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TRUSTEES: ERLC budget set at $3.19M

WASHINGTON (BP) — Trustees of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission approved new staff and a new budget that reflects new strategies in their first annual meeting with Russell D. Moore as president.

Meeting in conjunction with Moore’s inauguration, trustees authorized the hiring of three executive staff members and endorsed a $3.19 million budget that demonstrates an updated approach to communications for the entity. Moore was inaugurated as the eighth president of the ERLC Sept. 10 in Washington, D.C., and the trustees met at a Washington-area hotel Sept. 10-11.

The board elected Phillip Bethancourt as executive vice president, Daniel Patterson as chief of staff and Dan Darling as vice president of communications. During the meeting, the ERLC also announced the appointment of Joe Carter as director of communications and Trillia Newbell as consultant for women’s initiatives.

The newly approved budget, which is about $70,000 less than the previous year’s, reflected an earlier decision to end the For Faith & Family radio program. Last year, the ERLC allotted more than 10 percent of its overall budget to For Faith & Family, which aired its last broadcast in July. The new budget has no money for broadcast airtime.

The new budget also confirmed the decision to halt publication of the ERLC’s magazine, Faith & Family Values, by almost totally eliminating funds for print resources.

The change to new media, trustees were told, enables the entity to measure the effectiveness of its communications and frees money for use in other areas.

Because of “additional technology,” Moore said, “[W]e can track: Where is this going? Who is using this? What are they using it for?”

The ERLC’s newly designed website, which went live Sept. 10, provides an effective means of packaging content in the form of audio, video and text, Patterson told the trustees. The website is “fully exportable to any number of platforms,” such as mobile devices, podcasts and RSS readers, he said.

Moore said, “The good thing about where we are right now with media is that using these newer forms of media also … can be transferred over” to older forms.

That ability to bridge the newer and older means of communication came into play after the U.S. Supreme Court announced a barrier-breaking decision in late June, striking down a section of a federal law that defined marriage as only the union of a man and a woman. The win for the same-sex marriage movement came less than four weeks after Moore took office June 1 as ERLC president.

The ERLC wanted to help all Southern Baptist churches know how to respond to the decision, but “what we had to do is to try to communicate with churches that are vastly, vastly different in the way that they operate,” Moore told trustees.

Working in advance, the ERLC designed a two-sided document that could be distributed by churches in multiple ways, Moore said. When the court announced its ruling, the quickly released document told what had changed and what had not changed as a result.

“We wanted our people in our churches to get ready and to understand this is what has changed and this is what this means,” he said. “We also wanted to explain what has not changed. … The most important thing is Jesus of Nazareth is still alive.”

Some churches distributed it as a bulletin insert, some placed it on their website, and some sent it as a text message, Moore said.

In his report to the trustees, Moore pointed to same-sex marriage as the first of several issues he had addressed since becoming ERLC president. Others included the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate, a case in the new term of the Supreme Court regarding prayers before legislative meetings, and threats to the religious freedom of military chaplains.

Regarding the same-sex marriage opinion, he told trustees, “What was shocking to me was not that the Supreme Court decided the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. What shocked me was the language that was used, that there is no reason at all for anyone to be opposed to same-sex marriage except for hostility and animus toward gay and lesbian people.

“[I]t is impossible to see how, based upon the language that is used in this decision, that the court will not at a later time expand that into a constitutional right in all 50 states,” he said.

“I think there are massive religious liberty concerns that come along with same-sex marriage, and there are a lot of our own folks who are not prepared for these religious liberty issues at all.”

Trustees approved Robert George to receive the 2013 John Leland Religious Liberty Award.

George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, is the newly elected chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and has been an outspoken advocate for the protection of religious liberty on such issues as same-sex marriage and the abortion/contraception mandate.

“I think nobody is more fitting right now than Robert George,” Moore said.

The board also endorsed David Dockery as recipient of the Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award. Dockery is retiring after 17 years as president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

Dockery “has transformed [Union] into the kind of university that is … on the cutting edge of thinking through issues with a Christian worldview,” Moore told trustees.

In other action, ERLC trustees:

— Re-elected Richard Piles, pastor of First Baptist Church of Camden, Ark., as chairman and elected Chris Slaughter, a lawyer in Huntington, W.Va., as vice chairman and Kenda Bartlett, executive director of Concerned Women for America in Washington, D.C., as secretary.

— Passed a bylaw change to enable the annual board meeting to be in Washington, D.C., as well as in Nashville, Tenn.

— Ratified a bylaw change to authorize the board’s executive committee to approve the hiring of ERLC executive staff members between trustee meetings.

— Approved a response to a motion at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention meeting that commends churches with ministries to those who suffer with mental health issues and says the ERLC will expand its resources on the subject by establishing at its website “an issues awareness section specifically devoted to helping individuals and churches understand mental health challenges.”

— Endorsed a response to another motion at the 2013 SBC meeting that says the ERLC will continue to refrain from saying it represents all Southern Baptists but will communicate the views expressed in annual resolutions regarding issues, including immigration reform.

The new staff members come to the ERLC with these backgrounds:

— Bethancourt previously served as associate vice president of enrollment management and student life at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and remains an assistant professor of Christian theology at the Louisville, Ky., school.

— Patterson formerly was executive assistant to Moore in his capacity as senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary before becoming ERLC president. Patterson also served as assistant editor of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology at the seminary.

— Darling, a Chicago-area pastor, has written for leading evangelical Christian magazines, authored or co-authored five books and maintains a popular blog.

— Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and senior editor at the Action Institute, as well as a popular blogger.

— Newbell is a popular writer at various evangelical websites and lead editor of Karis, the women’s channel of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s website.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).