TRUSTEES: Hope for America rests on believers, ERLC trustees told

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The consensus evident at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's annual trustee meeting is that the United States is in dire straits and facing an uncertain future, but the matter at hand was what Southern Baptists will do about it.

"Americans have plumbed the depths of self-realization and self-actualization," ERLC President Richard Land told the trustees during their Sept. 14-15 sessions in Nashville, Tenn. "They have scaled the heights of self-fulfillment."

Many Americans are coming to the stunning realization that "it's not all about you."

The situation in America is becoming more and more like that described in Proverbs 29:18, Land said, noting that the original language of the passage suggests that "people literally run amok" without vision in desperately searching for a leader and for purpose and direction.

"This is increasingly the case in our nation," Land noted. "When it comes to happiness and purpose in life, we are discovering it's not to be found in oneself.

"The solution to this mindset is so far beyond mere politics that it is beyond description," Land said, describing the nation's societal ills as symptomatic of deeper problems.

Many have come to the conclusion that America took a wrong turn at the end of the 1960s, Land said. "As a society we began to focus heavily on our individual rights and our individual privileges," he said, "as opposed to focusing on our obligations and responsibilities as citizens."

The only hope, Land said, is in "millions of Americans on their knees before the Lord." He encouraged trustees to learn more about the 40/40 Prayer Vigil (online at www.4040prayer.com), a cooperative effort of the ERLC and the North American Mission Board that begins Sept. 20.

"We didn't get here overnight, and we aren't going to get out of this mess overnight," Land said. "The nation won't be rebuilt without a revival in the hearts of its Christian citizens."

Frank Page, president-elect of the SBC Executive Committee, addressed the ERLC trustees during their Sept. 14 evening session. Page said the ERLC, as the Southern Baptist entity charged with addressing moral, ethical and religious liberty issues, is instrumental in showing the world what Southern Baptists stand for: "biblical morality, strong healthy families and righteous lifestyles."

Page underscored the importance of believers breaking free "from that which enslaves us, which holds us captive" in a message drawn from Judges 2.

He recounted that the Israelites were deep in trouble because they had broken the faith of their fathers by intermarrying with heathens and worshiping idols. In response to their disobedience, God sent a messenger to proclaim judgment.

"The people wept aloud with tears of regret," Page said, "as the conviction of God fell upon them."

They could have reacted as individuals often do in the 21st century when called to account, Page said, noting they could have denied their transgressions, blamed someone else or claimed a new right under which their behavior was normative.

"We live in a day and time when the snares are many and varied," Page said, and they are effective at trapping many souls who now need rescue.

Page said he believes that among the Israelites there were also "tears of repentance."

"There are people in our nation today that regret what has happened, but not enough to repent," Page suggested, agreeing with Land that America's only hope is revival.

"The only hope is winning this nation to Christ. That is only going to happen when God's people are revived and feel the burning passion of the Gospel. That will happen only when there are tears of repentance," Page said.

"It's not enough to be sorry; we have to walk down a different road," Page continued.

"Too long we've been known for what we are against," he said, repeating a refrain he often voiced during his term as SBC president, saying he wants the opportunity for Southern Baptists "to tell you what we are for."

LIBERTY AWARD

ERLC trustees recognized Alan Sears as the recipient of the John Leland Religious Liberty Award. Sears is president and general counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund, an alliance of Christian attorneys and likeminded organizations that defend the right of people to freely practice their faith.

Land told trustees that "Sears has stood on the frontlines with the ERLC on critical religious issues."

"His trusted voice has become a mainstay on conservative talk radio programs and his face a familiar one on the cable news shows," Land noted, adding, "His valuable contributions for religious liberty deserve recognition."

Trustees also voted to honor Jim Richards with the Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award for 2010. Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, recently served on the SBC's Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.

Richards' lifetime of service of Christ is "incalculable," Land said.

"Throughout his decades of Kingdom service, his focus has remained unchanged: the Word of God and the Great Commission," Land continued, noting that with ministry success "Richards has been careful to give God all the glory."

In other business, trustees:

-- elected Eunie Smith of Birmingham, Ala., president of Eagle Forum of Alabama, as chairman of ERLC's trustees. Smith is believed to be the second woman elected as chair of an SBC entity's trustee board. Stephen Faith, associate pastor of Charlestown Road Baptist Church in New Albany, Ind., was elected vice chairman and Charles Lord, pastor of Royal Palms Baptist Church in Phoenix, Ariz., secretary.

-- urged Southern Baptists and local SBC churches to participate in this fall's 40/40 Prayer Vigil for Personal Revival and National Renewal.

-- responded to a motion referred from the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention pertaining to SBC guidelines on "national legislative and political issues of a partisan nature."

-- responded to a motion referred from the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention that asked for guidelines under which the SBC would "publicly state positions on national legislative and political issues of a partisan nature." Trustees noted that while public policy may be debated by political partisans, the ERLC seeks to base its position statements on "biblical counsel and the expressed opinion of the Southern Baptist Convention." Their response further noted the ERLC, as part of its ministry statement, is charged with assisting churches "through the communication of moral and ethical concerns in the public arena."

-- adopted changes in the entity's bylaws that updated wording and protocol in some sections.

-- tapped Emir Caner, president of Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga., and Lamar Cooper, executive vice president and provost of Criswell College in Dallas, as fellows of the ERLC's Research Institute. Cooper currently is serving as Criswell's interim president.

-- approved a $3.236 million budget for the ERLC's 2010-11 fiscal year, basically unchanged from the previous year's budget. The ERLC is allocated 1.65 percent of Cooperative Program funds received by the Southern Baptist Convention.


Dwayne Hastings is a vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.