NASHVILLE (BP) – The trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission committed the entity to assess sexual abuse in the convention in one of many actions taken during their annual meeting Sept. 14-15.
The Board of Trustees approved their wholehearted support - without opposition - to a motion from the SBC's 2021 June Annual Meeting that requested the ERLC to engage an outside organization "to oversee and audit" such an appraisal. In a later vote, the trustees passed, again without opposition, a motion to "set aside" $250,000 as an initial commitment for the assessment.
The motion at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting requested a three-year study, with preliminary reports by the ERLC at the next two annual convention meetings and a final report at the 2024 meeting. According to the motion, the assessment will receive reports from "voluntarily participating churches, victims, and witnesses," according to the motion.
Among the motion's instructions, the staff is to present for board approval an advisory committee "to help oversee and execute the study process." The staff is to work with other SBC entities and organizations to produce partnerships and procure funding. The staff also is to collect proposals from firms to conduct the evaluation.
In other votes, the ERLC trustees:
- Elected Lori Bova of Hobbs, New Mexico, as trustee chair, making her the second female to serve in that role. Bova is a member of Taylor Memorial Baptist Church, Hobbs.
- Named Brent Leatherwood, the commission's chief of staff and vice president of external affairs, as acting president.
- Approved a candidate profile to guide the search for the entity's next president and initiated the process of receiving applications and recommendations for the office.
- Endorsed former ERLC President Russell Moore for the Richard Land Distinguished Service Award and Southern Baptist pastors Griffin Gulledge and Mark Dever for the John Leland Religious Liberty Award.
- Affirmed the ERLC staff's work on technology ethics and pro-life issues.
- Passed responses to a total of six motions referred to the ERLC at the SBC's 2021 meeting.
- Approved a 2021-22 operating budget of $3.912 million, about $70,000 less than the previous budget.
In addition, David Prince, the outgoing chairman, announced a special trustee meeting for late February or early March 2022 to provide mid-year updates in a virtual format.
The trustees also approved a motion to affirm Bobby Reed and his 22 years of service as the commission's chief financial officer.
As the ERLC’s new acting president, Leatherwood succeeds Daniel Patterson, who served after Moore stepped down on June 1. Patterson, whose last day at the ERLC was Sept. 3, will be the new executive pastor at Central Baptist Church, College Station, Texas.
The trustees also endorsed a candidate profile consisting of eight criteria presented by the presidential search committee to the entire board. Those requirements, in the profile's words, call for the candidate to be: spiritually mature, a faithful servant, conventionally Southern Baptist, appropriately educated, an excellent communicator, pastoral in heart, an experienced leader, a proven unifier.
Bova, the newly elected board chairwoman, served as vice-chair over the last two years. Other officers elected or re-elected were Kevin Smith, at-large trustee from Maryland, as vice-chair and Justin Sampler, trustee from Oklahoma, as secretary. Other ERLC executive committee members whose selections were affirmed by the board are Todd Howard, Arkansas, as chair of the Administrative and Finance Committee; Alan Gayle, Oregon (Northwest Baptist Convention), as chair of the Communications Committee; and Miles Mullin, Missouri, as chair of the Research and Public Policy Committee.
Gulledge, a pastor of Madison Baptist Church, Madison, Georgia, received the John Leland Religious Liberty Award for his social-media advocacy for the Uyghur people, who are primarily Muslims, and his drafting of a resolution approved at this year's SBC meeting that condemned the Chinese Community Party's treatment of them as genocide.
Dever, the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C., was the other recipient of the Leland Award for his "model engagement with local authorities and his stand for religious liberty during the COVID-19 pandemic," according to the document offering his nomination. With Dever's leadership, the church abided by the city's restrictions on corporate worship by meeting outdoors outside the District of Columbia but filed suit when the government prohibited it from gathering outdoors in D.C. with safety measures while allowing gatherings of thousands for other events. A federal judge ruled in the church's favor, and the government agreed in July to pay $220,000 in legal fees.
In other responses to motions referred to the ERLC from the SBC's 2021 meeting, the trustees:
- Affirmed - in reply to a motion to study strategies to abolish abortion - the commission's lengthy, tireless work "toward the goal of ending abortion, both through legislation, litigation and ultimately working towards a culture where abortion is both unthinkable and unnecessary in our society."
- Committed the ERLC board and staff - in response to a motion for an investigation of the commission - to "fully comply" with an investigation approved by the convention's messengers in June of the SBC Executive Committee's handling of sex abuse issues.
- Affirmed that offering puberty blockers and "transitioning hormones" to minors is "harmful and unethical" and said the ERLC has resources regarding the issue on its website and will continue to oppose federal efforts to approve sexual orientation and gender identity legislation.
- Postponed responses to motions referred to all SBC entities regarding audits and the use of non-disclosure agreements until more discussion occurs with the other entities.