NASHVILLE—Trustees for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention voted to honor champions of religious liberty, approved a $4.23 million operating budget, responded to a motion from the SBC related to publishing trustee contact information, and elected officers during their annual board meeting, Aug. 24. They met at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Conference Center in Nashville prior to the ERLC’s national conference on parenting.
Trustees voted to award Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam with the Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award.
“He has been involved in a multitude of questions that we have been working on this year,” Moore said, including signing the Tennessee Infants Protection Act, which prohibits abortions after 20 weeks in most cases. Moore also noted that Haslam has worked diligently for religious liberty and foster care reform in addition to being “an unbelievable help and encouragement to the ERLC.”
Trustees also voted to award the John Leland Religious Liberty Award to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic order of nuns that cares for the elderly poor and stood against the Obama Administration’s Health and Human Services mandate requiring religious organizations to violate their beliefs by adopting health care plans that included coverage for abortifacient contraceptives. The nuns fought the issue through the courts system, taking it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a unanimous ruling in favor of the Little Sisters.
The Leland award is named for a Baptist preacher who helped secure a constitutional guarantee of free religious expression within the First Amendment.
“We bring this recommendation for an extraordinary group of women—who we have great theological differences with, especially in the year that we’re celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation—but women who have stood up for freedom of conscience in ways that are going to be applicable to everybody across the spectrum,” Moore told trustees.
Moore also gave a resolution of appreciation to trustee John Whitehead, an at-large trustee from Missouri, for his role as an attorney in the U.S. Supreme Court religious liberty case involving Trinity Lutheran Church. The Court ruled that the state of Missouri violated the church’s right to exercise its faith freely by prohibiting it from participating in a government program involving playground resurfacing.
Response to SBC Motion
Trustees responded to a motion at the 2017 annual meeting of the SBC in Phoenix requesting SBC entities to “consider publishing online, in an easy and accessible place, the names and contact information of the trustees of their institution.”
The approved response said, “The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission strives to conduct its work utilizing best practices regarding all organizational policies. As a result, the Commission does not release personal information regarding its staff or trustees as personal data is subject to spam, abuse and security concerns. Trustees may be contacted through the Office of the President.”
In presenting the motion from the board’s executive committee, chairman Ken Barbic noted concerns about security and spam as reasons against providing email addresses.
“There is danger in having [contact information] out publicly,” Barbic said. “I think this is a wise and appropriate response in terms of how we want to handle trustee information. There is privacy that each of you is entitled to, and at the same time, if people want to reach out, there is a means that they can go through in order to get that information.”
Kelly Hancock, an at-large trustee from Texas, voiced a concern for transparency, noting that Southern Baptists should be able to easily access contact information of the trustees on the ERLC website. Presently, names and mailing addresses of all entity trustees can be found on the SBC website, sbc.net/directory. Hancock also said there are ways to protect email addresses on websites from receiving spam.
“You could still list who we are, and make that accessible, and protect us at the same time,” Hancock said to trustees prior to the vote. “You should be able to go to the ERLC website and find out who the trustees are.”
Trustees approved the response, with Hancock the only trustee voting in the negative.
Trustees approved a 2017-18 operating budget of $4,234,885, a slight increase over the current year.
Election of Officers
Trustees elected Trevor Atwood of Tennessee as board chairman, Barry Creamer of Texas as vice chairman and Roger Manao of Pennsylvania as secretary. Atwood, pastor of City Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., served most recently as vice chairman. Creamer, a member of Lake Highlands Baptist Church in Dallas and president of Criswell College, served most recently as secretary.