NASHVILLE (BP) — Pastors, seminary students, Bible teachers, ministry leaders and writers were among those who gathered in Nashville for a crash course in Christian ethics. Participants testified they came away better prepared to address the difficult issues of the day.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission sponsored its ERLC Academy for the third consecutive year May 22-23 and followed it with a three-day doctoral seminar.
ERLC President Russell Moore lectured on ethics and answered questions during the two days of the academy before nearly 250 participants at the Southern Baptist Convention building and, in some sessions, an audience watching on Facebook. He first provided an ethical paradigm and then addressed such issues as the sanctity of human life, gender identity, religious liberty, marriage, artificial reproductive technology, capital punishment and poverty.
Author and Bible teacher Jen Wilkin said she “left better equipped with a framework for thinking through the ethical implications of dilemmas common to pastoral ministry.”
“The lectures helped me identify where my implicit assumptions or personal experience were shaping my responses to ethical dilemmas,” Wilkins said in email comments for Baptist Press. “The academy created space for me to think in directions my normal schedule doesn’t always allow me to.”
Raleigh Sadler — executive director of the Let My People Go Network, an anti-human trafficking, non-profit organization in New York City — said Moore’s “treatment of Christian ethics was refreshing, to say the least.”
“Rather than merely regurgitating a list of hot-button issues and a subsequent list of the ‘right’ answers, Moore did the opposite,” Sadler told BP via email. “[H]e began by addressing ethics at the level of basic beliefs. Equipping the student with a biblical framework through which to understand ethics, he began to address issues that we face on a daily basis. Through each seminar, Moore would show how each of these basic categories was important when thinking through the ethical dilemmas that we face on a daily basis.”
Lauren Konkol — a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who is on staff at the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. — said the academy prepared her “to think rightly about difficult ethical issues facing the public square by challenging [her] to use Scripture as the lens, rather than cultural stereotypes.
Kara Bettis, a Boston-area freelance reporter and Southern Seminary student, said the class “helped me reconsider topics that I thought I had already had answers for and challenged my thinking in terms of real and hypothetical ethical dilemmas.”
Moore told BP he was “delighted to once again host the ERLC Academy.”
“This is a week I treasure every year, and my prayer for all those who attended or watched sessions is that they would come away with a renewed understanding and passion for the truths of Scripture and the expansion of Christ’s kingdom,” Moore said in email remarks.
The academy and doctoral seminar continued the cooperation between the ERLC and the convention’s seminaries. Doctoral students from Southern Baptist Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary participated in both the academy and seminar.
Randy Stinson, provost and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary, told BP the partnership between Southern and the ERLC “is fruitful for our students in multiple ways.”
“Not only are they able to be taught by great leaders like Russell Moore, but they are exposed to the great work of the ERLC and it strengthens the students’ relationship and commitment to the SBC,” Stinson said in email comments.
This year’s registration, 249, nearly doubled the 125 registrants at the first ERLC Academy in 2015. The initial academy also was held in Nashville, while the 2016 event took place in Washington, D.C.
Speakers in the doctoral seminar were Moore and ERLC staff members Phillip Bethancourt, Daniel Patterson and Travis Wussow, as well as National Review senior writer David French and, via Skype, Rod Dreher, senior editor at The American Conservative.
Wilkin — a member of The Village Church in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and a part of the ERLC’s Leadership Council — explained to BP why she chose to take part in the academy.
“My path into ministry was not via seminary, so I jump at the chance to receive seminary-level instruction when possible,” she said. “The academy presented the perfect condensed learning opportunity on an area of Christian thought in which I need development. Dr. Moore is adept at teaching complex concepts in accessible ways, so the scope and the instructor made the academy an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.”
Sadler said he “had no idea what to expect of the ERLC Academy. This is because, frankly, there is nothing like the ERLC Academy available for those in local SBC church ministry or those aspiring to the office of pastor.”
“[E]verything was practical and easily applicable while also being thoroughly saturated with the Gospel,” Sadler told BP, adding he expects the training to benefit his anti-trafficking efforts.
“As I work with churches helping them to address the vulnerability that is rampant in their respective communities, I am always coming face to face with ethical issues,” Sadler said. “This class helped me to have a better understanding of how to not only think through these issues but how to help others do the same.”
In email comments for BP, Bettis said Moore’s teaching “expertly points to the foundations of Christocentric ethical behavior, and offers his students a framework that helps them tackle any questionable situation in ministry or the culture. He was able to embrace any difficult question that came his way.”
Konkol told BP by email the academy “far exceeded my expectations — the teaching was clear; the production was excellent; and the hospitality was outstanding.”