Three months after Russell Moore’s departure, interim leader of ERLC likely leaving

Baptist News Global [Jacksonville FL]

August 26, 2021

By Mark Wingfield

Three months after Russell Moore left the helm of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission under pressure, his interim successor has announced his impending departure.

In a news brief, Baptist Press reported Aug. 24 that Daniel Patterson, acting president of the ERLC, has been recommended to serve as executive pastor of Central Church in Bryan-College Station, Texas. The senior pastor of that congregation is Phillip Bethancourt, who until April 2020 served as executive vice president of the ERLC before Patterson succeeded him.

Bethancourt was the whistleblower who just days before this year’s annual meeting of the SBC released audio recordings of conversations between Moore and Mike Stone and Ronnie Floyd. Stone is a Georgia pastor who was a candidate for SBC president. Floyd serves as president of the SBC Executive Committee. Both had been accused by Moore of not responding to or attempting to downplay allegations of sexual abuse in SBC churches and agencies.

Patterson tweeted the news of his impending job change on Sunday, Aug. 22. He is the sole finalist for the executive pastor position but, in keeping with traditional Baptist polity, still faces a congregational vote at an upcoming call weekend.

Patterson had joined the ERLC staff when Moore became executive director, following him from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where he was executive assistant to the senior vice president. He earned master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees at Southern Seminary, after completing undergraduate studies in communication at Middle Tennessee State University.

ERLC trustees have appointed a search committee to nominate a permanent successor to Moore, who was beloved by much of the SBC constituency but derided by critics on the rightward flank of the denomination who thought he was too soft on immigration, too friendly to gay people, too outspoken against clergy sexual abuse and too critical of Donald Trump.

The battle over control of the ERLC mirrors one of the internecine struggles currently playing out within the larger SBC — just as a similar battle did 30 years ago during the so-called “Conservative Resurgence” in the SBC.

Seen from the vantage of America’s complete religious continuum, the current struggle is between those who are conservative and those who are more conservative. The more conservative side lost the SBC presidential vote this summer by a bit more than 500 votes and has been highly critical of the more centrist candidate who won the election, even calling for his resignation amid charges of sermon plagiarism.