A Letter to the ERLC
Dr. Rick Patrick | Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL
***Editor’s Note: If you would like to contact the ERLC and voice your concerns you can email their Chief of Staff, Dr. Daniel Patterson, at email@example.com. (Despite being trapped by a blizzard in Washington after the Evangelicals For Life Conference, Dr. Patterson was gracious to respond promptly and professionally to this letter, agreeing to share it with both Dr. Moore and the ERLC Board Chairman. Such receptiveness on his part is deeply appreciated.)
January 22, 2016
Dr. Daniel Patterson, Chief of Staff
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Dear Dr. Patterson,
Historically, my understanding is that the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has not campaigned for or against any specific candidate by name. Given that Southern Baptists support a variety of candidates from a variety of parties, this makes perfect sense. In fact, the usual approach has been to publish Voter Guides listing various candidates and their publicly stated positions on the issues. In this manner, everyone can decide for themselves for whom they will vote, with the ERLC providing helpful information.
When Dr. Moore joined others recently by contributing to a National Review issue entitled, “Against Trump,” he crossed a line. No longer content to discuss the issues, Dr. Moore joined with others in discussing a specific political personality, and in making a clear campaign endorsement AGAINST voting for Donald Trump. As I have written before, specific negative endorsements run the risk of violating legal requirements. http://sbctoday.wpengine.com/is-the-erlc-breaking-the-rules/
The paragraph that concerns me most is this one: Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. The Restriction of Political Campaign Intervention by Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations
I am not a lawyer, but it is difficult for me to parse information contained under the heading “Against Trump” as anything other than political campaigning against a specific candidate.
Apart from that legal question, I do not believe it is wise for the President of the ERLC to single out one candidate from one party and target him with 99% of his criticism. If Dr. Moore were to criticize the other candidates from both parties in a relatively equal manner, I might still prefer for him to stick to the issues, but at least he could avoid the charge of displaying such overwhelming bias.
I feel compelled to point out that Trump is not my preferred candidate in the primary race. It would be a mistake to mischaracterize me as one who is merely “stumping for Trump.” I think we must recognize, however, that many Southern Baptists do support Trump. I doubt they appreciate a portion of their offering plate money paying for an organization that has become a de facto Political Action Committee publishing information to the detriment of the candidate for whom they are prayerfully considering casting their ballot. Southern Baptists should not have to pay, through their offering plate contributions, for campaign PR opposing their candidate.
Please help me forward these concerns to the Chairman of the ERLC Trustee Board. I may not always agree with Dr. Moore on everything, but it seems to me this is a much larger issue than mere disagreement. When it comes to political races, does the ERLC speak to issues only? Or does the ERLC also endorse candidates—either by speaking positively or negatively about them? Once we move from policies to personalities, in my view, we have become a Political Action Committee. That’s not what I want, and I don’t think it is what Southern Baptists want either.
Dr. Rick Patrick, Pastor
First Baptist Church
***Editor’s Note: If you would like to contact the ERLC and voice your concerns you can email their Chief of Staff at firstname.lastname@example.org