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Representatives of a Different Kingdom

How the ERLC Advocates in Washington, D.C.

Chelsea Sobolik

Government is a God-ordained institution (Rom.13), and Christians have an important opportunity to shape public policies for the love of our neighbors and the common good. Because of what Scripture says, we know God cares deeply about the role and work of the government in society, and so should we. The opening verse of Romans 13 instructs Christians to be subject to the governing authorities, and also reminds Christians that there is no authority except from God. The verses following give guidance for how Christians ought to interact with and respect the institution of the government. 

Advocacy is an effective way to get involved in the legislative process and the public square, and the ERLC regularly advocates before our government for issues Southern Baptists care about and believe in. An advocate is someone who “pleads the cause of another” or “who defends a cause.” So, what types of policies should Christians care about and advocate for? Scripture is clear in multiple places that there is a particular group we should care about and defend—the vulnerable.

“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9).

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Ps. 82:3-4).

Do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart” (Zech. 7:10).

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him” (Prov. 14:31).

Our Areas of Advocacy

We speak to what the gospel demands of us and engage issues where we believe the Bible commands and when Southern Baptists speak. The biblical convictions we share with our brothers and sisters in local churches drive our advocacy, not partisan affiliation or political means. And we desire to bring a moral weight and Christian vision to each of the issues we address. It is paramount for our mission in the public square that we advocate for issues central to the gospel.

The ERLC’s advocacy is focused on the principle level. We believe there are some issues where the Bible draws a very clear line, such as issues of life and abortion. Scripture tells us that every person is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and is clear that the womb is God’s domain, and that his knowledge of the unborn even precedes the creative act of conception (Jer. 1:5; Ps. 139:13). As a result, we can make definitive statements and advocate for specific policies related to the issue of abortion.

There are other issues where the line isn’t quite as clear, but scriptural principles can still drive our advocacy. An example is the issue of immigration. Scripture doesn’t give us exact prescriptions for immigration policies like how many work visas are appropriate for a given fiscal year. What Scripture does give is clear guidance on how we should think about and treat our immigrant neighbors (Lev. 19:33–34; Jer. 7:5–7; Ezk. 47:22; Zech. 7:9–10). We should view them with dignity, and our policies should seek to keep families together and respect the God-given drive of people fleeing violence in search of a better life for themselves and their families. 

Our advocacy is also directed by the annual SBC resolutions that the convention votes upon. Each year, the SBC passes resolutions that cover a wide range of topics and help give guidance and direction to our work. 

Five Key Areas of Advocacy

Our advocacy at the ERLC focuses on five key areas:

  1. The ERLC promotes religious liberty as a biblical teaching because God alone is Lord of the conscience. We stand with our Baptist forefathers in defending the free exercise of faith for all people.
  2. The ERLC navigates complex issues related to human dignity because every person is an image-bearer of God. We protect the most vulnerable among us, beginning with the unborn, carrying our pro-life ethic through every stage of life.
  3. The ERLC believes marriage is an essential institution for human flourishing. We uphold God’s design for marriage and family amidst related policy items.
  4. The ERLC advocates for justice because the Bible teaches God is unequivocally just. We work to ensure impartial judgment and equitable treatment of the marginalized because we believe in a gospel that saves.
  5. The ERLC’s international work is focused on protecting the most vulnerable, such as the preborn, persecuted Christians and religious minorities, and vulnerable children.

What Does Our Advocacy Actually Look Like?

The public policy team of the ERLC closely monitors legislation and regulatory actions that fall into those five main areas. We advocate for good policies and against those which are harmful. On some issues, there is a wide-shared consensus and purpose, and on others, there is deep disagreement. As our public policy agenda says, “whether issues are currently popular or unpopular, we have the opportunity to bear witness, to seek to persuade, and to build the consensus needed to make change.”

If there’s an issue that we’re advocating on, we discern which Congressional offices we should meet with. Since there are over 500 members of Congress, we can’t meet with each office on each issue.

One of the ways we figure out which offices are most appropriate to meet with is by looking at which committees a member sits on. Legislation is marked up in a specific committee before it receives a full floor vote. During the markup meetings, members have the opportunity to offer amendments to the base text of a particular bill, strengthening the language, or helping remove harmful portions of a bill. Advocating before this process is an excellent way to go as upstream as possible. Other times, we’ll advocate for bills that are receiving a full floor vote. 

Capitol Hill staffers often have multiple issues in their portfolios, and we try to equip them with the resources they need in order to make policy recommendations to their bosses. So, when we have a meeting on Capitol Hill, we’ll typically bring along a one-pager, which is a document that concisely communicates our biblical perspective. 

As we meet with staff and members of Congress to advocate for issues, our goal is to make the case for why that issue matters to Southern Baptists, why the representative or senator should consider engaging the issue, and share our unique perspectives for policy solutions. By advocating on a policy, we play a role in equipping members and their staffers to think well about issues in the public square. 

Faith and healthy democracy matter for our public policy work. For example, laws that protect the preborn are of little utility without a robust respect for the rule of law, even and especially those laws and processes that form the essence of our democracy. And so, in this time of upheaval, the ERLC is also focused on the health of our public square—cultivating convictional kindness, working for depolarization, and developing leaders who love those whom they lead enough to speak the truth and guide them down a better path. Policy can affect the lives of millions of people, both domestically and abroad. The ERLC seeks to represent Christ well within the public square and advocate for issues central to the gospel so that our neighbors will be able to flourish. 

Chelsea Sobolik serves as the Director of Public Policy with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in the Washington, D.C. office. Previously, she worked on Capitol Hill on pro-life policies, domestic and international religious freedom, adoption, and foster care issues. Chelsea has been published at the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, and others. She is the author of Longing for Motherhood – Holding onto Hope in the Midst of Childlessness, and a forthcoming book on women and work. She has a B.A. in International Relations from Liberty University, and lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband Michael.