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ERLC trustees briefed on pluralism, Supreme Court & more in annual meeting

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Religious pluralism is a far healthier environment for Americans than secularism, Richard Land told the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission trustees in the board’s annual meeting.

Noting the increased attention on the faiths of at least two political candidates for national office — George W. Bush and Joseph Lieberman — the ERLC president said the interest is healthy. Any sort of ill-conceived attempt to separate and segregate religious convictions from public policy is unhealthy, Land continued.

“The secular model that has been imposed upon us for the last half-century is a bad model,” Land said during the president’s report to the trustees during the Sept. 12-14 meetings. “The model where the government favors some religions over others is also a bad model; it damages religion.”

He stressed that America is a pluralistic nation of many religious faiths, saying, “We ought to encourage all people of religious faith to bring their faith to the public square.”

He warned against having “a reverse religious test for office” in the United States. “If we want America to be a country that is based on Christian convictions, we have only one option,” he said: “Convert the country to Jesus, one by one, family by family.

“We can’t legislate Christianity; there is no way you can build a system to protect us from evil men in office and evil men sitting on judge’s benches; the only thing that will suffice is a great awakening that becomes a reformation,” he said.

Pointing to a rise of related political philosophies during the last 100 years — Marxism, Nazism, communism, fascism and socialism — he termed the 20th century “the century of ideology,” predicting the next 100 years would see an “enormous” expansion of Christianity and Islam. “Religion is going to be a very important issue in the 21st century,” Land continued, saying history will likely regard it as “a century of religion” around the world.

“There is going to be a titanic struggle in this world between various and competing religions,” he continued. “The most dominant force in the century will be religious conviction.”

Well-known evangelical attorney Jay Sekulow gave the trustees a look ahead and a look back at the U.S. Supreme Court. Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, forecast a tough Supreme Court term ahead. Sekulow has successfully argued many key cases before the United States Supreme Court protecting the rights of Christians who spread the gospel to the general public.

Sekulow chastised the court for refusing to protect prayer while shielding pornography and its purveyors. Citing a spate of spontaneous prayer rallies in high school football stadiums as a reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in a Santa Fe, Texas, school district case, Sekulow said he didn’t know if the events are promoting prayer or protest. He said that would be a determination left to God.

And he noted that the group prayers are infuriating lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, because they have no recourse against the public expression of faith by private individuals.

Sekulow warned the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the Boy Scouts of America v. Dale case was a close call for evangelical churches, saying if the decision had gone the other way, many churches would be forced to disassociate themselves from the scouting program — not allowing them to use their facilities — because the Scouts would have been forced to accept homosexual leadership. He said it could be argued that churches, not Boy Scouts, are the ultimate targets of homosexual activists.

Sekulow expressed appreciation for the ERLC’s involvement in moral and religious liberty cases before the Supreme Court, calling the SBC’s agency’s filing of amicus briefs in support of ACLJ arguments critical in swaying the justices’ thinking. He warned that the upcoming presidential election will have a great impact on the near-term makeup of the court, saying the next president may well have the opportunity to appoint as many as four new Supreme Court justices in his first term alone.

Trustees voted to award the ERLC’s John Leland Religious Liberty Award for 2000 to Congressman Charles Canady of Florida. Land said Canady is “a sterling defender of religious liberty,” praising him for sponsoring and shepherding the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act through the Congress and to the president’s desk. The bill was signed into law Sept. 22.

Canady, chairman of the subcommittee on the Constitution in the U.S. House of Representatives, is keeping his promise on term limits, Land said. After four terms in the House, Canady is not running for reelection. Canady has a strong record of voting pro-life, pro-family and pro-faith, Land added.

In other business, trustees:

— responded to motions made by messengers at the 2000 Southern Baptist Convention and referred to the ERLC, including a statement that the ERLC employees are expected to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs in their ministry at the agency. Also in response to a referral from the SBC, trustees adopted four action points they believe are the least the Walt Disney Company will have to do to “before the Convention would seriously consider lifting its boycott.” The points primarily centered on the entertainment giant stepping back from its perceived promotion of the homosexual lifestyle.

— named Kerry Bural vice president for public relations and marketing at the ERLC. Bural, who was formerly director of public relations at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., will promote the message and mission of the ERLC and oversee constituent relations operations in the new staff position at the agency’s Nashville, Tenn., office.

— approved a reorganization of the ERLC’s staff into four distinct areas: research, broadcast communications, interactive and print communications, and public relations and marketing.

— approved the addition of two new fellows to the ERLC’s Research Institute: Randy Singer, executive vice president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board, and Shannon Royce, the ERLC’s legislative counsel in Washington, D.C. Both Singer and Royce are attorneys.

— elected Ben Wilkes of Jackson, Tenn., to continue as trustee chairman; Harold Hendrick of St. Louis, to serve as vice chairman; and Robert Matthews of Eastland, Texas, as the board’s secretary.
Tom Strode contributed to this story.

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  • Dwayne Hastings