Russell Moore elected to lead Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Richard Land to become emeritus president after quarter-century as Southern Baptist voice for moral issues.

NASHVILLE—When sixth-generation Texan Richard D. Land passes the leadership baton to the next president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in June, his successor will bring with him many similarities including a background as a theologian with some experience in politics.

Land, the popular Southern Baptist voice for moral issues, began his career as a denominational statesman in 1988, having served as a pastor in Louisiana, a professor and academic dean at Criswell College in Dallas and a policy advisor in the Texas governor’s office. 

Similarly, the newly elected leader brings the credentials of having pastored in his native Mississippi, served as a professor and academic dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an aide to a pro-life congressman.

Russell Moore will assume office on June 1 at the age of 41 as the eighth president of the entity charged by Southern Baptists with addressing moral and religious freedom issues.

“I am honored and humbled to be asked to serve Southern Baptists as ERLC president,” said Moore, theology dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “I pray for God’s grace to lead the ERLC to be a catalyst to connect the agenda of the kingdom of Christ to the cultures of local congregations for the sake of the mission of the gospel in the world.”

As ERLC trustees elected Moore by a 26-1 secret ballot vote in a special called meeting on March 26, Land offered his blessing. “Dr. Moore is a godly Christian minister, a devoted husband and father, and a convictional, committed Baptist. His excellent academic preparation, combined with his keen mind and his tender heart for God and his people, make him a person uniquely suited to serve our Savior and Southern Baptists in this crucial role at such a critical moment in our nation’s history.”

Last September trustees honored Land’s 25-year legacy by bestowing the title of president emeritus upon his retirement.

The seven-member presidential search committee was chaired by Barry Creamer of Criswell College, who serves in the academic dean’s role that Land once held. As an ethics professor, Creamer said he recognized the importance of hiring a person similarly qualified to “impact churches and the public marketplace of ideas for what is right, true and desperately needed today.”

Moore fits the presidential profile announced last year, which sought a leader characterized by the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3, having demonstrated an understanding of theology, biblical studies, ethics, philosophy and history with a Ph.D. in one of those areas. The board required executive and administrative leadership, strong communication skills, comprehension of complex and significant ethical issues, and a commitment to apply biblical principles and gospel understanding to critical ethical concerns.

Once again, trustees turned to a candidate schooled in theology to provide the biblical basis for leadership in the realm of ethics. Moore has served since 2004 as dean of the theology school and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern, having joined the faculty in 2001 as professor of Christian theology and ethics.

From 2008 to 2012 Moore was the preaching pastor at a campus of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville. Both Land and Moore earned master’s degrees from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and each man pastored a Gulf Coast church—Land serving Vieux Carre’ Baptist in New Orleans and Moore pastoring Bay Vista Baptist in Biloxi, Miss.

When the Oxford-educated Land became head of the Christian Life Commission, he continued the strong pattern of support for racial reconciliation, joining with Gary Frost to convene a task force that crafted a resolution on racial reconciliation that convention messengers adopted in 1995.

On pro-life and family issues, however, Land steered a new course for the entity, diverting from an earlier era of leading Southern Baptists in step with leftist groups such as the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights and People for the American Way. He stood as a champion for the sanctity of life, giving a voice to the growing concern over the rapidly escalating number of abortions in the U.S. and abroad.

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention honored Land and his wife, Becky, with a resolution passed last November, noting his “concerted effort in behalf of the most helpless members of our society to remove the curse of death from these infants still in the safety of the wombs of their mothers and give them the chance for life.” The statement also noted Land’s efforts in regard to eliminating “vestiges of racism,” championing faithfulness to the First Amendment guarantee of liberty of conscience, preservation of biblical morality on matters such as the definition of marriage, and working “tenaciously to be a perennial voice for justice and morality in our nation’s capital.”

The next ERLC president is expected to continue to prioritize pro-life concerns, having already served as a leading voice in the pro-adoption movement among evangelicals. His doctoral work at Southern Seminary earned him a Ph.D. in systematic theology.

In his 2009 book “Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches,” Moore relates the journey of adopting two boys from Russia with his wife, Maria. He edited “A Guide to Adoption and Orphan Care” to help adoptive parents and churches better think about and practice adoption.

Moore also wrote “Tempted and Tried: Temptation” and “The Triumph of Christ and The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective.” He has three other books scheduled to be published, including one on marriage and one on abortion, and has edited and contributed to other books such as “Why I Am a Baptist,” “A Theology for the Church,” “Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper,” “First Freedom: the Baptist Perspectives on Religious Liberty,” and “The Challenge of the Great Commission: Essays on God’s Mandate for the Local Church.”

Moore also serves as executive editor of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology and as senior editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Moore “has uniquely prepared himself spiritually, theologically, academically, and politically for just such a moment as this. Placing a leader with the right convictions, a razor-sharp mind, and a moral compass that will not fail paints a bright picture for Southern Baptists’ future.”

Popular author and Southern California mega-church pastor Rick Warren said he “can think of no one more qualified in experience, in temperament, in passion, and in doctrine to represent us as Southern Baptists on the most critical ethical issues of our day, and on the all-important issue” of religious freedom.

Land effectively utilized the influence of the SBC resolutions process to broadcast the views expressed by messengers in annual meetings, often speaking before congressional hearings or analyzing the impact of various cases before the Supreme Court. Moore has served four times on the SBC Resolutions Committee, chairing the group in 2010, and has testified before Congress.

While both men have sought to address popular culture in written and spoken commentaries, speeches and news media interviews, Land used his radio programs, the pulpits of churches and the stages of convention halls. Moore also speaks extensively across the convention but, reflecting his generation, is also popular in new media outlets such as Twitter and his “Moore to the Point” blog at russellmoore.com. 

While Land was comfortable playing the music of Elvis Presley, Russell Moore embraces the country and western tunes of the same era from singers such as George Jones and Johnny Cash. On his weekly podcast of “The Cross and the Jukebox,” Moore discusses religious themes in popular music, using songs like Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” to build a bridge to discussing the gospel with neighbors.

“Some of the earliest memories I have are of sitting with several generations of my family listening to the Grand Old Opry,” Moore wrote. “The music of Carters and Cash and Jones and Haggard has stayed with me throughout my life. If I’d been born in different circumstances, I’d probably be drawn to different music.” While acknowledging the importance of great theologians, Moore said, “Sometimes we also ought to pay a little bit of attention to the theologies of Johnny Cash.”

A native Mississippian, Moore and his wife live in Louisville with their five sons.

In addition to Creamer, other ERLC trustees on the presidential search committee were Kenda Bartlett, executive director of Concerned Women for America in Washington, D.C.; Kenneth Barbic, a lobbyist with the Western Growers Association in Washington, D.C.; Lynne Fruechting, a pediatrician in Newton, Kan.; Ray Newman, executive director of Georgia Citizens Action Project in Atlanta; and Bernard Snowden, family life pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in Bowie, Md. ERLC trustee chairman Richard Piles, who appointed the search committee, was an ex officio member. Piles is pastor of First Baptist Church in Camden, Ark.

Additional information on Moore, including a full list of endorsements from men like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Southern Seminary President Al Mohler and California pastor Rick Warren is available at erlc.com/moorepresskit..

—With extensive reporting by Tom Strode

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