Two days after Russell Moore’s official exit as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which he announced in May, the denomination is reporting strong year-over-year increases in designated giving as well as giving to its Cooperative Program for May.
A report published Thursday by Baptist Press, the official news service of the SBC, shows that $16.9 million was given through the national Cooperative Program Allocation Budget in May 2021, showing an increase of over $2.1 million from the $14.8 million received in May 2020.
While the over $128.8 million in gifts received by the SBC Executive Committee for distribution through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget as of May 31 is more than $1.2 million less than last year’s budget contribution, officials noted that the amount given is ahead of the $124.5 million year-to-date budgeted projection to support Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America by over $4 million.
“The financial rebound in giving through the Cooperative Program is very encouraging,” SBC Executive Committee president and CEO Ronnie Floyd stated in the BP report. “As we go into the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville, this financial report after eight months into our fiscal year is outstanding. As we face the many daily challenges before and around us, churches are demonstrating they are committed to advancing the Gospel across America and around the world.”
The report of increased giving for the $15 billion Protestant Christian organization comes after an SBC Executive Committee task force released a report in February stating that Moore’s controversial leadership of the ERLC posed a major threat to the funding of the Cooperative Program.
The Cooperative Program is the SBC’s unified plan of giving through which cooperating SBC churches give a percentage of their undesignated receipts to support their respective state convention and SBC missions and ministries.
In a statement to The Christian Post Friday, Jonathan Howe, SBC executive committee vice president for communications, said the increase in giving had nothing to do with Moore’s resignation.
“There is absolutely no evidence linking the current increase in CP giving to leadership changes at the ERLC," Howe said. "The funds in the May CP report were given and processed well before Russell Moore’s resignation announcement."
Howe also stressed that there was a decline in CP giving last year related to the economic downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic and that the "increase in CP giving this year is a clear representation of the economic rebound and a demonstration of the generosity and faithfulness of Southern Baptists to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state, and every nation."
"The report released this week reflected CP allocation funds given through churches in March 2021," Howe explained. "Gifts given in March are sent and calculated by State Conventions in April. States then send a percentage of those gifts to the national level for disbursement, which are published in the May report."
The ERLC, which recently reported an operating budget of $4.3 million, is funded through the SBC’s Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program also provides funding for the North American Mission Board, International Mission Board, and the six Southern Baptist seminaries in America.
Members of the task force who painted a grim picture of the threat Moore’s controversial leadership posed to the Cooperative Fund included Mike Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia. He is vying to become the next SBC president.
“While much of the work of the ERLC is praised and appreciated by Southern Baptists, the ERLC is also a source of significant distraction from the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists," wrote members of the task force. "The leader of a large state convention reported, ‘The ERLC has been a stumbling block not worth the mission dollar investment.’ The task force finds merit in this statement."
State executive directors of the SBC reported hearing numerous concerns about Moore from pastors related to various issues. Those include Moore’s opposition of President Donald Trump, his stance on immigration, an allegation that he received funding from an organization with ties to George Soros, an amicus brief the ERLC filed in support of a New Jersey mosque in a religious freedom case and the perception that he criticizes conservative political figures more frequently and more harshly than moderate to liberal ones.
Opposition was also raised to "his stated support of attending homosexual wedding showers and receptions." Some accused Moore of giving "disrespectful and condescending responses to the questions of messengers." Repeatedly noted was the response given to Pastor John Wofford of Armorel Baptist Church at the 2016 annual meeting about Muslims' rights to build houses of worship in the U.S.
The task force report argued that while giving to the SBC’s Cooperative Program has been trending downward for years, Moore’s leadership and perceived liberal politics have led to hundreds of churches withholding funds to the program, threatening to withhold funding or even cutting ties with the denomination.
Moore announced on May 18 that he had accepted an invitation by Christianity Today to serve as the director of its Public Theology Project. His term at the ERLC ended on June 1.
In a recently leaked February 2020 letter to ERLC trustees, Moore expressed deep dissatisfaction about the treatment of several issues in the culture of leadership at the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, including race and sexual abuse.
Stone has since dismissed Moore’s leaked letter as a "back-door press release" that is "clearly an attempt to influence the upcoming presidential election in the SBC."
"I think Southern Baptists can see this letter for exactly what it is," Stone said of Moore’s letter. "His letter contains numerous misrepresentations of me and of the leadership of our beloved Convention. More broadly, it illustrates that he holds a markedly different view of the Southern Baptist Convention than the one held by the overwhelming majority of our 14 million members who have generously paid his salary.
"… His view is of an SBC that contains 'neoconfederate activities' and 'raw racist sentiment.' That is not the SBC that I know."