Yesterday evening, I questioned why Southern Baptists have a political lobby group, called the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). In the comment stream, Robert Masters said that the ERLC is able to do things in the political realm that churches cannot do because of tax laws. But, that causes me to ask why churches are paying for a political lobby to represent their interests if we are not able to speak to those things ourselves. Have we just created a go-between? Aren't their other ways to influence the process? If we are saying that the ERLC is the voice for Southern Baptists in Washington, but individual churches are percluded by law to speak for themselves, then is it really ethical to create a go-between that does what we cannot do? I am not saying it is, because I don't know if Robert is right about that. But, it does bring up the question.
Todd Littleton raised an interesting point when he said,
Our structure seems to inhere the perception, if not the reality, that we outsource our missions to the IMB and NAMB. We outsource our ethics and ethical positions to the ERLC. We outsource our theological education and ministry habits to the Seminaries.
Then, when another entity like Lifeway presents statistics consistent with other researchers that our evangelistic efforts are falling short, our ethical actions in public spaces show little difference to those not self-identified as Christian, and our theological positions are all over the map, the church is to blame.
This is part of the problem in SBC life, I think. Our local churches keep passing all of our responsibility up the line and we pay someone else to do it. Those people then continually ask the local churches to send more money so we can support "missions" and if we don't send more money to the Cooperative Program, then we don't care about the work of God or something like that. But, what does the ERLC have to do with our mission? Perhaps Bob Cleveland captured the real issue when he asked:
I'd like to know if anyone has collected .. or even measured .. the results produced by the ERLC. We seem to track Baptisms, attendance, and things of that sort. But can we tell whether the ERLC has had any effect?
Aside from making headlines for taking a stand on something or other (or maybe worse), I don't know anything concrete that's been accomplished. Do you?
So, that leads us to the ultimate question: Why have the ERLC? What is it doing that the ethics departments of our seminaries or our state conventions or the Executive Committee or the office of the president of the SBC or any number of pastors or parachurch ministries are not already doing? Do we need a separate entity to be our voice in Washington? Or, can we have a multitude of voices do the same thing and save over $3 million a year. I am not saying that the ERLC is not doing some good, but isn't it the same good that is already being done by others or could easily be done by others at a fraction of the cost?
Still wondering why Southern Baptists have the ERLC.