NASHVILLE (BP) — Trustees of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission approved a seminary president and a courtroom advocate as recipients of the Southern Baptist entity’s 2018 awards Wednesday (Sept. 5) during their annual meeting.
The ERLC board unanimously endorsed R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, for the Distinguished Christian Service Award and Kristen Waggoner of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) for the Religious Liberty Award.
The trustees — in their meeting at the SBC Building in Nashville — also unanimously:
— Authorized the inclusion of legal fellows as a category of members of the ERLC’s Research Institute.
— Passed responses to two motions at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting on protecting against sexual predators by saying the ERLC will partner with the Sexual Abuse Presidential Study initiated by J.D. Greear, the new convention president, to help address the issues involved.
— Approved a 2018-2019 operating budget of $4.34 million, an increase of nearly $104,000 from the current financial year.
Russell Moore, who has completed five years as the ERLC’s president, commended Mohler’s leadership as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and his statesmanship in the SBC in recommending him for the Distinguished Service Award. Mohler is marking his 25th anniversary as Southern Seminary’s president.
Mohler labored to return the seminary to its “theologically orthodox foundations,” Moore said in his written recommendation to the trustees.
He has guided Southern “to become a leading institution for evangelical theological education,” said Moore, who served as dean of the seminary’s school of theology before taking his current post. Mohler’s work “with the current and next generation of pastors has shaped the future of evangelical Christianity in no small measure,” Moore said.
Mohler “has been a clear and consistent voice proclaiming the truth of the Gospel and its implications for every area of life” while addressing both Christian and secular audiences, Moore said.
Waggoner, ADF’s senior vice president of its U.S. legal division and communications, “has distinguished herself as a true champion of religious liberty and rights of conscience,” Moore said in his written recommendation of her for the religious liberty award.
Waggoner argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop in an important religious freedom case in the last term. The justices ruled in a 7-2 decision that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated the religious free exercise clause of the First Amendment by penalizing Phillips for declining to design and decorate a cake for the wedding of two men.
She also has represented Barronelle Stutzman, a Southern Baptist florist who has been involved in a lengthy legal battle after she declined to design flowers for a same-sex wedding. In late June, the Supreme Court annulled a Washington Supreme Court ruling against Stutzman and ordered it to reconsider its previous decision in light of the justices’ Masterpiece Cakeshop opinion.
Waggoner “has helped to protect and extend the cause of religious liberty for generations to come,” Moore said.
The Distinguished Service Award is named after Richard Land, who served as the ERLC’s president from 1988-2013. The Religious Liberty Award is named in honor of John Leland, a Baptist pastor in Colonial America who was instrumental in helping secure religious freedom in the Constitution’s First Amendment.
SBC motions, staff announcements
The trustees responded to a motion at the SBC’s annual meeting in June that the ERLC study the feasibility of establishing an online database to help protect churches from sexual predators. The trustee-approved reply said it appears the motion will be addressed by the new sexual abuse study that Greear has initiated. The ERLC will work to help provide a report at next year’s meeting, the trustees said in their response.
During his report, Moore made these staff announcements:
— Elizabeth Graham, the ERLC’s director of events, is a new member of the president’s now six-person cabinet.
— Andrew Walker, previously director of policy studies, will be director of research and senior fellow for Christian ethics.
Moore honored Matthew Hawkins, a policy director in Washington, for his 17 years of service with the ERLC. Hawkins is now working on a doctor of philosophy degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The board reelected Trevor Atwood, pastor of City Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., as chairman, and Roger Manao, pastor of Philadelphia (Pa.) Bible Church International, as secretary. The trustees approved David Prince, pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., as vice chairman.
In its written report, the ERLC cited the following among its events and initiatives during the last year:
— The MLK50 conference on racial reconciliation co-hosted with The Gospel Coalition in April in Memphis.
— A pre-conference to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in June in Dallas co-hosted with The Village Church in partnership with Southern Seminary on the Gospel and the future.
— Two sessions of the ERLC Academy on Capitol Hill for more than 100 congressional staffers and non-governmental organization workers.
— Two friend-of-the-court briefs on the winning side with the Supreme Court and several more briefs with lower courts.
— A successful coalition for Congress to restore the adoption tax credit, which has helped many families to adopt domestically and internationally, in the Internal Revenue Code.
The ERLC continued its growth in communications during the last year, according to its written report to trustees, including:
— A record social media presence of 45.9 million impressions.
— A reach of more than 9 million people on the ERLC Facebook page and 1.9 million viewers on Facebook Live.
— An addition of 6,000 followers on Twitter and a total of nearly 9,000 followers on Instagram.
Three trustees were recognized upon completion of their service to the ERLC: vice chairman Barry Creamer of Texas; Tami Fitzgerald of North Carolina; and J.D. Traylor of Indiana.
The board approved Brian Key, pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in Kansas City, Mo., to replace Tammie Andrews as a trustee from Missouri. Andrews resigned because of health needs in her family.