NASHVILLE (BP) — The trustees of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission have voted to honor two well-known Christian leaders for their contributions during their more than eight decades of life.
In its annual meeting Sept. 15-16 in Nashville, the ERLC board unanimously approved civil rights leader John Perkins for the John Leland Religious Liberty Award and theologian J.I. Packer for the Richard Land Distinguished Service Award. The commission presents the awards yearly to a person exhibiting a deep commitment to religious freedom and a person displaying excellent service to God’s kingdom, respectively.
The actions came during a meeting in the Southern Baptist Convention Building in which the ERLC trustees approved a budget increase of more than $500,000, elected new officers and received reports on the commission’s activities and communications growth in the last year.
From his native Mississippi, Perkins, 85, has spread the Gospel while serving the poor and seeking racial reconciliation.
“This is somebody who has been fighting for religious liberty, religious freedom for 70 years,” ERLC President Russell Moore told the trustees before the vote. “[He] has evangelized the country in a way I can’t even imagine. And as he’s done that, he’s consistently spoken of the necessity of the people of God to speak to both righteousness and justice at the same time. As he was doing that, he was someone who ended up in jail in Mississippi back in the days of Jim Crow, beaten and yet never would allow himself to be driven into bitterness.”
Perkins, who has founded a Christian community development foundation and other ministries, remains “a voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ with freed people worshipping in churches and serving in communities freely, hand in hand, the dividing walls separating human hearts having tumbled,” Moore wrote in a memo to trustees nominating the recipient.
Packer, 89, the author of “Knowing God” and many other books, has defended Christian orthodoxy while helping make disciples. He now serves as a theology professor at Regent University in Vancouver, British Columbia.
He has been “really courageous” regarding the departure from biblical authority in the Anglican Church while doing so “with biblical depth, theological integrity and with a gentle, loving, Christ-like spirit,” Moore told trustees before the vote. Packer has defended the inerrancy of Scripture and biblical views on gender complementarity, marriage, the sanctity of human life and religious liberty, he said.
“When his own denomination moved to sanction same-sex marriage, he protested that such a ‘decision, taken in its context, falsifies the gospel of Christ, abandons the authority of Scripture, jeopardizes the salvation of fellow human beings, and betrays the church in its God-appointed role as the bastion and bulwark of divine truth,'” Moore told trustees in a memo.
In other actions, the ERLC trustees approved unanimously:
— A 2015-16 operating budget of $4.08 million, compared to a $3.53 million budget in 2014-15.
— A slate of new officers: As chairman, Kenneth Barbic, a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for the produce industry; as vice chairman, James Reamer, pastor of Renaissance Baptist Church in North Las Vegas, Nev.; and as secretary, Barry Creamer, president of Criswell College in Dallas.
— David Prince, pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., as an interim trustee to fill a recent vacancy.
— A response to a motion at the 2015 SBC meeting from Alabama messenger Ben Chandler explaining the ERLC addresses moral issues through media, public policy advocacy and collaboration with other Southern Baptist entities.
The ERLC staff reported on the continued, dramatic expansion in communications outreach during the last year. Among the indicators of this trend:
— Three million page views so far in 2015 across all platforms, compared to 1.25 million views during the same period in 2014.
— More than 120,000 likes and a reach of more than 10 million people for the ERLC Facebook page.
— More than 80,000 followers combined for the Twitter accounts of the ERLC, Moore and Canon and Culture, the entity’s Christian thought podcast and blog channel.
— About 520,000 views of ERLC videos on YouTube.
— More than 20,000 subscribers to The Weekly, a new e-newsletter with links to the week’s top news articles.
— More than 220 news media interviews with ERLC staff.
The latest trustees meeting followed a year filled with ERLC events and initiatives, including:
— Two national conferences, one in October on the Gospel, homosexuality and marriage and one in August on the Gospel and politics.
— A second leadership summit, this one in March on the Gospel and racial reconciliation.
— An Equip Austin (Texas) event in July to ready churches after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
— A meeting in January cosponsored by the ERLC to prepare for the first Evangelicals for Life Conference in 2016 in Washington, D.C., on the occasion of the annual March for Life.
— A first ERLC Academy in May to train seminarians and church leaders to address ethical issues.
— A first Capitol Conversations in Washington, D.C., to bring together public policy and Christian leaders to discuss an important issue.
The ERLC’s public policy advocacy during the last year included various initiatives in defense of religious freedom, marriage, the sanctity of human life and human rights. The commission signed onto seven friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court and seven more with federal appeals courts.
Two newly positioned staff members provided brief reports during the meeting: Steven Harris, director of advocacy in the ERLC’s Washington office; and Travis Wussow, director of international justice and religious liberty at the ERLC’s office in the Middle East.
Wussow, who has been at his post less than two months, told Baptist Press the need for the ERLC’s global advocacy has been demonstrated in just that amount of time.
“Since I arrived in the Middle East, a photograph of a-three-year-old Syrian refugee who died trying to escape the conflict swept across the world, tens of thousands of ‘migrants’ are seeking to make their way to Europe and the Iran deal has been all but finalized,” he said in written comments after the meeting. “Our brothers, sisters and fellow image-bearers in the Middle East need us to stand with them more today than two months ago.”
Moore also addressed trustees at a dinner Sept. 15 at the Johnny Cash Museum in downtown Nashville. He briefly commented on four songs sung by Cash and how they connect to the ERLC’s mission. The museum “was a fitting venue for our dinner gathering since Cash’s life identified him with sinners and with redemption,” Moore said in written comments for BP. “He sang of the power of temptation but also of what it means to walk the line.”
Three trustees who were participating in their final meeting were honored: Chairman Chris Slaughter of West Virginia; vice chairman Kenda Bartlett, an at-large member from Texas; and Franklin Johnson of Washington state.