On Wednesday, August 5, 2015 the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), assembled nearly 600 pastors and lay leaders in Nashville, Tennessee for its second annual national conference.
Homosexuality and the future of marriage headlined the ERLC’s first annual national conference back in 2014 in preparation for the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage ruling. With the presidential election now inching closer, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination dedicated the bulk of this year’s discussion on the gospel and politics.
“What does a new generation of political engagement look like for evangelicals?” asked Phillip Bethancourt, moderator of the panel discussion entitled “2016 and Beyond: Charting a New Course for Evangelical Political Engagement.”
Panelists included Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, and Dr. Russell Moore, president of the ERLC and author of the new, well-timed book Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel.
“The optics of a white angry male serving as a spokesperson for Biblical orthodoxy in evangelicalism, that ship sailed,” declared Rodriguez. For evangelicals to achieve political and cultural reformation, Rodriguez called for intentional “multi-ethnic kingdom-culture” efforts that are willing to reconcile truth and love.
Dr. Moore agreed, arguing a successful evangelical political engagement in contemporary America requires an abandonment of what he called “the tribal mentality.” He said, “You can’t say ‘what’s my tribe and how do I make sure that I am safely in my tribe all the time?’ Instead, you’re on a mission with Christ, which means you’re talking with people that disagree with you.”
Dr. Moore continued, “You’re doing so full of conviction and you’re also seeing this person as someone you want to ultimately see reconciled to God and then reconciled to the body of Christ.”
“The fact of the matter is people, we’re not engaging those who don’t see it our way,” offered Daly. “So they have a caricature created by the news of what we stand for and what we are and how we see them.”
For Daly, a revived evangelical political engagement starts with reformation among Christian leadership. “You’re not a Christian leader without humility. You need humility to lead. You need to have a heart [that seeks] to be a servant both for the saved and the unsaved.” He pressed on, “The Scriptures says love your neighbor. How have you done that?”
In terms of practicality, Dr. Moore offered a helpful guide for Christians to follow when it’s time to step into the voter booth. In addition to competence and clarity, Dr. Moore urged evangelicals to see the assault on religious liberty as the primary threat confronting America.
“What you want is somebody who will act justly and someone who will carry out competently what he has been given to do or what she has been given to do without overrunning conscience and disrupting the common good,” urged Dr. Moore.
At the end of the day, said Rodriguez, charting a new course forward requires “a Christian evangelical community that will emerge not married to the agenda of the donkey or the elephant, but exclusively married to the lamb.” He concluded, “Uncle Sam may be our uncle, but he will never be our Heavenly Father.”