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Russell Moore (right), the new president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission explains that the ERLC will support principles, rather than specific legislation. President Emeritus Richard Land (left) led the commission for 25 years. (Photo credit: Illinois Baptist Briefing)

Russell Moore (right), the new president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission explains that the ERLC will support principles, rather than specific legislation on immigration. President Emeritus Richard Land (left) led the commission for 25 years. (Photo credit: Illinois Baptist Briefing)

By Jeff Walton (@JeffreyHWalton)

In a spirited farewell, the outgoing head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) called on Baptists to work towards revival and tackle a host of moral issues. Addressing officials at the annual gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston on Tuesday, Richard Land offered his final report as leader of the public policy office, fielded questions on immigration and watched as his successor, Russell Moore, set out his vision for the Southern Baptist public policy body.

“Unfortunately, we live in a target-rich environment when it comes to the moral issues we face as Christians,” Land warned. Listing sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage “as defined by God” and pornography as major concerns, Land saw a nation in peril from “self-inflicted wounds” more damaging than external enemies.

“I believe that the devil has figured out that the greatest weapon in his arsenal to destroy families and destroy lives in 21st century America is hard core internet pornography,” Land diagnosed. “It is time that we quit playing like ostriches with our heads in the sand, that we understand and that we put on the whole armor of God to protect against the fiery darts of the evil one.”

Assessing America’s ills as “God-sized problems [that] can only be solved by God,” Land called for a “Christ-centered, life changing revival.” America’s future depends “not on what the lost people do, but what the saved people do,” according to Land, determining that “if we get right with God, lost people notice.”

The outgoing Southern Baptist official asserted the primacy of revival, the necessity of “getting right with God.”

“The salt of the law can change behaviors, but only the salt of the Gospel can change beliefs,” Land pronounced.

Calling upon Baptists to recommit themselves, Land declared: “We’re not going to be thermometers that reflect the temperature in society. We’re going to be thermostats that dictate the spiritual temperature in our society.”

Land and Moore fielded two questions from the floor between their addresses, both praising Land’s advocacy on a host of issues including abortion, marriage and religious liberty but also calling into question their advocacy on immigration reform, which went unmentioned in either official’s prepared address.

In the first question, Alabama Baptist State Convention President the Rev. John Killian noted reports on atheist billionaire George Soros’ funding the National Immigration Forum, of which the Evangelical Immigration Table is a project. Asked if the ERLC would participate in any political project “directly or indirectly funded” by Soros, Land did not directly address Soros’ funding and ERLC participation in the Evangelical Immigration Table. Instead, the outgoing Southern Baptist official responded that the ERLC was following instruction from a 2009 resolution “to pursue immigration policies that would find a pathway toward legal status for those who are here in an undocumented status with appropriate fines and penalties.”

“That is the kind of legislation we have been supporting and will continue to support because we believe that is what the majority of Southern Baptists want us to support,” Land explained, adding that such a policy “is not amnesty.”

Land described amnesty as “what Jimmy Carter gave the draft dodgers who went to Canada instead of serving in Vietnam” allowing them to return without penalty.

In the second question, South Carolina State Senator Lee Bright, who also serves on the ERLC, asked Moore if the ERLC was going to actively support “the 1,000 page immigration bill” under debate in the U.S. Senate.

“We are going to support principles, we are not going to support specific pieces of legislation,” Moore responded. “What we support is a just and compassionate approach to dealing with the millions of people in American society right now who are invisible, seeking a better future for their families. We also want to maintain the rule of law and the security of our borders.”

Interjecting, Land added that the present bill, if it is to pass, “will get a lot stronger on border security because it has to get through the House of Representatives.”

“They are being robbed, raped and brutalized,” Land said of the immigrants from whom he heard during his recent visit to New Orleans, where he reported immigrants would not go to the police to report crimes for fear of deportation.

“We need to give them an opportunity to come forward, pay a penalty, undergo a probationary period, learn English and if they want to stay here come under the protection of our laws,” Land summarized.

Moore praised his predecessor early in his own address, declaring that “no one stood more courageously toe to toe with the spirit of the abortion culture – the spirit of death — than Richard Land.”

A future generation may be asked if the Gospel applies to human clones, or if an artificially intelligent human cyborg could be baptized, or asked how we should deal with a Sunday School teacher who rents out her womb to an infertile family, Moore forecast.  Baptists, he predicted, may be asked “what does discipleship in action look like for the post-operative transsexual who comes to Christ and wonders ‘what does repentance look like for me?’”

Moore also predicted that future Christians may have to address questions that their forefathers did, but recent generations have not, such as “how to plant a church or preach the word when the government demands to see a license for a state-approved gospel.”

Moore promised the ERLC would push back against a world full of fallenness and injustice, where “too many children are disposed of as medical waste, languish in orphanages and foster care systems and live in the wreckage of a divorce culture robbing them of mother, father and home.” Moore also warned of lingering racism and identified challenges to religious liberty.

“We will stand with our chaplains – who show right honor to the authorities – but when they are told that they cannot pray in Jesus’ name, have the courage to stand up and say to Caesar ‘sir, I wasn’t talking to you, sir.’”

Charging that a government bureaucracy did not invent marriage and a government bureaucracy cannot reinvent marriage, Moore promised the ERLC would strive to model a healthy marriage culture.

Placing the ERLC mission in context, Moore observed that “our enemies are not persons of flesh and blood; our enemies are invisible principalities and powers in the air around us.”

“We follow a Christ who did not come into the world to condemn the word but so that through him the world might be saved,” Moore declared. “Even our harshest critic is a person whom we are seeking to see reconciled to God by the blood of Christ.”

“Satan is not afraid of culture warriors or values voters: Satan is afraid of a crucified Galilean who has a great deal of trouble staying dead for very long,” Moore determined, adding that Christians “have no reason to be fearful, sullen or mean. We are not the losers of history.”

“The worst thing that could possibly happen to us has already happened: we’re dead, we were crucified at the place of the skull under the wrath of God,” Moore declared. “The best thing that could possibly happen has happened: we are alive in Christ and our future is seated at the right hand of God and he’s feeling fine. Since Jesus is marching onward and since the gates of hell cannot hold him back, why would we be panicked or concerned about the Supreme Court?”

“Let’s target the right enemy and let us overcome,” Moore advised. “Not because we are a majority or a righteous remnant, but because we are blood covered sinners who know that if the Gospel can change us, it can change anyone.”