THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION’S DECISION TO INVESTIGATE RUSSELL MOORE HAS HUGE IMPLICATIONS FOR BLACK SBC CHURCHES
By William Dwight McKissic, Sr.
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 predominantly 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 evaluate 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 birth 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, 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’ comment does not specifically state that the ERLC works with “Black Lives Matter.”
Louis 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. 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. 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 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?
When David Hankins, Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, said to the Wall Street Journal: “The question before Southern Baptists now is, ‘Does the ERLC share our convictions and thus deserve our financial support’?” Whose “convictions” are Mr. Hankins referring to? In both instances they are referring to the White Republican constituency of the SBC.
Russell Moore’s “tone” is offensive to the base constituency of the SBC, but his text is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have longed for the SBC to address matters of race and justice. He is an anomaly in the SBC on race, and therefore he has to suffer for his “tone” while many of us celebrate his text.
One of the attractive features of the Southern Baptist Convention is its multi-ethnic inclusion and cooperation. However, most of the minorities in the Convention do not march in lock step with the Republican Party. The Executive Committee, by even launching this investigation, has moved dangerously close to consummating the obvious alliance between the Southern Baptist Convention and the Republican Party. If the alliance is consummated as a result of this unwarranted investigation, the message sent to all non-Republicans and to Black SBC churches is: “Pack your bags and leave.” This is the message that was recently spoken to me by Scott Young in a Facebook comment section of The Baptist Message, “SBC Executive Committee creates two panels to investigate SBC entities,” February 25, 2017, by Will Hall, Message Editor.
In response to my position that Black Churches may want to voice our displeasure of the investigation by reducing funds to the Cooperative Program; and Black Baptist Churches contemplating joining the SBC may want to await the outcome of the investigation before making a decision: “If that is truly your view, then pack your bags and leave the convention!” Scott Young was bold, unfiltered and brazen enough to say what I suspect the 80% Trump voters in the SBC want to say to Russell Moore and those of us who couldn’t get on the “Trump train” for ethical, convictional and racial reasons. Will the Executive Committee, based on their decision, in essence say to those not on the Trump train: “Pack your bags and leave”? It is profane to the Kingdom of God to intertwine ecclesiology and secular politics in a manner that is foundational to the concerns and complaints regarding Russell Moore.
All four issues Russell Moore is being investigated over have a race-based component: immigration, race relations, police brutality denouncement and his Trump critique. Moore has attempted to provide a Kingdom perspective to these issues. His critics are responding to the political and racial overtones of his message, while missing the Kingdom perspective.
President George W. Bush, whom I proudly voted for twice, because of his commitment to protect traditional marriage, stated concerning President Trump’s racial views:
“’I don’t like the racism and I don’t like the name-calling and I don’t like the people feeling alienated,’ Bush told People magazine in an interview…”
While not plainly labeled, President Trump is viewed as a racist by a Republican President. Yet, the Southern Baptist Convention is now investigating the Chief Ethics Officer for speaking a truth that a secular President can say, but not a Kingdom representative, assigned to ethics issues? Something is wrong with that picture.
Dr. Russell Moore is essentially under investigation by the Southern Baptist Convention for his accurate, biblical, prophetic and outspoken views regarding race in America. Prestonwood, Louisiana Baptists, Abilene Baptist in Augusta, GA, did not challenge or withhold funds or threaten to withhold funds when former ERLC President Richard Land made controversial racial remarks:
‘Land, who is white, said in an interview that he has no regrets. And he defended the idea that people are justified in seeing young black men as threatening: A black man is ‘statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man.’”
Land referred to racism as a “central myth” in response to charges of racism relative to the Trayvon Martin shooting. Land dug in his heels and publically claimed that he’d received overwhelming email support from the Southern Baptist Convention people and leaders in support of his views. Yet, no large SBC church pastor withheld funds or criticized Richard Land. Russell Moore has only spoken the truth about race and four race-based issues, and they now condemn him. This is painful to watch. Thank God that Richard Land—after many weeks of stalling—apologized. I believe he was sincere, and I accepted his apology. Russell Moore has apologized for crimes he did not commit. Yet, the Convention wants to proceed with an investigation? Is the SBC troubled by Russell Moore because he does not view racism as a “central myth” as his predecessor once claimed?
I’m grateful and proud to be a Southern Baptist. I also hold dual membership in the National Baptist Convention, USA, because it is important to me to be a part of a Convention where entity heads include people who resemble me. The National Baptist Convention, USA, membership, contrary to the SBC, primarily has members who support the Democratic Party. The two most celebrated National Baptist preachers in the past 40 years are the late Dr. J.H. Jackson and the late Dr. E.V. Hill. Both were proud Republicans, and both were accepted and beloved in the National Baptist Convention. Admittedly though, there were times when there was strong opposition expressed in the National Baptist Convention regarding their political affiliations. Neither was investigated or threatened to be booted from office because of their politics. Dr. J.H. Jackson publically endorsed Richard Nixon for POTUS during his annual address as President of the National Baptist Convention back in 1972. His endorsement was met with loud, boisterous, boos from the massive audience. Yet he served as President of the Convention for 29 years and was elected annually following his Nixon endorsement until 1982. Although not affecting Jackson in his capacity as leader, Dr. Hill’s political leanings possibly did. Dr. E.V. Hill served as Vice President for many years under Dr. Jackson; but when Dr. Hill ran for President of the Convention, he lost to lesser-known, Dr. William Shaw. Many would say Hill’s defeat was in part due to his Republican affiliation. The Southern Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Convention tend to blindly follow the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively, regardless of the candidate. The Kingdom of God cannot be pleased with either Convention, relative to this partisan blind loyalty.
However, in SBC life, it is all but political suicide to admit that you vote Democratic. This becomes a huge problem for the SBC as it relates to minority outreach. I once read in a SBC blog comment stream that Fred Luter was the first SBC President that the Convention did not know how he voted for POTUS. Neither do I know; but what I do know is, if he voted Democrat and let it be known, the Southern Baptist Convention would have rejected him; and that would have been tragic, sinful and shameful.
Why is it that we know for sure that every previous President of the Southern Baptist Convention since the Reagan era voted for Republicans, but we don’t know how Dr. Fred Luter, the only Black President in SBC history voted? It’s because if Luter even hinted at supporting anyone other than the Republican Presidential Candidate, he likely would have been booed at the Southern Baptist Convention just as J.H. Jackson was booed at the National Baptist Convention. Our loyalty to the Kingdom must supersede our loyalty to political alignments and the breaking of fellowship if one gets out of line.
If Russell Moore is reprimanded or rejected, it would be difficult for me to be able to continue to say, I’m proud and grateful to be a Southern Baptist. I am not sure how a reprimand will affect many like-minded Black Baptists who are members of the SBC. For sure, it would be disheartening and disappointing. Therefore, this question must be raised: Should minority churches in SBC life financially increase or maintain their level of giving to a Convention that appears poised to respond punitively to an entity head, who would dare speak honestly and ethically—regarding a Republican Presidential candidate and race matters? Each minority SBC church will have to reach its own conclusion regarding this matter, pending the outcome of the investigation
Just as Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated by his generation, yet celebrated by the next generation; just as C.H. Spurgeon was vilified by his generation for preaching against slavery in Alabama, but he was lionized for preaching against slavery “out of season” by subsequent generations; and just as Jesus came unto his own, and “his own received Him not”; Dr. Russell Moore has brought a prophetic word to “his own” and “his own” receives him not. I predict in the next generation, Dr. Russell Moore will be celebrated as the Southern Baptists who had the greatest impact on race relations in her history and policies and positions that are objectionable to some Southern Baptists today, will be representative of the vast majority of Southern Baptists of all races in the next generation. The late Dr. T.B. Matson, former Ethics Professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, may be the only other Southern Baptist that would belong in the same sentence as Russell Moore in Southern Baptist history with regard to impacting race relations systemically and globally; thus, improving the image of Southern Baptists regarding racial issues, which is important to our Great Commission objectives.
History will vindicate Russell Moore. Now we will wait and see if the Executive Committee will.