NASHVILLE—Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission trustees meeting Sept. 24-25 in Nashville voted to honor two men with Texas ties, approve a $4.09 million budget and affirm a longstanding policy opening their proceedings to the news media.
Efforts to push back against an “overreaching government” in the area of health care prompted trustees to select GuideStone Financial Resources President O. S. Hawkins as this year’s recipient of the John Leland Religious Liberty Award.
Under Hawkins’ leadership, GuideStone filed a lawsuit against a mandate in the 2010 Affordable Care Act that would have forced the funding of abortion-causing drugs through its health insurance plans. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a lower court decision by ruling that the government cannot fine objecting religious organizations, including GuideStone and the ministries it serves, and ordered the government to work out a solution in the contraceptive mandate cases to protect religious beliefs.
The ERLC award is named for a Baptist preacher who helped secure a constitutional guarantee of free religious expression within the First Amendment. Hawkins was recommended for “his steadfast commitment to protecting Southern Baptists and others from the incursions of a state bent on breaking our God-given right of conscience and religious liberty,” Moore explained.
Trustees also recognized ERLC Vice President Barrett Duke with the Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award. Duke served ERLC for the past 20 years in the areas of public policy and research and has directed the Washington, D.C. office since 2003. He was enlisted for the job by the former ERLC president for whom the award is named.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Criswell College in Dallas, Duke earned a Master of Arts from Denver Seminary and a Ph.D. from the Illiff School of Theology. A former pastor, he is also active as a teacher, preacher, speaker, writer and editor.
Moore commended Duke as “a prophetic voice speaking up for the least of these,” referring to his advocacy for the unborn, immigrants, prisoners, widows and orphans.
Duke told trustees he had been blessed in being a part of “what God is doing on the front lines of culture” at the ERLC, praising the staff with whom he has worked. Recently nominated to serve as executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, Duke told trustees, “God is in control and at work, and I am grateful for the way he has led in my life.”
Trustees met at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Conference Center just prior to the ERLC’s national conference addressing gospel-centered cultural engagement. They approved the 2016-2017 budget proposal of $4,098,948, a slight increase over the current year.
In response to a motion presented by a messenger to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention seeking clarification from all entities, trustees and staff affirmed an open media policy “grounded by the recognition of our responsibility to keep Southern Baptists informed of the work of the ministries it sponsors through its sacrificial giving to the Cooperative Program.”
Texans serving on the 34-member board are Barry K. Creamer, a member of Lake Highlands Baptist Church in Dallas and president of Criswell College, and Kelly Hancock, a member of North Richland Hills Baptist Church, local businessman and state representative.