Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz have four things in common: they are both running for President of the United States; they are both trying to court the evangelical vote; they are both Southern Baptists and both will be conspicuously absent after not being invited to the big sold-out evangelical event next week sponsored by Southern Baptists! What gives? Apparently they didn’t make the cut. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio did.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, will be interviewing Bush and Rubio next week at the evangelical conference in Nashville. The ERLC made clear that invitations would only be extended to presidential candidates polling at ten percent or higher on May 1st (determined by the Real Clear Politics national average). So Bush, Rubio, Scott Walker and Hillary Clinton got invitations. Walker and Clinton couldn’t make it but the ERLC stuck with their ten percent threshold rather than inviting others. Imagine if they didn't go with the May 1st deadline but instead went with July 1st? Umm, calling Donald Trump.
The fact that two Southern Baptists like Huckabee and Cruz will not be part of the conversation at a Southern Baptist event seems a bit odd on the surface. Capping the invitees at the ten percent threshold can invite criticism because you’re limiting the viewpoints that Southern Baptists will be able to hear in person at a conference that will be widely attended and reported on. So, indeed, it’s not the greatest PR for the ERLC when Southern Baptist candidates like Cruz and Huckabee are left out. At this point, it should be noted that the civil forum is just an hour long and the ERLC isn’t the sponsor of the event. The North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board (both Southern Baptist organizations) carved out the short one-hour slot for ERLC. Could that slot have been increased to include more candidates? It’s a legitimate question.
When asked about the absence of Huckabee and Cruz, Russell Moore provided the following statement to The Brody File:
"When the North American Mission Board asked us to have a conversation with candidates, I wanted to have all the candidates. Unfortunately, there are roughly 144,000 candidates running this year. So we determined objective criteria for polling, as laid out in the press release and invited candidates from both parties who met that standard. I look forward to having conversations with all the candidates, of both parties. This is an ongoing conversation. We had to start somewhere and the polling averages gave us an objective criteria to do so.”
Don Hinkle, Editor of The Pathway, the official newspaper of the Missouri Baptist Convention with a readership of approximately 50,000 has concerns and tells The Brody File the following:
"A lot of Southern Baptists are concerned that only two candidates will be at the Send North America conference, which is expected to draw about 13,000 people. I respect Dr. Moore and applaud his willingness to engage in public policy matters, but the way outstanding conservative candidates like Sen. Cruz, Gov. Huckabee, Gov. Jindal, Gov. Perry and even Gov. Kasich have been treated in this matter is inexcusable. There is an appearance of favoritism and a lot of people are asking why do such a thing 15 months before a general election -- and at a missions conference, no less…Give the national candidates some time, especially with the debates set to begin in August. Let the field thin out, then do something, say next spring or early summer…The present situation is not prudent. Southern Baptists are open-minded and, at this point, want to maintain a sense of fairness."