NASHVILLE (BP) — The trustees of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission honored two fellow Southern Baptists Thursday (Aug. 25) with their annual awards for religious freedom advocacy and Christian service.
In its annual meeting in Nashville, the ERLC board unanimously approved GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins for the John Leland Religious Liberty Award, which goes yearly to a person exhibiting a deep commitment to religious freedom.
On Wednesday (Aug. 24), the trustees had unanimously approved ERLC Vice President Barrett Duke for the Richard Land Distinguished Service Award, which is conferred on a person displaying excellent service to God’s kingdom. ERLC President Russell Moore presented the award to Duke during Thursday’s meeting.
The actions came during the Aug. 24-25 meeting at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in which the trustees approved a slight budget increase, elected new officers and received reports on the commission’s activities and communications growth in the last year. The board meeting concluded on the day the ERLC’s national conference began at the same site.
In recent years, Hawkins has led GuideStone in its legal challenge of the Obama administration’s abortion-contraception mandate, the rule implementing the 2010 health-care law that requires employers to provide their workers with coverage for drugs or devices with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions. The Supreme Court has instructed the administration and the plaintiffs to seek to reach a resolution that satisfies the conscientious objections of GuideStone and other religious nonprofit organizations to an unsatisfactory accommodation to the rule.
Hawkins has shown “incredible courage,” Moore told trustees, “[O]ne of the easiest things [Hawkins] could have done as someone who is leading an annuity and health-care organization is to simply be quiet and go with the stream.”
GuideStone “invested immense institutional resources, time and energy in going forward through the court system, saying it cannot be that the government would impose a requirement that entities, organizations pay for abortion-causing drugs that violate their conscience,” Moore said.
Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research, received the distinguished service award for his 20 years of ministry with the entity.
He “has done many things, but one of the things that I’m grateful for is that he has always been a prophetic voice speaking up for the least of these that others are forgetting,” Moore said in presenting the award to Duke. Citing unborn children, immigrants, widows, orphans and prisoners, Moore said Duke “has consistently not only spoken up but lived out a commitment to the image of God in the least of these.”
In receiving the award, Duke said, “It’s been a blessing to be a part of what God is doing on the front lines of culture, and that’s where the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is.”
The Montana Southern Baptist Convention’s executive board is to vote Sept. 8 on its search team’s unanimous recommendation of Duke to be the next executive director of the convention.
In his written report to the trustees, Moore said the “surreal events in American culture and politics” have made the last year, in many ways, “unprecedented.”
“The cultural and political tumult we see right now may be unique to America, but it’s not unique to the church,” he wrote. “From the very beginning, the church has been forced to defend its right to exist in the public square.”
During the last year, the ERLC has issued “a call to soul freedom on the one hand, and a gospel invitation on the other,” Moore said. “These are challenging times. We’re facing questions we’ve never faced before, and the stakes are high. But we’re not fearful people or panicky people: we’re gospel people.”
In comments during the meeting, Ken Barbic, board chairman, thanked Moore and the rest of the staff for “showing a willingness to not shrink from gospel clarity even when it may be unpopular in our culture, it may be unpopular from many of those around us.”
In other actions during the meeting, the ERLC trustees unanimously approved:
— A 2016-17 operating budget of $4.099 million, compared to a $4.080 million budget in 2015-16.
— Barbic and secretary Barry Creamer to second terms in their offices. They also elected Trevor Atwood, pastor of City Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., as vice chairman. Barbic is a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for the produce industry, and Creamer is president of Criswell College in Dallas.
— A response to a motion at the 2016 SBC meeting from Tennessee messenger Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector, asking SBC entities to consider opening all meetings to news reporters. The trustees’ response explained the ERLC’s standing policy for news media is for plenary sessions of the board to be open and on the record and for committee meetings to be open on a background basis.
Moore announced he is expanding the role of Daniel Patterson to be not only chief of staff, a position he has held the last three years, but vice president for operations. As chief of staff, Patterson will continue to direct staff and day-to-day operations in the office of the president. In his new, vice presidential role, he will direct public relations, coordinate board operations, and drive strategy and execution for initiatives across departments.
The ERLC staff reported on the continuing growth in communications, including:
— An expected doubling of page views of the ERLC’s websites to six million by the time the year ends Sept. 30.
— An increase from about 80,000 followers to more than 120,000 combined for the Twitter accounts of the ERLC, Moore, and Canon and Culture, the entity’s Christian thought podcast and blog channel.
— A 1,000 percent growth to more than 340,000 downloads of the ERLC’s four podcasts.
During the last year, the ERLC’s events and initiatives included:
— The first Evangelicals for Life conference in January in Washington, D.C., cosponsored with Focus on the Family.
— The publication with B&H Publishing of the first three books — addressing same-sex marriage, racial reconciliation and religious freedom — in The Gospel for Life series.
— Four Capitol Conversations events in Washington, D.C., that addressed in order the sanctity of human life, refugees, abortion and the Supreme Court, and religious freedom.
— Joining in eight friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court and two more with lower courts.
— The placement of ultrasound machines with ministries in Knoxville, Tenn., and St. Louis through the Psalm 139 Project.
Four trustees were recognized upon completion of their service to the ERLC: Vice Chairman James Reamer of Nevada, Dennis Schmierer of California, at-large trustee Reed Johnston of Virginia and Lee Bright of South Carolina.