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ERLC to drop annual conference & seek better way to address issues

AUSTIN, Texas (BP)–Only hours after the conclusion of the agency’s annual conference, trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission decided March 4 to make this year’s conference the last such event for the ERLC.
During their semiannual meeting in Austin, Texas, trustees voted to discontinue the traditional practice of holding the seminar that for 33 years attracted well-known speakers in the area of ethics, morality and public policy, focusing on some aspect of applied Christianity.
Citing a desire to be good stewards of Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program funds, trustees agreed with ERLC staff members that after such a long and valuable run the conference design needed to be seriously revamped.
The annual conference, which was held in various cities across the United States during its history, was successful in its night sessions but failed to draw strong crowds during its daytime sessions, Barrett Duke, director of conferences for the ERLC, said during a meeting of the trustees’ program committee. He noted the current conference schedule made it difficult for people to attend daytime meetings.
The conferences ran two and a half days, opening on Monday afternoons and closing Wednesdays at noon. Duke said the 1999 meeting at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, attracted more than 800 people during its evening sessions but saw lighter crowds during its daytime meetings.
“We came to a decision that this type of education process was no longer the most effective way to present the kind of issues we were trying to address,” Duke said. The decision to cancel the conference was not reached overnight, he continued, noting the ERLC was committed to seeking alternative means to equip and encourage Southern Baptists to be “salt and light in their community.”
Trustees indicated an interest in a new venue to allow ERLC staff members to reach a greater number of individuals with information similar to that which had been disseminated during the annual conferences, perhaps at the Baptist conference centers at Glorieta, N.M., or Ridgecrest, N.C.
Trustees also moved to cancel their semiannual meeting structure, dropping the meeting normally held each spring. Again the trustees cited the need to save money, noting the meeting was held each year immediately after the annual conference. ERLC President Richard Land assured trustees that prior to his arrival the board had been meeting only annually.
In his remarks to the trustees, Land said the ERLC was “in the midst of our best year since I have been here.” He was installed as executive director of the commission in 1988.
Land said he is encouraged about what the future holds for both the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Southern Baptist Convention. “I believe that we are the eve of the greatest decade in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention for the cause of the kingdom of Christ,” he said.
“The country is going to be looking for the kind of moral leadership Southern Baptists can provide in the providence of God,” Land said, predicting the scriptural message of hope and renewal being offered by the Southern Baptist ethics agency will take even deeper root in the new millennium. “I believe the cultural and social tide is running in our direction. I’ve seen one culture shift in my lifetime; I believe our nation is on the verge of another.”
In other business, trustees:
— announced Land would receive the commission’s ERLC Religious Liberty Award, saying “his life reflects a struggle to maintain religious liberty for all people of faith.”
— added Memorial Day and New Years’ Eve Day to the list of paid holidays for ERLC staff, noting the decision puts the commission “in line with sister Southern Baptist organizations.”
— called for the appointment of an ad hoc committee to consider the reorganization of the board of trustees’ committee structure to ensure that it fits in the current operating form of the ERLC, expressing a desire “to explore ways trustees can be more helpful to the staff.”
— heard that the SBC’s North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board had agreed to renew funding on the ERLC’s director of hunger concerns position. The staff position is jointly funded by the three agencies.
The ERLC board of trustees will meet for their annual meeting Sept. 13-15 in Nashville, Tenn.

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  • Dwayne Hastings