One Texas megachurch has put its Cooperative Program funds on hold as leadership reevaluates the church's support of the Southern Baptist Convention's causes.
Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, is taking issue with "various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention," executive pastor Mike Buster told The Baptist Message.
For those who might not know, within the SBC, there is an initiative known as the Cooperative Program. According to convention rules, participating churches give to the program as a way to fund their respective state conventions and church-sponsored seminaries. The state conventions split the monies with the SBC — 45 percent stays in state and 55 percent goes to SBC missions and ministries, such as the International Mission Board.
Much of the frustration with the SBC has been catalyzed by Dr. Russell Moore, president of the SBC's political advocacy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. As TheBlaze reported in December, Prestonwood senior pastor Jack Graham took issue with the alleged "disrespectfulness" of Moore toward evangelicals who supported Trump in the election.
At the time, Graham, who serves on Trump's evangelical advisory board, said Prestonwood was "considering making major changes in our support of the Southern Baptist Convention." And now he's following through.
Moore, who has been a stalwart opponent of Trump, clarified in December that he had no intention of criticizing all evangelicals who support the president. He wrote: "I told them then, and I would tell anyone now, if that’s what you heard me say, that was not at all my intention, and I apologize."
According to LifeWay Research, Prestonwood is one of the largest churches in the SBC. In 2015, the 41,000-member congregation gave $500,000 to the Cooperative Program, and this year, that number could reach $1 million, according to the Message.
Graham said his church is now going through "an internal evaluation" of its giving, "and our desire is not to seek publicity so we can make the right decision for our church and Southern Baptists."
He told the Message he is "not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people, and I'm not working to start a movement to fire anyone" but wants Prestonwood to remain "a cooperating partner [with the SBC] as we have been for many years," though he did say there's an "uneasiness" with many church leaders regarding the "disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches."
In a statement to the Baptist Press, Moore said: "I love and respect Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. This is a faithful church with gifted leaders and a long history of vibrant ministry working and witnessing for Christ."
Following the announcement from Prestonwood, Bart Barber, a Texas-based pastor who serves on the ERLC's Leadership Council, tweeted that he is "heartbroken" and "conflicted" about Graham's decision.
I love and appreciate @jackngraham but am an ardent advocate for #ReligiousLiberty and for @SBCCP. I’m just heartbroken & conflicted.— Bart Barber (@Bart Barber) 1487338659.0
Another reason some are distancing themselves from the SBC is because both Moore and IMB president David Platt signed a friend of the court brief last year in support of a New Jersey Islamic society's right to erect a mosque.
The construction has been repeatedly delayed over zoning issues. The Township of Bernards zoning board argued the mosque needed to require more parking spaces than Jewish or Christian places of worship because, given Muslim prayer services are held on Fridays, congregants would be coming from work individually rather than as families and, therefore, would need additional parking.
In a statement at the time, IMB leadership said their support of the construction arose out of "our belief that all peoples of the world have the right to religious liberty, including the freedom to embrace the gospel."
As a result of the entire ordeal, IMB trustee and Tennessee megachurch pastor Dean Haun resigned with a year left in his term on the ministry board. He told the Baptist and Reflector that defending the "rights of people to construct places of false worship" is helping them to "speed down the highway to hell."
He described the amicus brief signed by Moore and Platt as an "unholy alliance" with a false religion.
Last month, a federal judge ruled that the township discriminated against the Islamic group, according to NBC News. Bernards Township Mayor Carol Bianchi said the board is determining its next legal move.