The ERLC Podcast

Bringing hope to an election year (Part 2)

July 11, 2024

Are you weary as you think about politics in our country? Is it hard to know what to say and do during an election year as you lead your church, talk to your family, interact in your community, and go to the voting booth? We feel those tensions, too, and want to provide encouragement as you seek to bring a distinctly Christian hope to the public square. 

Welcome to the ERLC Podcast where our goal is to help you think biblically about today’s cultural issues. Today, in the second part of the discussion between ERLC President Brent Leatherwood and Daniel Darling, director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, they will provide further guidance for engaging the chaotic public square, discuss their issues of concern for this election cycle, and remind us of our anchor and hope as Christians. 

Episode Transcript

Brent: And we’re back. So Dan, let’s get to these last few questions and we’re gonna focus in now I think more on a few issues. Let’s talk about the issue of life. We are obviously now in this new post-Roe era, still moving from a culture of death where the pro-abortion industry was able to target vulnerable mothers and scared fathers and convince them that taking the life of their preborn child was the only way to move forward. So we now have this incredible opportunity to fight for life when we think through this, this new moment that we’re in. What do you think are the best ways for Christians to be champions of life and really take advantage of this new opportunity since Roe is now gone?

Dan: I think there’s a few ways we gotta think about this moment. One is when the pro-life movement first started in 1973, the people that were the first organizers of the pro-life movement, they understood this was a long march. They had to make arguments to the culture, they had to put the infrastructure together, they had to educate people about this. And it took 50 years to overturn Roe. And I think it’s gonna take a similarly long time to get to a place where America is a culture of life. There’s a few things to think about. I think number one, we have to continue to make the moral argument. We need to remind people that what we’re saying is there’s a life here. There’s a beating heart. There’s unique DNA, there’s a life here. We gotta keep making that argument and saying, if we are a nation that says all men are created equal, then we need to live up to that as Americans.

Part of what we do with our activism is not just trying to get laws passed, which we are, but make the argument and using all the persuasion we can. We cannot forget persuasion. There’s new generations coming that have not heard the pro-life argument. We have heard it our whole lives. We think, okay, we’ve done that. We can move past that. No, they have not heard the arguments, and it’s our responsibility to do that. I think secondly, we need to take the long view that every justice movement is a long movement. Right? William Wilberforce, when he ended the slave trade in Britain, he understood it was gonna take his whole life. 

Brent: It did take his whole lifetime. Right.

Dan: His entire life. Yep. And so this is a long movement. I think number three, we gotta really keep pushing and take every possible win that we can, every group of babies that we can save that’s in front of us. That’s possible. Whether it’s through legislation that we can build consensus and get passed, whether it’s through crisis pregnancy centers that the ERLC helps put ultrasound machines in to help save babies by convincing mothers to keep their babies and by continuing to make the arguments about this. So I think that’s very important for us not to grow weary and well-doing. We have a long march ahead of us. We also just can’t assume just ’cause people vote with us conservatively  on a number of issues that they are pro-life. Right. I think we’re seeing that in places like Ohio and other places where it’s a red state, but the pro-abortion amendment won.

And I think there’s a lot of folks that are in our coalition that have not heard the pro-life argument. So we have to continue to do that and then make our arguments. And then I think as President George W. Bush would say, we had to build a culture of life that respects life at every stage of life, from the earliest baby in the womb to folks at the end of life. That has a consistent culture of life. And keep pushing the argument and not be afraid and not be embarrassed. To be pro-life to say, though, this is something I’m proud to be. We wanna push that and push our elected officials to see this. It’s a long movement. We should not be weary in well doing, but I do think we’re doing the right thing. This is the Lord’s work, and we should not quit.

Brent: Are there issues that circle around abortion? Maybe they’re not directly about abortion policy, but maybe issues around it that you’re kind of paying attention to across the country right now?

Dan: Yes, I am. I mean, I think, obviously I want make clear that the pro-life issue, in a sense stands on its own. Right. So all the arguments for it in terms of economic and all those other things, they’re factors. But we should not be ashamed to say, no, I’m pro-life and I don’t have to have caveats for not wanting unborn babies killed. At the same time, I think if there’s ways that we can do things to stabilize families, to stabilize young women in crisis, to make that environment better so that they see more options, that they see that bearing a child than being a mother is a good thing. Is it gonna be good for their flourishing? I think it really important, and I think pro-life folks are talking about a lot of different things, ways to help mothers in crisis, whether it’s economically or financially or other ways. I think the crisis pregnancy center movement is really doing a good job of that. Getting around mothers and stuff. But there’s probably legislation, some states have already done this. I know Gov. DeSantis in Florida, when they pass the pro-life legislation, they also, and we do this in Texas too, like give free diapers and free counseling and some childcare and all these kinds of things so that when the mother has the baby, they understand, okay, there’s a community around me that’s gonna help me raise this child. 

Brent: I would add, we’re obviously trying to stop the proliferation of this idea of abortion tourism, where individuals are attracted to these locations to destroy life. We obviously want to stop that. And then just maybe a couple more degrees removed, the ability for Christian families to be able to adopt in ways that are consistent with their convictions and not have the state tell them that they can’t do that. Those are a couple other issues that I would say they just kind of circling around life. But ultimately they get to your point, this is how we establish a true culture of life. Stop these avenues of destruction and allow Christian families evangelical Southern Baptist to be able to adopt in ways that are consistent with Scripture.

Dan: What’s related to it is the stabilizing of the family. We’re in an era where more children are born into unstable families than really anytime in our history. It’s a massive social experiment that we’re doing that’s not going well. Dr. Brad Wilcox at the University of Virginia has done so much great work on this. In his new book, getting Married, he talks about just the importance of marriage and the importance of children growing up with a mother and a father that really sets someone a course for life. And I think that issue is not unrelated to the abortion issue. And so I think churches actually have a unique ability in their communities to help promote healthy family life, to come alongside families, come alongside single mothers, and let them know here, we’re here to help you raise your children to love the Lord.

Brent: So we’ve had a good conversation here about the protection of innocent life. And I guess I want to use that to segue into something that’s not quite as close to home but international we have these conflicts, these hotspots around the globe, whether it is Ukraine or Israel, or even the threat of violence maybe that China holds over Taiwan. Why do Southern Baptists care about these international zones of conflict?

Dan: Well, it’s interesting. We just did a survey with Lifeway, and we found that among the issues, Southern Baptists deeply care about, Southern Baptists in the pews, are global religious freedom for brothers to serve overseas, and that America has a strong defense. And I think God has put America in a position where when America is engaged in the world, it’s better for those who are seeking freedom. Now, we can’t be the world’s policeman. We can’t go into all these conflicts. We have to be wise and steward our resources well, but when we retreat from the world, what fills that vacuum is often worse. And I think we’re seeing this around the world, whether it comes to Russia’s encroachment on Ukraine, that if we allow Russia to kind of run roughshod through Europe, that’s terrible for Europe. It’s terrible for religious freedom. Ukraine has the largest concentration of Baptist and evangelicals of any country in Eastern Europe.

It’s been a hub for evangelism and discipleship. Our brothers and sisters who are in Russia occupied territories are often treated terribly. We’ve lost 300 to 400 Baptist churches. We want the United States to be strong on behalf of those who are being persecuted. But then you think about the horrible situation that happened on October 7th with Hamas slaughtering Jewish people in their homes. And Hamas, we know from their own words, their goal is to not just wipe Israel off the map, but they want to kill Jewish people everywhere. And so it’s a really, really horrific situation. We have to stand on the side of Israel, who is a democratic country, who is fighting for their survival. Jewish people, unfortunately, in every generation, have had to fight for their own survival. We need to be on the side of Israel. That’s, historically, America has done that. I think that’s the right thing to do. Obviously the threat of Iran, they’re an enemy of the West. They don’t like our values. They don’t like what we stand for. They don’t like Israel. And so I think all those nations, unfortunately, the world is really aflame right now. You got Russia, Iran, North Korea, China. If we don’t stand up to them along with our allies, then it’ll be bad for the world. When America retreats from the world, it’s bad for human flourishing. It’s bad for freedom. We’ve always stood on the side of freedom-loving nations.

Brent: Are there any instances in your mind where the SBC has taken a bold stand when it comes to individuals being persecuted internationally or global zones of conflict where the SBC has made a strong stand where it made a difference?

Dan: Well, I think so. I mean, I think first of all, in the 20th century, Southern Baptists stood up against Communism. And we stood up for those who are seeking freedom, those who were imprisoned by communists. But I also think the SBC has always been strong on behalf of freedom loving nations, but particularly for those Christians who are being persecuted for their faith. Our presidents, whether it’s Dr. Land and others, have served on the Commission on International Religious Freedom. It’s always been a hallmark of Baptists. Baptists are a global people. People in our churches go on mission trips to these places. They care very deeply about missions. We’re a missionary denomination. We’re a sending denomination. We love our country, and we’re proud of America. But we also care about the expansion of the gospel around the world. And we care about our brothers and sisters. We don’t want to just tell our brothers and sisters overseas under persecution to be warmed and filled. We wanna say, well, we’re gonna use our voices here in the United States to petition our government to do whatever it can to alleviate the suffering of a brothers and sisters. Christ.

Brent: Recent examples I would point to just kind of piggyback there. We called what is happening to the Uyghur people in China genocide. We’re the first network of churches, first denomination to do that. And that carried a lot of weight in Washington D.C., in 2022 in the aftermath of Russia’s illegal invasion, standing in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and asking for Russia to be opposed ’cause we condemned it in the strongest possible terms. So those are just two recent examples, and that just builds on the history that the SBC has had of speaking out when these atrocities occur around the globe.

Dan: We don’t want to also forget our brothers and sisters in Nigeria are being persecuted, slaughtered many times, uh, brothers and sisters in places like Sudan and other hotspots where Christians are just being slaughtered and persecuted for their faith.

Brent: Yeah. We have sent letters to the administration registering our deepest concern that Nigeria is not on a particular watch list because of the ways that they’re treating Christians and other religious minorities there. Alright. So you mentioned that we are a sending organization. We truly do want to take the gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth. And I would say that includes the public square. It’s not just internationally, but it’s also the public square. At the ERLC, we view the public square as a mission field. What would you say to individuals who are maybe in ministry and leadership, or in the pews who might feel a calling to run for office? What sort of encouragement and counsel would you give them?

Dan: Well, first of all, I would encourage it. If that’s something that God has called them to do, I would make sure that they really pray and seek the Lord and say, “Is this your calling for me?” To get advice from your pastor and those close to you. I would also say to count the costs to know that when you step forward in the public square, you’re gonna be immediately attacked from one side or the other to know what you’re doing. But I’d also say it’s a noble thing. I know a lot of times we sort of are dismayed at our politics, but we should encourage Christians to step forward. It’s that calling. It’s a noble task to do. It’s a way to love your neighbor, to serve the Lord. So I would encourage them to do that. I would say to continue to not neglect your spiritual life and your spiritual formation, to not get sucked into the vortex of politics so much so that you neglect your walk with Christ. I know many brothers and sisters, as you do, who are in that space. It’s not easy, but they’re faithful Christians doing the best work that they can. And I wanna encourage that. I think we need good, decent, spirit-filled Christians in the public square because if we don’t, what fills that void is often we know it’s gonna be worse.

Brent: Right. A recent survey came back, and two of the top terms that Americans use to describe the public square were division and dysfunction. And I’m curious if this strikes you, when I look around my neighborhood, talk to my neighbors, or go to my son’s little league game, and I’m at the ballpark and talking to people, those aren’t the words that I would use to describe folks in the community. What can we glean from that?

Dan: I think our politics and our politicians are more divided than actual American people are. I think we have a sense that Americans are divided in some ways. We are in terms of our, the presidential race is really close and those kinds of things. But as you said, when you’re walking around your neighborhoods, when you’re in your churches, you sense people are getting along even though they have differences. And I think we should encourage our leaders to do that. I think a leader who runs for office should fight as hard as they can for what they believe and for good public policy. But in the end, having fought as hard as you can get, as much as what you can pass, but also to view your opponents not as avatars or the enemy, but as people made in the image of God who have dignity and worth.

I mean, Peter says famously in 1 Peter 2 to honor all men, love the brotherhood. Fear God, honor the king. So you see the ordering there. Every single human being deserves some respect because they’re image bearers of God. You may not agree with them. You may oppose them on policy, but they’re human beings. Love the brotherhood means our brothers and sisters in Christ deserve a special kind of love. We’re in this new family of God. So we love our brothers and sisters. Paul says, be good to those, especially of the household of faith. Then it says, fear God, honor the king. So we don’t have to fear the king. We don’t have to fear those in charge. We fear God. And I think if we only fear God, it keeps that ordering in line. We fear God. We honor whoever’s in charge. Even we disagree. We love our brothers and sisters and we honor all people. So I think having that ordering of the way that we conduct ourselves is really important,

Brent: Well, so last question. I started off talking about the fact that there may be some people out there that are apprehensive about the fact that this is an election year. They may even be filled with lots of anxiety about it. You and I aren’t usually like that. We’re pretty optimistic, glass-half-full Christians. But I’m curious, where do you go for hope in these sorts of discussions, talking about politics and policy matters? Where do you go as a source for hope?

Dan: Well, I think first of all, this sounds like a cliche, but our spiritual disciplines really matter. So every week, going to church on Sunday, interacting with the people of God, hearing a word from the Lord, singing songs of worship, just kind of recalibrates our hearts. I think secondly, looking for signs of hope, even in despair, even when it looks like our politics are miserable. And there’s all these things, you can always see pockets of hope in the world, even as things are not great. And to know that God is at work. I think sometimes we’ve convinced ourselves that God’s best days are behind him. That the Spirit is not at work in the world and that Christ doesn’t save anymore. That was just in the past. And the truth is, none of those things are true. Jesus still saves. God is still at work.

The Spirit is still alive. And so looking to see where God is working, I think of times, even in American history where things were bad and there was a sense of renewal. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s gonna happen in the country. But I also think reading history as you know, I love to read American history, it’s kind of my hobby. But reading history gives me a sense of things like, okay, we’ve been here before. We’re gonna be okay. Also, reading church history, this is not the first time where Christians have been in conflict. This is not the first time there’s been divisions in the church. And then obviously reading Scripture, you know that God is gathering things to himself. Being optimistic doesn’t mean we’re head in the sand and we don’t see what’s on the horizon and we don’t have concerns. But I think putting our faith in God.

Brent: Well, I love what you were saying about history. One of the biggest benefits I would say about history and reading history is it’s not social media. It’s not just shouting into the void. Emotive in the moment. There’s even a benefit, I would say, of reading a physical newspaper. Just because it’s had some time to sit. And it’s not just fresh off of whatever somebody wants to be outrageous about right or sew grievance about. But I think history in particular, you can start learning and pulling out those lessons from history. And it gives you great perspective. And ultimately, as Christ followers, we know who the author of history is. And I think it is incumbent upon all of us to honor him in all that we do and particularly in an election year. I hope that you have enjoyed this conversation with Dan Darling. Dan, I’m thankful for you. I’m thankful for all that you’re doing at Southwestern. And I hope each and every one of you have been helped by today’s conversation, not just helped in some transactional way, but in a hope-filled way. So thank you for taking the time to be with us and good afternoon.


Realistically, elections repeatedly reveal what candidates, voters, and representatives truly believe. Conviction is too often sacrificed on the altar of getting the most votes or obtaining the most power, regardless of the consequences. But, it shouldn’t be that way for Christians. And we’re confident that by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord will enable us to turn from past political mistakes and move forward in this election with hope-filled hearts and actions that speak of our love for God and for others. 

Join us next time as we hear a special conversation between Vice President Mike Pence and Brent Leatherwood..  

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