NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–As terrorists launched their attack on the United States, trustees of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission were opening their Sept. 11-13 annual meeting. The board immediately entered into a season of prayer, asking God, in the words of one trustee, to “tenderly minister to every heart that has been shattered.” The board prayed for the nation to turn to back to God, with one trustee asking that the Lord would “literally snatch people from the fires — both physically and spiritually.”
The events of Sept. 11 should prompt Christians to remember there are thousands of Americans who go into eternity every day not knowing Jesus Christ as their Savior, said Richard Land, ERLC president. “We must redouble our efforts to share the gospel with everyone we meet,” he continued.
Trustee Florence Hui, who attends Brooklyn Chinese Baptist Church, thanked the board for praying for New York City. Hui finally determined her family was safe. Hui said at the time she feared for the welfare of some church members and friends. The church was started in 1974, Hui said, “with New York City as our base to serve the Lord.”
The trustee board abbreviated their scheduled two-and-a-half day meeting because of the shutdown of U.S. air traffic. They concluded their meetings Wednesday night to allow additional travel time for trustees who were forced to travel by car. The change in plans had ERLC staffers scrambling to secure rental vehicles for trustees who would be otherwise be stranded in Nashville. At the close of the meeting, Land told the trustees, “We will do our very best to get you home in a timely fashion.”
Land opened his presidential report to the trustees by reading the 23rd Psalm, expressing his “boundless gratitude to God that he has not left us alone or without comfort and solace.
“We have had a tremendous year,” Land told the trustees, adding that there is still much to do.
Stressing that the ERLC is committed to working toward “the biblically based transformation of families, churches, communities and the nation,” Land said a spiritual awakening must first occur to redirect the “seismic shift to relativism” that has taken place in America.
“Washington, D.C., will not save us,” he insisted. “Washington, D.C., will reflect the fact that a change has occurred at a very basic level in American society.”
Whether or not America has a future “is up to us and to people of God all over this country,” Land said. “We are indeed the last hope for the kind of changes we need.”
Land reminded trustees that then-Governor George W. Bush told an ERLC seminar audience in 1999 that America needs “a radical cultural shift.” The conference was held in Austin, Texas.
“Just because we have shifted horrifically to the left does not mean that we can’t shift dramatically and pointedly back in the right direction,” Land continued. “The theory of relativity is for physics, not ethics. We have seen the dire consequences of a mindset that claims everything is relative.”
During their plenary sessions, trustees responded to three motions, two relating to proposals for government faith-based initiatives and one addressing ministry to homosexuals, referred to the ERLC from the 2001 Southern Baptist Convention.
Trustees said that whatever shape that faith-based legislation takes in Congress, “It must be consistent with Southern Baptist convictions concerning the separation of church and state and religious liberty.”
Land said vouchers providing assistance to individuals are immensely preferable to government assistance made directly to ministries and churches, warning that churches that accept direct government assistance risk “drastically increased government exposure” to their ministry operations.
The ERLC has no authority over the local church, Land noted, continuing, “They have authority over us. We are only expressing our opinion that any ministry should exercise caution in this area.”
Southern Baptists should be providing ministries that are “both proactive and redemptive toward people who suffer with same-sex attraction,” trustees said in response to the SBC-referred motion that calls for outreach to homosexuals.
Trustees voted to award the ERLC’s John Leland Religious Liberty award for 2001 to Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. Land said Roberts has been at “the forefront of Southern Baptists’ efforts to preserve our religious freedom for the past two decades.” Joe Bob Mizzell, director of Christian life and public affairs with the Alabama Baptist Convention, was selected by the board as the recipient of the 2001 Distinguished Service Award. “Dr. Mizzell has been and remains a stalwart defender of the faith,” Land said, drawing particular attention to Mizzell’s leadership in turning back efforts to implement a lottery in Alabama.
In other business:
— Trustees approved Bobby Reed as the ERLC’s vice president for business and finance. Reed served as director of administration for the SBC entity prior to assuming the new position.
— Two new fellows were named to the ERLC’s Research Institute: Jerry Sutton, senior pastor of Nashville’s Two Rivers Baptist Church, and Greg Thornbury, professor of Christian studies at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
— Hal Lane was elected by the trustees to fill the unexpired term of Don Dowless who resigned as a trustee from South Carolina. Lane served as a trustee of the then-Christian Life Commission, the precursor to the ERLC, from 1986-93. He is the pastor of West Side Baptist Church in Greenwood, S.C.
— Trustee and Christian broadcaster Harold Hendrick of St. Louis was elected chairman of the trustee board. Trustees selected Dale Wallace, an attorney from Birmingham, as vice chairman, and Robert Matthews, an Eastland, Texas, physician, as secretary.