore became president. They included a panel discussion on marriage in conjunction with the SBC meeting in June, Church Equip conferences to assist local congregations, a conversation on religious liberty in Washington, D.C., by a diverse group of commentators and the John Leland Award Lecture on Religious Liberty on Capitol Hill.