What to watch for: The cultural and political events that may shape 2016

January 4, 2016

The ERLC seeks to educate and equip the church about today’s ethical, cultural and moral issues. We thought it would be helpful—at the start of a new year—to give a rundown of some of the events and topics that have the potential to shape our culture for many years to come. As you think about these issues, bookmark erlc.com for late-breaking news and commentary, consider signing up for The Weekly newsletter, and join us at one of our 2016 events.

Religious Liberty

2015 was a challenging year for religious liberty. 2016 will be equally challenging. The most important and largely unknown factor at this point is how the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision will affect religious liberty in the public square and also concerning private institutions.

Activists, lawmakers and judges have increasingly been reading “Sexual Orientation” and “Gender Identity” into protections against sex discrimination. This has tremendous implications for the future of Christian higher education, as schools that receive federal funding could be considered discriminatory according to Title IX under federal law.

Also, with the introduction of the Equality Act, religious liberty advocates will need to be extra vigilant. The Equality Act is the most sweeping anti-conscience legislation ever enacted. Its effect would touch all areas of public life and would result in those with traditional beliefs about sexual morality and gender as being equated with racists.


In perhaps the most important event of 2016, Americans will elect a new president. The importance of this cannot be understated. From the sanctity of unborn life, to the protection of marriage and family, the economy, and war and peace, who Americans elect on November 8, 2016, will have incredible impact for the future trajectory of America. Right now, it’s too early to tell who will be each party’s candidate, but it is a good time to begin to educate yourself on the issues most important to you and your family. ERLC has published numerous issues briefs on topics that may be addressed in the upcoming election.


The ERLC will soon issue an in-depth legislative agenda for 2016, so stay tuned. In the agenda, we will outline legislative activity in Congress of particular interest to Southern Baptists. It is not exhaustive, but gives a good idea about what we’re watching and anticipating. In the meantime, below are a few items from 2015 still in play in 2016 and some recent additions we’re monitoring

Supreme Court

There are several important Supreme Court cases that we will be keeping our eye on next year because of the ramifications for our country.

Little Sisters of the Poor et al. v. Burwell: A number of cases dealing with the Obamacare HHS Mandate or “contraceptive mandate” will be heard and decided by the Supreme Court in 2016. These cases deal with the question of whether the Department of Health and Human Services has the constitutional power to force religious nonprofits to provide abortive contraception to their employees.

Whole Women’s Health v. Cole: This case is a challenge to Texas’ HB 2, which created two new requirements for abortions in Texas: (1) physicians performing abortions are required to have hospital admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic; and (2) abortion clinics in Texas must meet the public health standards for ambulatory surgical centers or hospitals. A number of abortion providers in Texas challenged HB 2, and this case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court to be heard early this year.

LGBT discrimination suits: Now that the Supreme Court has created a constitutional right for same-sex couples to be married, look for cases to start working their way up the system on these topics: (1) religious nonprofit hiring cases; (2) wedding service provider cases; (3) local, state, and federal tax exemption cases for organizations and churches that hold to a traditional view of marriage.

Racial reconciliation

2015 was a difficult year for race relations in America. Police shootings from Michael Brown to Eric Garner to Tamir Rice to Laquan Mcdonald awakened the national conscience to systemic injustice in many American cities and the difficult challenges of the urban core. The tragedy in Charleston both offered a model for Christian forgiveness and provoked a discussion about the symbols that, to many, represent the inhumane institutions of Jim Crow and slavery. 2016 will undoubtedly continue to see stories that provoke national conversations on race. Here is hoping that the evangelical church will be the place where gospel-centered conversations can serve as a model for society and reflect, in some way, the diversity of the Kingdom of God (Revelation 5,7).

Terrorism and ISIS

2015 saw fear grip the Western World as ISIS spread its murderous ideology across the Middle East, seizing large tracts of land and resources, and also initiated attacks in places like Paris and San Bernardino, California. Global intelligence firm Stratfor predicts that ISIS will be weakened this year, but not defeated. As ISIS grows weaker in the Middle East, will the organization seek to maintain relevance through an increase in terrorist activity outside of the territory it controls? For Americans, the question will be: will elected officials take the threat of radical Islam seriously in a way that both preserves the liberty of Democratic institutions and also fulfills a Romans 13 duty to rightly bear the sword to protect the innocent?

Persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa

The situation for Christians in this region is worse today than a year ago. And while most experts believe that the so-called Islamic State will be weakened in 2016, few believe the organization will be defeated this year. Will the Obama Administration and international community be able to advance policies that protect Christian populations that wish to stay in the Middle East and evacuate those that wish to leave? This is a key issue to watch, especially early in 2016.

The Syrian Civil War & the Syrian refugee crisis

The main driver for the Syrian refugee crisis, the Syrian Civil War, will likely not end in 2016, despite efforts among outside powers to broker peace. The flow of refugees has slowed during the cold winter months, but refugees will begin fleeing again in the spring and summer. What kind of welcome will they find in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon? In Europe? In the U.S.?

Continued rise of anti-semitism

In 2015, we saw a dramatic rise in anti-semitic activity, from assaults to vandalism to anti-semitic slurs and chants at BDS and pro-Palestinian rallies across the Europe and the U.S. As Islamophobia and nationalism increase in the U.S. and Europe, so could anti-semitism continue. May 2016 be a year that Christians stand with our Jewish neighbors

Sanctity of human life

In 2015, Planned Parenthood was on the defensive, due to the courageous investigative work of The Center for Medical Progress. The release of their sting videos pulled back a curtain on the macabre practices conducted at abortion clinics around the country, forcing even staunch pro-choice advocates to admit the grisly nature of abortion. These videos also awakened the evangelical conscience, motivating a new generation to fight for justice wherever human dignity is compromised. 2016 could be a consequential year as conservative legislatures around the country continue to weight further restrictions on abortion, as the Supreme Court hears Whole Women’s Health v. Cole and as Americans elect a new President. This year, ERLC and Focus on the Family are hosting the first ever Evangelicals for Life event on January 21st and 22nd in conjunction with the March for Life.


These are just a few of the cultural and political events we expect to shape 2016. Of course, there will be other, unanticipated moments that fill up our social media feeds and dominate the news. The ERLC will continue to serve you this year by helping you apply the gospel of the kingdom to these issues.