Last week, two-time Southern Baptist Convention president Jack Graham announced that his church would withhold its donation to the denomination’s Cooperative Program (CP).
Southern Baptist churches decide individually whether to donate a percentage of their tithe to a common pot which funds state conventions, national denominational agencies, seminaries, and church planting and missions entities like the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board.
Less than two percent of the Cooperative Program’s budget funds the Southern Baptist national public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, led by Russell Moore.
But the 2016 election demonstrated that Graham and Moore were on separate political pages.
In an interview earlier this month, Graham noted an “uneasiness” among church leaders about the “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.”
While initially a critic of Donald Trump, Graham later joined Trump’s list of faith advisors and penned several editorials explaining his support.
Moore, on the other hand, consistently spoke out against Trump and at one point criticized his Religious Right supporters as defined by “the doctrinally vacuous resentment over a lost regime of nominal, cultural ‘Christian America.’”
These critiques didn’t sit well with Graham.
“There was a disrespectfulness towards Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders, past and present,” Graham told The Wall Street Journal in an article about SBC pushback to Moore from December.
But Graham insists that he’s “not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people.”
“I’m not working to start a movement to fire anyone,” he said in an interview explaining his church’s decision from earlier this month.
Graham more or less represents mainstream Southern Baptists, suggests Ed Stetzer, who has years of experience working in SBC entities.
“Jack Graham is not a fringy character who is accustomed to throwing grenades from the sidelines,” said Stetzer. “…He is well-respected and a mentor to many pastors.”
And while Southern Baptists are not always going to agree with every idea or strategy that their CP giving supports, “the goal of the ERLC is to represent Southern Baptists.”
“The question is, what does that mean?” said Stetzer, who currently holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair for Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College.
Stetzer joined assistant editor Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli on Quick to Listen to discuss SBC unity in light of the election and how Christian conscience should direct giving to Christian institutions.
(Note: since this recording, the SBC’s executive committee announced that it would be studying CP escrowing.)