News Articles

ERLC making ‘a real difference’ on culture, Land tells trustees

NASHVILLE (BP)–Richard Land was fresh from a two-week trip to China as trustees of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission gathered Sept. 13-14 for their annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

Land, recently reappointed to the USCIRF by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist after two earlier stints as a presidential appointee, logged more than 21,000 air miles before the trip ended Aug. 28. (See accompanying story.)

Reviewing the ERLC’s work during the past year, Land highlighted the iVoteValues campaign, which was launched in early 2004 by the ERLC to call Americans to register to vote, encourage their friends to register and then go to the polls and vote their values.

“I think it made a real difference and a lasting difference,” Land said. “I see a real sea change in the attitude of Southern Baptist churches and Southern Baptist church members when it comes to being involved in public policy, registering to vote and voting their values.” The voter registration and awareness initiative was not about telling Americans who to vote for, Land continued. “It simply focused on encouraging people to vote and to vote their values,” added Land, author of the recently released book “Imagine! A God-Blessed America” from the Broadman & Holman division of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Trustees learned that Land was a popular subject for media interviews since their last meeting. Data compiled by ERLC staffers showed potentially over 1.7 billion people either saw, read or heard about Land or the ERLC during the past year, a threefold increase over the prior year. There were more than 650 “media hits,” defined as interviews with Land or references to him or the ERLC, during the period, including growing international media attention. The ERLC president was interviewed on subjects as diverse as “same-sex marriage,” the papacy, Intelligent Design and the Supreme Court nomination of Judge John Roberts.

“We have had the opportunity to have a real impact on the culture,” Land said, quickly noting he was using the word “we” in the most collective sense of the word. “I say this quite sincerely, that any acclaim that I have achieved in large part really belongs to the people of God called Southern Baptists. They are heeding the call to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in their communities and in the culture,” he said.

Land told the trustees that SBC executives had held an emergency meeting to review how various convention entities are responding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Great Commission Council recommended unanimously that all Cooperative Program receipts in excess of the 2004-05 CP budget be designated for disaster relief. While it would hurt the ERLC financially, it was a sacrifice the commission was willing to make, Land said, projecting revenue loss through the end of the fiscal year for the ERLC to be $150,000.

“We will adjust the budget accordingly,” Land promised the trustees. It is expected that the actual overage will be around $7 million and would be redirected to aid in the recovery at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, relief efforts by North American Mission Board and to state Baptist conventions in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

In response to a trustee’s question regarding how the ERLC’s 1.49 percent share of Cooperative Program funds could be increased, Land agreed the ERLC is the “most seriously under-funded” entity in the SBC. CP receipts provide more than 90 percent of the commission’s operating revenues, he said. Yet if the SBC Executive Committee wants to increase the commission’s percentage, they would have to move the funds from another SBC entity, he said.

“Who are they going to take it from?” Land asked. “That’s a difficult argument to make.” ERLC’s share of CP receipts was increased in 1997, Land said, adding, “I don’t expect them to change that percentage.

“The Cooperative Program is critical for all of us, but the Cooperative Program is not enough for any of us,” Land explained, saying the ERLC could not exist without it. “We need to reconnect our seminary students and young pastors to the Cooperative Program by emphasizing the program and how it works.” He said the ERLC needs to be “visionary” and look at other revenue streams: “The Cooperative Program is the base; it is not enough by itself.”

Trustee chairman David Willets announced the ERLC had contracted with a company to evaluate the commission’s salary structure. He said the trustees had initiated the study to determine if ERLC employees were being “fairly compensated.” He said the Phillip Blount Group of Atlanta conducted an “exhaustive study of job descriptions, compensation and comparative salary range in the marketplace” for the SBC entity. The results of the study were presented to the trustees, giving the ERLC an “official structure” upon which to set employee remuneration, Willets said.

The Blount study revealed that all ERLC employees were well within recommended salary structures with the exception of a few support-level staff who need increases to reach the recommended levels.

In other business, trustees:

— named Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as the 2005 recipient of the Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award. “Dr. Paige Patterson was an essential man in the Conservative Resurgence,” ERLC President Land explained, noting that the controversy over the SBC’s theological direction “cost Dr. Patterson a lot personally and emotionally.” He said every Southern Baptist owes Patterson an “incalculable debt of gratitude” for his role in turning the SBC around. “If there was ever an indispensable man, it was Paige Patterson,” Land added.

— awarded U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, R.-Pa., the ERLC’s John Leland Religious Liberty Award for 2005. Land said Santorum, who holds the third-ranking leadership position in the Senate and is chairman of the Subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy for the Senate Finance Committee, is a “tremendous defender of religious liberty both at home and, particularly, overseas.”

— signed off on a $3.1 million budget for the ERLC’s 2005-06 fiscal year, a 1.5 percent increase over last year’s budget.

— expressed support for a trustee-led program to identify individuals who have a “passion for the mission and goals of the ERLC and the extended ministry of Dr. Richard Land” in an attempt to generate additional funding for the ERLC. Willets said the effort, tentatively called “Friends of the ERLC,” would be “solely sponsored” by trustees and would supplement the commission’s budget. The trustee chair said the ERLC has no other significant source of income: “We have no alumni base to which we can appeal.”

— named Craig Mitchell, instructor of Christian ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and Jeffrey Riley, assistant professor of ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, as fellows of the ERLC’s Research Institute. Land told the trustees the two men would be a “tremendous asset to the institute for many years to come.” The research institute serves to advise and assist the ERLC in equipping Southern Baptists and others in the areas of ethics, morality and public policy.

— elected Jeff Isenhour of Fayetteville, N.C., as trustee chairman; Hal Lane of Greenwood, S.C., vice chairman; and Jim Brown of Olive Branch, Miss., secretary.

    About the Author

  • Dwayne Hastings