“Every gang-banger will produce ten people who say they were someplace else while all of this happened.” –Carl Winslow, Family Matters, Born to Mild, Season 3, Episode 9
Religion News Service correspondent, Jonathan Merritt, published an article on his Faith and Culture blog this week entitled “Does Russell Moore really represent Southern Baptists.” Merritt published his piece in the wake of a stringent editorial criticism of ERLC President Russell Moore that was penned by Will Hall of the Louisiana Baptist Message. Hall’s article was also picked up by the Georgia Christian Index (both the Message and the Index are official Baptist convention newspapers). That a sitting Southern Baptist Entity head was called on the metaphorical carpet by two state convention newspapers (state conventions fund Moore’s organization) is a big deal to say the least. Merritt, an arguably liberal Southern Baptist insider, was quick to ride to Moore’s defense.
Russell Moore, formerly active in Democratic Party politics, is often accused of being progressive by his critics; Moore is viewed as an institutional insider who is more concerned with the concerns of the Evangelical Intelligentsia that those of everyday baptist laypeople. Thus, it’s not surprising that Jonathan Merritt has come to his defense. Merritt is the son of former Southern Baptist Convention President and megachurch pastor Dr. James Merritt. The younger Merritt, like Russell Moore, is an advocate of creation care environmentalism and a sympathizer of what he refers to as the homosexual “community.” (Merritt himself has admitted to a physical homosexual relationship in his past though he does not claim to be a practicing homosexual). Merritt likens Moore’s critics (including the Pulpit & Pen’s own JD Hall) to one’s “crazy uncle.” In other words, they are fringe bloggers to be ignored. In addition to belittling and marginalizing Moore’s critics in this way, he cites the support that Moore received from prominent Baptist leaders upon his appointment to the ERLC presidency. Merritt writes:
“The announcement of (Moore’s) appointment in 2013 was accompanied by a press kit containing 17 pages of endorsements from Baptist leaders across America.”
This press kit included an endorsement from Merritt’s father, James. Merritt’s above citation calls to mind the way outgoing and disgraced North American Mission Board President, Bob Reccord, was vouched for by such leaders upon his forced resignation. According to The Cooperative Program and the Road to Serfdom:
“Upon his resignation, which came as scandal over his leadership broke in the Christian press, Reccord received a $500,000 severance package. On his way out the door, Reccord arranged for a $92,000 payment to be sent to Johnny Hunt (for his Timothy-Barnabas school) and a $300,000 payment to be sent to evangelist Jay Strack.” Both men would later sign a letter vouching for the integrity of Bob Reccord. This letter was signed by thirty-nine other high-profile Southern Baptist leaders, including eight former and future presidents of the convention… All of these men are fairly considered members of the elite SBC intelligentsia. While they vouched for Reccord amidst scandals, rank and file NAMB employees were ask to sign confidentiality agreements.”
James Merritt was one of the men who signed the letter which vouched for Bob Reccord. In addition to vouching for Bob Reccord, Merritt advocated the now defunct company Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing (FTHM) from his church’s pulpit. FTHM met its demise after being sued by the Federal Trade Commission and multiple states. FTHM was deeemed a “pyramid scheme” and was forced to surrender 7.75 million dollars in assets. Of FTHM, James Merritt’s church released a statement that included the following language:
“During the time (James Merritt) was involved in FHTM he found it to be a reputable organization.”
Clearly an endorsement from James Merritt is should carry little positive weight. Both he and his obviously progressive son vouch for Russell Moore. Strangely enough, Moore’s own supporters provide what is perhaps the strongest case against him. Jonathan Merritt closes his article with the following:
“I have disagreed with Moore on several occasions, but it’s difficult to deny that he has improved the Southern Baptist brand. Under his leadership, the denomination has become less partisan and accepted a broader public agenda. Some old-school Baptists might not like Moore’s sophisticated approach because it sometimes sounds conciliatory to more liberal causes. But most Baptists–especially younger ones–don’t want their denomination’s political arm run by a sycophant who is happy to settle for the status quo. And that’s why most Southern Baptists still want more of Moore.”
Southern Baptists should ask themselves whether or not a man so highly touted by evangelical insiders and a left-leaning Religion News Service reporter deserves their support. He certainly doesn’t have mine. Moore has not improved the Southern Baptist “brand,” whatever that may be. How long will men like Moore be able to get away with whatever he wants because he can produce friends in high places to vouch for him?
[Contributed by Seth Dunn]
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.
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