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Presidential hopefuls to attend ERLC forums

NASHVILLE (BP) — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will be the first two participants in a series of civil forums for 2016 presidential candidates hosted by Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, will interview Bush Aug. 4 during the Send North America Conference at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The event will also feature a prerecorded video interview of Rubio, according to an ERLC press release. Moore wrote in a blog post that he invited Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to participate but she declined. Bush and Rubio are both Republicans.

“These candidates are not coming as speakers on Christian theology or mission, but our mission as Christians includes both personal evangelism and also public justice,” Moore wrote in a July 22 blog post. “We seek to engage our culture, and here have the opportunity to engage some of those who seek to lead our country regardless of where they fall on a religious or political spectrum.”

The inaugural civil forums will occur at a missions conference, Moore wrote, because “the Gospel ought to shape our consciences to carry out our duties as citizens.” The Send North America Conference is cosponsored by the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board. Some 13,000 evangelicals are expected to attend.

“The leading candidates” from each party will be invited to future civil forums, according to the ERLC release. Candidates were eligible to receive invitations to the Aug. 4 forum if they were polling at 10 percent or higher at the time their invitations were issued in the Real Clear Politics national average, an aggregation of multiple polls.

“I want our constituency of Gospel Christians to hear from everyone possible, of all parties and all ideologies,” Moore wrote. “I’m glad that Gov. Bush and Sen. Rubio have agreed to kick off this ongoing conversation.”

The forums fall in the historic Baptist tradition of being “deeply engaged in talking to candidates and leaders about matters such as religious liberty and the limits on the state over conscience,” Moore wrote. Candidates should not be permitted to “woo evangelicals” with surface-level “God-talk,” he added.

“If a candidate can give a ‘testimony’ of ‘faith,’ and quote from a couple of hymns, sometimes he or she expects that to be enough to win over evangelicals,” Moore wrote. “The stakes are too high for identity politics.”

Dates and candidates have not been announced for future civil forums.

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