by Tom Strode
NASHVILLE (BP) — Addressing human sexuality and defending freedom of conscience gained high profiles in the work of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in 2014.
The Gospel and human sexuality constituted the subject of both the ERLC’s first national conference and inaugural leadership summit during the last year, with speakers addressing such topics as sexual ethics, marriage and same-sex attraction. The entity also busily advocated for domestic and international religious freedom for all in the public square and in court.
Russell Moore, the ERLC’s president, told leadership summit participants in April the way to address Americans “is not by more culture-war posturing but by a Christ-shaped counter-revolution that takes seriously what the Bible speaks about sexuality, about marriage, about human dignity and focuses that upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The ERLC’s ministry in 2014 came in its first full year under the leadership of Moore, who became president in June 2013.
Here are 10 key news subjects involving the ERLC in 2014:
‘Marriage crisis predated gay marriage, conf. speakers say’
A capacity crowd of about 1,300 people attended “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage,” the ERLC’s first national conference Oct. 27-29 in Nashville. Conference speakers and
panelists addressed not only how to rebuild marriages and to counter the redefinition of marriage but how to love those who endorse same-sex unions and to help those with homosexual attractions.
Evangelicals cannot repeat the “same old mistakes” in which they “slowly adapted to a sexual revolution that is now ravaging our churches and our culture,” Moore said. If evangelical Christians make the
same mistakes now, he said, “we won’t just lose a marriage culture; we will lose the Gospel itself.”
‘Supreme Court finds in favor of Hobby Lobby; Baptists rejoice’
The U.S. Supreme Court provided a victory in June for the religious liberty rights of Hobby Lobby and other family owned, for-profit businesses that conscientiously object to the abortion/contraception mandate in the federal government’s 2010 health-care law. The rule required employers to provide for their workers drugs and devices that can potentially cause abortions. The ERLC and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary signed onto friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Hobby Lobby. The 5-4 opinion, however, did not address the conscientious objections of some religious non-profit organizations. The challenge by GuideStone Financial Resources of the mandate is pending at the federal appeals court level.
‘Moore at Vatican: Gospel vital in marriage’
In November, Moore spoke at an international, inter-religious conference on marriage sponsored by the Vatican, telling attendees they should defend man-woman marriage for the common good, but Christians also must champion it for the sake of the Gospel. Christians not only should advocate for the biblical, traditional meaning of marriage for the benefit of human society but because of the church’s conviction “that what is disrupted when we move beyond the creation design of marriage and family is not only human flourishing, although it is that, but also the picture of the very mystery that defines the existence of the universe itself — the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.
‘Sex-saturated culture addressed at summit’
Speakers at the ERLC’s first leadership summit in April encouraged pastors and other evangelicals to speak biblically and live purely to minister faithfully in a hyper-sexualized culture. “The Gospel and
Human Sexuality” drew more than 200 registrants to Nashville, where primarily Southern Baptist leaders addressed such issues as marital sexuality, pastoral care for sexual immorality, pornography, same-sex marriage, sex trafficking, and discussing sex with children and young people.
‘Black, white Southern Baptists react to grand jury decision’
The deaths of African-American men Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police — and the failure of grand juries to bring indictments –– elicited expressions of concern and grief from black
and white Southern Baptist leaders. “[A] government that can choke a man to death on video for selling cigarettes is not a government living up to a biblical definition of justice or any recognizable definition of justice,” Moore said. The incidents prompted the ERLC to change the topic of its next leadership summit in March 2015 from developing a pro-life ethic to racial reconciliation.
‘Housing allowance survives at appeals court’
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago overturned in November a federal judge’s decision striking down the 60-year-old ministerial housing allowance. The appeals court ruled an atheist organization lacked the legal right to challenge the portion of a 1954 law that permits clergy to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. The ERLC, GuideStone and International Mission Board had signed onto briefs defending the allowance.
‘Houston sermon subpoenas unite Baptists’
Baptists on both sides of a divide from the days of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention — including the ERLC and Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty — united in October to call for Houston Mayor Annise Parker to concede the city was wrong to subpoena sermons and other communications by pastors who oppose a new homosexual-transgender ordinance.
Parker later announced the withdrawal of the subpoenas.
‘ERLC honors heroic Christians at SBC’
In June’s SBC meeting at Baltimore, the ERLC presented the John Leland Religious Liberty Award to Steve and Jackie Green of Hobby Lobby for their family’s refusal to abide by the federal government’s abortion/contraception mandate. It also gave the Richard Land Distinguished Service Award to Naghmeh Abedini on behalf of her husband, Saeed, an American citizen imprisoned since 2012 by Iran’s oppressive regime for his Christian service in that country.
‘Prayers at town meetings okay, justices rule’
The Supreme Court ruled in May prayers at a town’s legislative meetings are constitutional. The 5-4 decision reversed a federal appeals court, which ruled the prayer policy of the Greece, N.Y., Town Board violated the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion. The ERLC filed a brief in support of the town’s policy.
‘ERLC network to equip Christians for culture’
The ERLC announced new initiatives in 2014 to equip pastors and other Christians, including its Leadership Network, a “Questions & Ethics” podcast, a “Canon & Culture” blog and podcast, and the Research Institute think tank.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.
Reprinted from Baptist Press (www.baptistpress.com).
Baptist Press (BP) is the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention and provides news to the 42 state Baptist papers. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.