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New think tank launched to help churches

WASHINGTON (BP) — The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity has introduced a newly configured think tank to equip Christians and churches to address moral and cultural issues.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) announced Monday (Aug. 11) its new Research Institute made up of Southern Baptist scholars and leaders. The think tank is a newly designed version under the leadership of ERLC President Russell D. Moore of the previous Research Institute inaugurated by the ethics entity in 1999.

The Research Institute’s purpose is to help the ERLC in its work by generating materials to help churches engage ethical and religious freedom issues. The ERLC’s wide span of responsibilities includes homosexuality and same-sex marriage; abortion and other sanctity of life issues; domestic and international religious liberty; and race relations.

The institute’s collection of 70 fellows in four categories includes representatives of all six SBC seminaries; various Southern Baptist colleges, state conventions and churches; public and Christian universities; and organizations such as the American Center for Law and Justice and the Heritage Foundation.

The Research Institute’s purpose, Moore said, “is to be a catalyst to connect the agenda of the Gospel to the complex questions of the day — and to do so at the highest levels of academic scholarship for the good of local congregations. I am thrilled to get to work together with an exceptionally gifted band of scholars and leaders as we seek to be a persuasive, prophetic witness engaging the academy and equipping the church.”

Joining Moore as senior research fellows of the new institute are: Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; David Dockery, president of Trinity International University; Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University; Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and ERLC president emeritus; Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary; R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Greg Thornbury, president of The King’s College; Thomas White, president of Cedarville University; and David Whitlock, president of Oklahoma Baptist University.

The institute also has 32 research fellows, 10 research fellows in Christian ethics and 16 associate research fellows.

Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research, directs the Research Institute. Andrew Walker, the ERLC’s director of policy studies, is the institute’s associate director.

The new institute, Duke said in written comments for Baptist Press, “comes along at a crucial time for our churches. With our culture nearing crisis mode on many moral fronts, church leaders and laymen alike will be confronted with some challenges the church has not had to address since before the founding of this country. Other challenges are ones the church has never had to address before.”

“Many of the finest thinkers and practitioners in Southern Baptist life have agreed to help us come alongside the church to offer biblically sound, culturally relevant, practical guidance for God’s people as they work, witness, and love,” Duke said.

Walker told BP in a written statement, “Southern Baptists have an arsenal of intellectual firepower at their disposal. The [institute] is primed to be a central bank of sorts, to organize and channel those resources in a direction that furthers intellectual reflection, while aimed at resourcing the local church.”

Many of the fellows with the new think tank also served with the previous institute. As senior fellows, Midwestern Seminary’s Allen and Oklahoma Baptist University’s Whitlock are new to the institute.

“On issues of cultural engagement, Christian ethics and religious liberty, the ERLC not only leads Southern Baptists but has also taken a leadership role in the broader evangelical world,” Allen said in a statement for BP. “The Research Institute is integral to the ERLC’s mission, and I’m proud to serve as one of their senior research fellows.”

Whitlock told BP in a written statement, “I’m honored to be a part of the ERLC’s Research Institute and believe the fellows will provide valuable support and input on many of the most important ethical and religious liberty issues of our world. My hope is to be a convictional and winsome voice on the important issues of our day.”

The Research Institute will hold its 2014 meeting in conjunction with the ERLC National Conference, which will be Oct. 27-29 in Nashville. The conference is titled “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.”

Information on the institute, including the names of the fellows, is available at http://erlc.com/institute.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).