CAMDEN, Ark. (BP) — The church, more than any other institution, must constantly address issues of ethics and morality — which Richard Piles understands as well as anybody in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Piles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Camden, became chairman of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s trustees in May 2012 after serving on the board for four years in various capacities.
Piles, 38, said he never set out to become directly involved with the ERLC but said he was honored to become an ERLC trustee when he was asked to serve. Piles was a member of the trustees’ administration and finance committee before becoming vice chairman and then later trustee chairman.
“I was not seeking it out. … However, I knew that if I, as a younger pastor, was asked, I was going to get involved in our national convention because I felt that it was important for the next generation of leaders to come along,” Piles said.
The ERLC is an entity of the SBC dedicated to addressing ethical issues from a biblical perspective and promoting religious liberty. According to its website, erlc.com, the ERLC seeks “to assist the churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel.”
“Essentially, the ERLC exists for two purposes,” Piles said, “to speak to Southern Baptists about cultural issues and equip them to handle and address those issues within a local church and to speak for Southern Baptists in the marketplace and in Washington D.C.”
While he was somewhat familiar with the ERLC before becoming a trustee, Piles said he hadn’t been fully aware of the vast resources the ERLC has to offer pastors and churches.
“I did not know all that the ERLC did until I became involved as a trustee. We have a ton of resources that are available to local church pastors — resources that plenty of local church pastors don’t know about,” Piles said.
“Being a trustee, I have tapped into resources that have helped me inform my people regarding gambling, state lottery, issues regarding traditional marriage, abortion legislation, voter I.D. and concealed handguns. All of those are ethical issues. They are issues that pastors have to address,” Piles said. “It has been those issues that have caused me to trust even more the resources that are available through the ERLC.”
“First Baptist Church, Camden, is similar to most of the churches within the SBC as well as within the ABSC [Arkansas Baptist State Convention]. The average pastor at the average church has to wear a lot of hats,” Piles said.
“The typical pastor in the state of Arkansas is pastor of a small church or he is bivocational. But just because you are bivocational or just because you are rural doesn’t mean that you are excluded from all of those issues: sanctity of life, gambling, alcohol, pornography, marriage, reproductive technologies and more. Those particular problems do not discriminate. … Those pastors may not have time to be experts in all of those issues but the ERLC does. And that is their sole purpose.”
In 2012, Richard Land, president of the ERLC since 1988, announced his retirement following controversy over remarks he made regarding the Trayvon Martin murder case and allegations of plagiarism during his weekly radio program “Richard Land LIVE!” As chairman, Piles was tasked with appointing a presidential search committee to find Land’s replacement and serving as one of its members.
The ERLC search committee worked for six months interviewing numerous candidates for the position before recommending Russell D. Moore as the entity’s new president March 26.
“Russell Moore brings with him a following automatically because of his time and influence at Southern Seminary. There is an automatic connection for him and a following with the millennial generation that he will bring with him to the ERLC. … Dr. Moore is on Twitter, he is on Facebook, he has his blog, he does podcasts — all of those things that millennials are in touch with. … He is very culturally relevant.
“One of the things that Russell Moore is aiming to model for the convention is ‘convictional kindness,’” Piles continued. “His mindset is that he can disagree with someone regarding conviction but he is still going to be kind, gentle, likeable and personable throughout the entire conversation.”
Regarding the June 26 Supreme Court decisions embracing gay marriage, Piles from his vantage point as a local church pastor and as ERLC chairman, said the rulings were “certainly disappointing but not surprising,” since a number of observers had predicted the stance that the court would take.
“Now that it is reality, the question that is most pertinent to me and my congregation is how will we respond,” Piles said.
“I have set aside our Sunday evening worship service on July 14 to speak on and answer questions from my members regarding court’s decisions and homosexual marriage in general. Some might think I need to respond to sooner. However, this is a complex issue that has far-reaching ramifications and needs to be handled with intentional care,” Piles noted. “I want to make sure that I have done my job in addressing the issue thoughtfully and respond then with ‘convictional kindness,’ borrowing a phrase from Dr. Moore.
“In short, FBC Camden will continue to define marriage the way God defines marriage in His Word as between one man and one woman for a lifetime,” Piles said. “We will attempt to do a better job in modeling Christ-honor marriages in our members. We will continue to expect our members to live their lives according to the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, and we will minister to whomever regardless of their struggles and point them to Jesus who offers real life change.”
Caleb Yarbrough writes for the Arkansas Baptist News (www.arkansasbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.