WASHINGTON (BP) -- The mission of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is not primarily to declare biblical morality but to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, Russell D. Moore said upon his inauguration as the entity's new president.
Moore was inaugurated Tuesday (Sept. 10) in a ceremony at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, about six months after ERLC trustees elected him in March to lead the commission. He took office in June.
Members of Congress, at least one Obama administration official, religious leaders, advocacy organization representatives and most of the Southern Baptist Convention's entity heads participated or observed as Moore received encouragement and challenges from speakers in a service marked by hymn singing, Bible reading and prayer.
The ERLC addresses moral, social and church-state issues -- and their public policy implications -- on behalf of Southern Baptists, but Moore said in his inaugural address the Gospel is the focus of the entity's charge.
The mission of God's people and the ERLC, Moore said, "is not simply to speak about what the law of God has revealed. It is not simply to speak of the ethical norms that the Scripture has given to us. It is to speak primarily with the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Satan "is more than happy to have a world in which there is no pornography, in which there is no abortion, in which there is no malaria, in which there is no trafficking, in which there is no poverty as long as there is no cross," Moore said. "[W]e cannot be longing for Mayberry. We must have a voice that speaks to the conscience, a voice that is spattered with blood."
The Kingdom of God, Moore said, is "not made up of the moral. The Kingdom of God is made up of the crucified."
In an address based on Luke 4:14-30, Moore also delivered words of caution for American Christians. "[F]or too long we have assumed that the church is a means to an end to save America," he said. "America is important.
"But the end goal of the Gospel is not a Christian America. The end goal of the Gospel is redeemed from every tribe and tongue and nation and language" dwelling in the new Jerusalem, Moore told the audience.
"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," he said. "We belong to another kingdom."
Baptist Christians "can no longer pretend that we are a moral majority in this country," Moore said. "We are a prophetic minority who must speak into a world that is not different" than other historical eras.
The message Jesus shared, and His followers should share, is one of judgment and of hope, not fear, Moore said.
"The word that Jesus has given to His church is a word that is filled with optimism and joy," he told inaugural guests. "We are not slouching toward Gomorrah; we are marching to Zion."
Engaging the culture, however, requires the church of Jesus to be transformed from within, Moore said.
The Southern Baptist Convention's name reflects "the fact that we were founded, at least partly, to justify man-stealing and kidnapping, slavery and lynching," he said. "We stand here only by God's grace and mercy."
Regarding sexual ethics, Southern Baptists "need to see the ways in which we have already capitulated to the culture that we rail against," Moore said.
"[T]he red line that we set keeps moving further, further, further, further down," he said. "That cannot stand."
Moore's wife Maria and their five sons attended the inauguration.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Robert George, in their remarks, both commended Moore's qualifications and the timing of his ascendancy to the ERLC presidency.
"I believe that the providence of God is today demonstrated in the intersection of a man and a moment" in Moore's inauguration, said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
"He is not a self-made man, but he is a man well-made for these times," said Mohler, who called Southern Seminary's former dean of the school of theology an "ethicist by reflex, by training and by experience."
George, a Princeton University professor and the new chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, described Moore as "the right man in the right place at the right time."
It is a time when every foundational principle -- the dignity of every human being, the union of a man and a woman as the only understanding of marriage, and religious liberty -- "is in peril and is under assault," George said.
George expressed gratitude "on behalf of the larger Christian community to the Southern Baptist Convention" and the ERLC that selected Moore.
SBC President Fred Luter said he has no doubt Moore "will stand boldly and speak loudly" to the issues because the new ERLC president is a man of conviction, compassion and courage.
"[T]he churches of the Southern Baptist Convention will stand with you," Luter told Moore during the service.
Richard Land, the ERLC's president emeritus and its president from 1988 until his retirement earlier this year, urged Moore "to challenge us to ever greater orthopraxy, right practice, to match orthodoxy, right belief. Challenge us to be the salt and the light that our Savior has commanded us to be and our world so desperately needs for us to be."
After Land set forth the significance of the Baptist Faith and Message, Moore signed the SBC's confession of faith.
U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R.-Okla., told inaugural guests the Bible makes it clear God "is concerned about government and about what happens in our culture." Lankford said he reminds people "over and over again that Washington, D.C., reflects our culture; the church affects our culture."
Lankford, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate and former director of Oklahoma Baptists' Falls Creek Youth Camp, told Moore he looks forward "to the partnership and to working together to reinvigorate the church to affect" the culture.
Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, challenged Moore to be a giant-killer like David of the Old Testament.
"We need leaders," Page said. "Persecution is coming, and we need someone to stand strong. ... As families are falling apart all over the land, we need somebody to be a giant-killer. When racism raises its ugly head, we need somebody to stand in the gap."
Gene Taylor, who was a U.S. representative from Mississippi for 22 years, said Moore had "uncommon wisdom well beyond his young years" when he worked for the congressman beginning as a teenager.
Among others attending the inauguration were Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., and Melissa Rogers, special assistant to President Obama and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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