A lone congregant waits in person for the web-streamed Sunday services to begin in Seattle, Wash., March 22, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters) What Russell Moore’s departure from Southern Baptist leadership means.
On May 18, Russell Moore announced his resignation as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The ERLC is the SBC’s public-policy arm in Washington. Moore has been the subject of controversy among some in SBC leadership. Many Southern Baptists are Donald Trump supporters. Moore is not. The media, generally uninterested in religious Americans, have been satisfied to throw those bits of information together and report that support for Trump is causing tension in the SBC.
But a letter that Moore wrote in February 2020 has now been published online by Religion News Service, and Moore argues that Trump has nothing to do with his conflicts with SBC leadership.
Let’s fill in some background first by looking at each word in the name of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Southern. The SBC is predominately southern and its membership is predominately white. Consequently, its membership predominately votes Republican. It’s important to note the levers of causation there. They don’t vote Republican because they are Baptist. There are many other Baptist denominations whose memberships look very different from Southern Baptists, and they vote very differently. Any organization formed from a broad sample of mostly white Southerners is going to have a lot of Republicans in it; such is life.
Baptist. Baptists use congregational polity, which means that there is no formal hierarchy beyond the local church. Baptists only recognize two church offices: pastor and deacon. There are no bishops or cardinals that give directives telling churches how to operate. Churches in the SBC don’t really have to abide by anything the SBC says if they don’t want to. The authority of the local church is the first priority.
Convention. The SBC is best understood as a membership organization, not a clerical body. The SBC has an annual meeting in the summer where elections are held and decisions are made within the
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