By / Mar 21

May 8, 2020, marks one of the anniversaries of the founding of what would become the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (more on those others below). The ERLC is the Southern Baptist entity tasked with speaking for Southern Baptists in the public square and speaking to Southern Baptists on matters of moral importance. Below are some highlights from the history of the ERLC and all its previous versions.

What’s in a name?

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is just the latest name in the history of this entity. Previously, it has been called the Christian Life Commission (1953-1997) and Social Service Commission (1947-1952). Also, depending on how you want to date the founding of ERLC (information below), you could include a previous Social Service Commission (1913-1942) and a standing Committee on Temperance (1908-1913).

Each of these names has focused the organization at that particular time. The initial commissions were sporadic and worked on individual assignments rather than having a comprehensive agenda, focusing more on prohibition than other goals. As time progressed, the organization came to address more and more needs, prompting the change in the name. For example, the Committee on Temperance and Social Service had little to say about the 1918 flu epidemic, whereas the ERLC has written extensively about the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

The name change from the Christian Life Commission (the previous name of the organization) to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission represented the absorption of other committees and a commitment to the importance of this first freedom.

When did it begin?

As I mentioned above, there is some debate about when the organization that would become the ERLC began. Southern Baptists have been organizing and weighing in on social issues since their founding. However, the formalization of an entity to address the moral and spiritual concerns of Southern Baptists in the public square represented a new attempt to work together for the goal of bringing the gospel to bear on social issues.

If you were to date the organization based on formalization and a line of discernible work, then the earliest date of the commission’s founding would be 1908 with the creation of the Standing Committee on Temperance led by Arthur James Barton, which was the precursor to the Social Service Commission. In 1913, the Social Service Commission was founded. Barton would lead the group until 1942 (through various name changes) without pay.

However, if you were to date the commission based on when it first received official funding from the Southern Baptist Convention, then you would begin in 1942 under the leadership of Jesse Weatherspoon. A.J. Barton had occupied his position as head of the organization without pay for more than 30 years. In 1942, the SBC first formally apportioned money ($1,000) from the convention for the commission. Previously, the Sunday School Board (the precursor to LifeWay) had helped to financially support the organization and work of Barton.

The ERLC recognizes the need for thoughtful engagement in every realm of society and seeks to provide Christians with resources for engaging the culture with the truths of the gospel.

But it was not until 1947 (hence the current anniversary) that the leader of the organization was recognized with a title that was equivalent to an entity head and received Cooperative Program funding on a continual basis. Hugh Brimm was the first person to lead the organization when it was formally receiving funding from the SBC, and he was also given the title of “Secretary-Treasurer of the Social Services Commission.” This position was a title equivalent to other entity heads and corresponds (loosely) with the current position of president for SBC entities.

Regardless of whether you date it to initial work (1908), funding (1942), or a recognized title (1947), there has been a concerted effort on the part of Southern Baptists to bring the gospel to bear on issues of moral importance in culture for over a century.

Significant leaders

There have been a number of leaders (and again, the founding makes it tricky to decide who is in or out) throughout the agency’s tenure. Though there is not space to describe all of them below, I have chosen to highlight some who have proved significant in the latter trajectory of the organization. A full list of the past leaders is also below with their dates of service.

Arthur James Barton: As the first leader of the organization that would eventually become the ERLC, Barton stands unparalleled for his work for the organization. He worked, without convention pay, for over three decades. Though initially commissioned to lead the Committee on Temperance, he would also lead the Social Service Commission to address a host of other issues. He was noted for his work in crafting the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale of alcohol, and remained committed to that cause until his death in 1942. It was not until after his death that the commission received funding ($1000 in 1943, and a percentage of Cooperative Program funds in 1947). This makes the work he and the standing committee accomplished all the more remarkable.

Foy Valentine: Valentine represents an important figure in the life of the ERLC for several reasons. First, he, and Weatherspoon before him, supported efforts that today would fall under the umbrella of racial reconciliation. Valentine worked diligently to lead the convention to recognize the dignity of all peoples, especially African Americans. In his 1960 address, he encouraged the convention to help African Americans “to secure [equal rights] through peaceful and legal means and to thoughtfully oppose any customs which may tend to humiliate them in any way.” Valentine’s work, and many others as well, was crucial in setting a foundation for what would eventually be the Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention. Though Valentine was correct in his views on race, he also represented the drift left of the convention and was a member of the moderate wing which prompted the Conservative Resurgence in the 1970s and 80s within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Richard Land: Richard Land was the first president elected to the Christian Life Commission after conservatives were able to appoint a leader. Land moved the commission back to its historic biblical roots and was a force for theological conservatism. Land helped to move the commission into new media avenues, including regular television appearances and a daily radio show. He, building on the work of Valentine, was essential in the crafting and passage of the 1995 Resolution on Racial Reconciliation. He also emphasized the role that the commission had for protecting religious liberty. Land also was the first person to serve as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (the name was changed in 1997). His service ended in 2013 after 25 years, making him one of the longest serving heads of the organization.

Russell Moore: Russell Moore was appointed president of the ERLC in 2013 following Land’s retirement. During his presidency, the ERLC was instrumental in launching the first Evangelicals for Life conference, a whole-life, pro-life gathering centered around the March for Life. This conference aimed to help evangelicals see the connection between a theology of the image of God and issues beyond just abortion, recognizing the inherent dignity of all people as those made in God’s image. Additionally, in 2018, the ERLC, along with The Gospel Coalition, convened the MLK50 conference, which marked 50 years since the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It also pointed to the ongoing work being done and needed within evangelicalism and the wider culture of gospel justice and reconciliation for racial minorities. His tenure was marked by an unwavering commitment to the defense of religious liberty for all peoples, including non-Christians such as the Uyghurs of China, as well as taking steps to ensure that the SBC would be a place where victims of sexual abuse were safe and cared for.

  • Arthur James Barton (1908-1942)
  • JB Weatherspoon (1942-1947)
  • Hugh Brimm (1947-1953)
  • Acker Miller (1953-1960)
  • Foy Valentine (1960-1987)
  • Larry Baker (1987-1988)
  • Richard Land (1988-2013)
  • Russell Moore (2013-2021)
  • Brent Leatherwood (2022-present)

Significant areas of work

The ERLC continues to work in a long line of cultural engagement on a number of social issues. Although it is impossible to cover all of them, there are several that stand out as major themes in the work of the organization.

Religious liberty: First, religious liberty was not an initial concern because it was the area of the other committees. However, with the absorption of the Public Affairs Committee, the organization took on the role of being the denomination’s strongest advocate for religious liberty. This is reflected in the name of the organization, and its ongoing work at both the state and federal level. The ERLC has worked to protect this right because of its intrinsic connection to the Baptist tradition and the belief that each person has the right to worship as they please without fear of government interference.

As early American Baptist John Leland often argued, because the government will not answer for a person’s soul at judgement, it should not direct that soul in matters of religion. The ERLC continues this work.

Human dignity: Another area of work is that of human dignity. This inclusive term includes a holistic approach to questions of life, dignity, and worth. The ERLC has not always carried out the truths of the gospel perfectly in this area. Valentine did not oppose the 1971 resolution on abortion which was supportive in some cases, and Barton was supportive of segregation practices. However, even in those areas there have been at least small hints that Southern Baptists were seeking to uphold the truth that each person was created in the image of God. Barton supported segregation, but he also supported theological education for African Americans and urged the convention to support this work (even as he urged them to not integrate). In contrast to Valentine, Richard Land and Russell Moore have been tireless advocates of the preborn. Both Land and Moore worked on issues of race and helped to pass the 1995 Resolution (Land) and organize the MLK50 event which brought together African American and white Christians to think on the legacy of Martin Luther King (Moore).

The current staff of the ERLC stand in a long line of Southern Baptists who recognize the worth of every person and seek to uphold and proclaim their dignity as people of God.

Cultural engagement: The final area of importance is that of cultural engagement. The work of the ERLC (and its previous versions) has always been to engage on the issues of importance to Southern Baptists. This has included work on poverty, gambling, morality in public office, hunger, public policy, and popular culture. Southern Baptists have long recognized that Christians have a duty to speak into the culture with the truths of the gospel. This is not limited to one area. Rather, it encompasses every place where a Christian goes in their life. To quote the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch in the whole of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

The ERLC recognizes the need for thoughtful engagement in every realm of society and seeks to provide Christians with resources for engaging the culture with the truths of the gospel.

By / Jan 13

Saturday marks the 182nd anniversary of the death of John Leland, the most influential Baptist preacher of America’s Founding era.

Here are five facts you should know about this champion of religious liberty.

1. Leland was an active and productive pastor. From the age of 18 until his death at 86, he preached approximately 8,000 sermons, wrote numerous hymns, published about 30 pamphlets, and baptized 1,524 people. He also personally knew 962 pastors, out of which 303 he heard preach and 207 who visited him at his home.

2. Leland had an outsized influence on the establishment of religious liberty in America through his relationship with James Madison, the primary author of the U.S. Constitution. Leland, who was considered the “leader of the Virginia Baptists,” helped Madison get elected both as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and to the first Congress. Madison repaid Leland and the other Baptists by keeping his campaign promise to support a Bill of Rights that included the Establishment Clause.

3. For much of his early career Leland rarely spoke publicly about one of the key issues of his day—slavery. However, on returning to his home state of Massachusetts in 1791, he began to forcefully champion the emancipation of slaves. Leland thought the cause of freedom for Black Americans would be an opportunity for Christian youth:

If any of the slave-holders will neither give nor sell their slaves, here will be a great door opened for missionary labors. The pious youth, who are waiting for a gap, will now have a loud call to go and preach to the hard-hearted masters, and flatter them to give, and threaten them if they will not.

Although he continued to oppose slavery, Leland later in life began to denounce abolitionists as troublemakers. Many slaveholders, he said, “in heart are opposed to slavery, and would gladly set their slaves free, if they could be provided for.”

4. Leland once used a 1,234-pound block of cheese to spread the gospel. After helping Thomas Jefferson win the presidency, Leland decided to give the new chief executive a gift of cheese. According to Elihu Burritt, Leland asked everyone in his Cheshire, Massachusetts, congregation who owned a cow to donate a quart of milk (unless it was from a “Federalist cow”—a cow owned by a Federalist farmer—since that would “leaven the whole lump with a distasteful savour”). The milk was curded and molded using a large cider press. This Cheshire Mammoth Cheese—which measured four feet wide, and 15 inches thick—was too heavy to transport by wagon, so it had to be delivered by sleigh during winter.

As Leland wrote, “In November, 1801 I journeyed to the south, as far as Washington, in charge of a cheese, sent to President Jefferson. Notwithstanding my trust, I preached all the way there and on my return. I had large congregations; let in part by curiosity to hear the Mammoth Priest, as I was called.”

When he arrived in the capitol, Leland was invited to preach a message of religious liberty before Congress.

5. According to L. H. Butterfield, Leland was “dubious about seminaries and campaigns for [missionary] funds.” Although Leland, who was self-educated, was not opposed to secular education, he purportedly stuck “to the primitive Baptist principle that the power to evangelize is bestowed by divine rather than human means.” 

“In these things, however, I may be wrong,” Leland told a friend, “for I claim neither infallibility nor the spirit of prophecy. — May I, may you, may every one pray and search for himself, and believe, and act, and follow the clearest light.”

By / Dec 26

I have been a Southern Baptist, specifically an Alabama Baptist, since my parents first brought me to church as an infant. Yet, I admit that I never actually knew what it meant to be a Baptist. Until college, I never even considered it, and I imagine others haven’t either. When I started seminary, the first class I took was about the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Program. I learned about Baptist commitments such as religious liberty, church autonomy, and the inerrancy of Scripture, among others. And while all of these are vital and foundational to Baptist life, there is one more ingredient that makes the Southern Baptist Convention special: cooperation. 

Cooperation among the different levels of Baptists

I recently had the opportunity to go to Birmingham, Alabama, for an ultrasound dedication. The ERLC’s initiative, the Psalm 139 Project, seeks to raise awareness about the incredible influence that ultrasound machines can have in a mother’s decision to choose life for her baby. The project works to raise the resources necessary to place ultrasound machines in pregnancy centers across the country.  

Sav-A-Life, the PRC that received an ultrasound in Birmingham, is located in the same building as its partner, the Birmingham Metro Baptist Association. This new location needed an ultrasound machine in the clinic. Seeing a need, Baptists were able to do what they do best: come together in cooperation in order to meet physical and spiritual needs. 

The ERLC worked alongside the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, the Birmingham Metro Baptist Association, and the North American Mission Board to make sure that an ultrasound machine was placed in this Sav-A-Life clinic so that mothers and their preborn babies would be cared for and supported. 

The imagery and symbolism of this level of cooperation is astounding. In this case, there were Baptist ministries from the local level to the national level partnering to ensure that the implications of the gospel were being lived out in an undeniable way. There are very few places in which multiple ministries or organizations work together like this.

Cooperation due to the faithfulness of Baptists

All of this happens because of the Cooperative Program—which is how the Southern Baptist Convention is able to financially support the work that it does. This is how the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and the various seminaries and boards are able to faithfully carry out their gospel work for the glory of God. 

Without this funding, it would be more difficult for the IMB to send out missionaries to unreached people groups. It would be less effective for NAMB to deploy church planters all throughout North America, and it would be hard for the ERLC to be missionaries of sorts to the public square. The Cooperative Program is what makes the work of the Southern Baptist Convention possible. And all of this begins with the local church and the faithfulness of SBC members. 

As I discovered on my recent trip, the ultrasound donated to Sav-A-Life was a tangible picture of the faithfulness of Alabama Baptists. And I realized that an Alabama Baptist like me can be a part of future work like this for the sake of the gospel. Giving to my church allows me to play a role in the sending of IMB missionaries, the support of NAMB church planters, the convictional work of the ERLC in the public square, and the ministry of other entities. What a remarkable privilege. Cooperation that enables us to take the gospel to our various areas of influence and ministry is why I am a Southern Baptist.

By / Sep 30

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss the devastation in Southwest Florida caused by Hurricane Ian and Southern Baptist’s disaster relief mobilization. They also talk about the need in Puerto Rico, the Jones Act waiver, and the Baptist cooperation that helped make that happen. 

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  • Dobbs Resource Page | The release of the Dobbs decision marks a true turning point in the pro-life movement, a moment that Christians, advocates and many others have worked toward tirelessly for 50 years. Let us rejoice that we live in a nation where past injustices can still be corrected, as we also roll our sleeves up to save preborn lives, serve vulnerable mothers, and support families in our communities. To get more resources on this case, visit ERLC.com/Dobbs.
  • Sexual Ethics Resource Page | Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of entertainment and messages that challenge the Bible’s teachings on sexual ethics? It often feels like we’re walking through uncharted terrority. But no matter what we face in our ever-shifting culture, God’s design for human sexuality has never changed. The ERLC’s new sexual ethics resource page is full of helpful articles, videos, and explainers that will equip you to navigate these important issues with truth and grace. Get these free resources at ERLC.com/sexualethics.
By / Jun 30

Bart Barber has only been the Southern Baptist Convention president for a few weeks, but already he has seen and commented on the historic Supreme Court ruling about abortion and fielded various questions about SBC life. An important topic he recently took on, especially in light of controversies among Southern Baptists, was religious liberty. Below, he expands on this important freedom, explaining why it’s so important to Baptists, how we can grow in our understanding of it, and why Christians should be encouraged. 

Lindsay Nicolet: Will you explain what religious liberty is? And why is it a Baptist distinctive?

Bart Barber: A person enjoys religious liberty if he may change his religious beliefs or religious affiliation without changing his relationship with the governing authorities over him. Religious liberty is a Baptist distinctive for several reasons:

First, together with the earliest Anabaptists, the 17th-century Baptists and their successors found religious liberty in the text of the Bible, demonstrating it from passages like the Parable of the Wheat and Tares and Jesus’ statement that his kingdom is not of this world. 

Second, Baptists have found religious liberty to be a correlate of our basic evangelical belief in conversionism—the idea that no one can enter the kingdom of God except by way of voluntary, uncoerced conversion suggests that there is no value in having the state attempt to coerce religious affiliation. 

Third, the beleaguered Baptists of the 1600s and 1700s were well acquainted with the fact that governments empowered to protect or privilege Christianity always wind up being governments who persecute true Christians. 

Fourth, historically speaking, we find religious liberty affirmed throughout the various Baptist confessions of faith that our family of churches has drafted from time to time down through the centuries.

LN: There has been outrage in recent years among Southern Baptists because of advocacy work on behalf of people of other faiths. Can you explain why this outrage is unnecessary?

BB: Supreme Court cases are not about the individuals involved; they are about the ideas involved. Pro-life Americans rejoice over the recent ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization even if they have never lived in Jackson, Mississippi, and have never known anyone who lived there. The importance of the case is found not in the individual organizations involved but in the fact that Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey are no longer the law of the land. I am thankful that people who had no connection to Jackson submitted amici curiae briefs to help bring about the end of the Roe/Casey regime.

The same thing is true about religious liberty cases. Do you cherish the right to go door-to-door to share the gospel? That idea was secured in American law because of a case involving Jehovah’s Witnesses. Were you thankful when the Supreme Court ruled in Tandon v. Newsom to permit California churches to gather for indoor worship? Look at the cases that the court cited as their reasoning behind that ruling. They include everything across the spectrum from Roman Catholics to practitioners of the voodoo-like religion Santeria. To a California church who is frustrated because restaurants and movie theaters are open but the state keeps their buildings padlocked, they don’t care that the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah case involved pagan chicken sacrifices; they just care that the ideas of religious liberty won the day back then and that the success of those ideas means that they get to gather for church.

LN: How can Southern Baptists grow in their understanding of religious liberty? What are some core texts or resources that you think Baptists could read to gain a better understanding of religious liberty?

BB: Roger WilliamsThe Bloudy Tenant of Persecution is just what we need today, but it unfortunately is quite a difficult book to read. I say that it is just what we need because it lays out the biblical case for religious liberty, and in my experience, we have more people who know the philosophical theory of religious liberty and the historical tradition of Baptist belief in religious liberty than we have people who understand the case that early American Baptists like Williams made from the Bible for religious liberty.

A more recent and more accessible book-sized work I would recommend would be The First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty by Duesing, White, and Yarnell. The recent volume Islam and North America: Loving Our Muslim Neighbors by Micah Fries and Keith Whitfield contains a chapter I contributed on the question of religious liberty.

For shorter resources, the ERLC’s website contains a number of very helpful articles addressing various aspects of religious liberty.

LN: As we live and witness in an increasingly pluralistic society, why can we be joyful and filled with peace instead of fearful and angry?

BB: Apart from coercion and without any help from the state, people are accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has overcome the world. He is preparing us a place. We are the spiritual descendants of martyrs, and look how they have overcome those who went to war against them! Have faith that, as he did with Gideon’s army, God will have his victory in ways that make it absolutely clear that he had no need of governments or the schemes of men.

LN: Have Baptists understood religious liberty to be a right which has no limits? If there are limits, what are they?

BB: Roger Williams used the image of Moses holding the two tablets of the Ten Commandments as an illustration of this. For the “first table of the law,” which addressed questions about people’s relationships with God, the government has no authority to govern. For the “second table of the law,” which addressed questions about people’s relationships with one another, Williams believed that the government does have the authority to govern. Sharing the gospel in Africa, I’ve met people who have performed religious rituals involving human sacrifice. Is that a religious practice? To be sure, it is. But it involves taking the life of another person. Baptists would say that the government has the right to limit religious liberty in a case like this one.

When the Supreme Court applies “strict scrutiny” to law that limit people’s free exercise of their faith, they usually come up with rulings that are comfortably compatible with the Baptist view of religious liberty.

LN: As you look at the state of religious liberty in the U.S., what do you see as the largest cultural or legal threats? Are there places that are going to be clear points of conflict in the coming years?

BB: I once said that the points of tension in American law regarding religious liberty have been soldiers, schools, solicitation, sister-wives, sabbaths, sacrifices, surgeries, sex, and ’shrooms. I could go into detail about each one, but instead I’ll just mention the ones that I believe present the greatest likelihood of future conflict.

Schools have been the major locus of conflict about religious liberty since Abington School District v. Schempp in 1963. I think that contest is waning. Culminating in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, there may be a workable solution coming into place in which students and teachers are free to exercise their faith while the official educational program of public schools must avoid scholastic content or policies that favor any system of religious belief over another.

What is displacing the topic of religion in the public schools as the major area of unrest is the burgeoning conflict between the sexual revolution and the exercise of religious faith in the workplace and in the public sphere. Whether we are talking about the baker Jack Phillips in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission or the Catholic Social Services organization in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, cases are on the rise pitting the new laws about sexual orientation and gender identity against people trying to exercise their faith.

LN: July 4th is coming up. How can Christians rightly celebrate this holiday, understanding the importance of religious liberty at the heart of it?

BB: I understand people’s concerns about the danger of letting patriotic elements get out of hand in a worship service. Any worship service in which Jesus is not the hero of the service is a false worship service. And yet, with that having been said, if Jesus can be the hero of a story in which someone’s cancer goes into remission, someone’s slavery to an addiction is broken, or someone’s sacrificial giving is given back them them by the Lord’s hand—if testimonies or sermon illustrations about any of those things would be welcome in a worship service, I think Jesus can be the hero of a story in which believers in this country are enabled by our constitutional liberties to gather for worship and to send missionaries around the world proclaiming the gospel. 

Our Constitution does not confer upon us the right to serve God. We would do that even if it were illegal to do so. Rather, our Constitution means that we need not hide while we worship, plant churches, and train and send missionaries. That freedom not to hide has meant much greater effectiveness for American churches. That’s something worth celebrating.

LN: What words of encouragement and advice do you have for us as we seek to follow Christ faithfully?

BB: We have religious liberty not because governments encountered the dormant compassion in their hearts but because they confronted the weakness in their arms. They put true followers of Jesus Christ to the rack, burned them at the stake, drowned them in the Limmat River, and fed them to the lions. Still, they were never able to prevail against Jesus’ Church. The power of the gospel has vanquished every petty tyrant who has come up against it. Be strong and take courage.

By / Jun 14

Baptists have, historically, partnered for the sake of mission and the Great Commission. They do so out of a zeal to see people reached for the gospel, recognizing that local churches can do more by cooperating together than any one church can do on its own. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) is the fruit of a generations-long commitment on the part of Southern Baptists to reach North America with the gospel of Jesus Christ. As currently comprised, NAMB centers everything it does around the gospel through three primary strategic emphases: church planting, compassion ministry, and evangelism.

Send Network serves Southern Baptist churches by assisting them in the process of planting healthy, multiplying churches everywhere for everyone. Send Relief provides resources and creates mission opportunities for churches to meet tangible needs and see lives changed through the power of the gospel. Then, NAMB resources and provides evangelism training for churches and leaders as they share the gospel in their communities. As the endorsing agency for Southern Baptist chaplains, NAMB also trains, equips, and encourages chaplains who serve members of the Armed Services, in correctional facilities, and in other institutions.

Roots of NAMB

NAMB traces its historic roots back to 1845 and the creation of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) after Baptists in the South sought to organize their own convention following disagreements with Northern Baptists over issues related to slavery. When Southern Baptists met in Augusta, Georgia, in 1845 to constitute the SBC, one of their first decisions was to establish two missions agencies: the Foreign Mission Board and the Board of Domestic Missions.

In its earliest days from its headquarters in Marion, Alabama, the new board struggled to craft a compelling vision and develop an effective strategy that encouraged Southern Baptists to fund and engage with the new board. Most preferred working through already established local associations and state conventions.

A lack of consistent, tenured leadership was initially a major hurdle before Russell Holman, the first pastor of First Baptist Church New Orleans, took the reins and focused the Board’s strategy. Leading up to the Civil War, the Board began directing most of its efforts to areas of ministry where Southern Baptists were weakest, serving Native American populations and ministering in cities and in newly settled regions on the continent. The strategy allowed the Board to become more financially and missionally stable.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, however, Southern Baptist mission efforts were severely disrupted with the conflict making it practically impossible to raise funds since attention had turned to the war. By the close of the war in 1865, the Domestic Mission Board was destitute.

Under the direction of Martin T. Sumner, who led the organization for 13 years, the Board continuously expanded and contracted its missionary force as it navigated the financial balancing act of funding missionaries and avoiding significant debt.

The Board adopted a new name in 1874, the Home Mission Board (HMB), which it retained for more than a century. By 1882, the SBC decided to move the HMB to a more well-known city, Atlanta, Georgia, in attempt to reenergize support for the entity. The move, along with the election of influential Southern Baptist Isaac Tichenor, generated significant momentum for the HMB. The number of missionaries increased rapidly over the course of the next decade.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a significant lay missionary movement spurred Southern Baptists’ missionary efforts. The Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), led by Annie Armstrong, rallied churches to support mission work and collected the first offering for home missions in 1895. A similar men’s movement sought to galvanize more men into supporting and participating in missions work as well.

By the 1900s, cooperation within the Southern Baptist Convention hit new levels of confidence, and the SBC initiated a significant fundraising campaign in 1919—the 75 Million Campaign—and several SBC entities drafted grand plans based on the incredible response from Southern Baptists. The HMB, authorized by the SBC to increase its programs, incurred debt in anticipation of the fundraising campaign.

Growth after the Depression 

But the funding boon was short-lived. Economic hardship in the South followed by the onset of the Great Depression forced the HMB to shift much of its focus toward paying off debt. Southern Baptists continued their support, however, and the HMB weathered the financial storm in large part due to the development of the SBC’s Cooperative Program in 1925 and the WMU’s collection of the home missions offering, which was named in honor of Annie Armstrong in 1934.

As the nation transitioned in the 1940s from a depressed economy to a booming one, Southern Baptists began to see rapidly increasing growth, and the HMB expanded its ministry efforts. While the predominant majority of Southern Baptists remained in the South, the SBC developed a nationwide presence, engaging in church planting, (what is now called) compassion ministry and chaplaincy. The HMB played a key role in each of those efforts.

The SBC also created new agencies over the next decade, launching the Radio Commission as an official entity of the SBC in 1946, and the men’s missionary movement became an official entity of the SBC, becoming the Brotherhood Commission of the SBC in 1950 with headquarters in Memphis, Tenn.

In 1953, the first Canadian church affiliated with Southern Baptists, and the seeds were sown for what eventually became the Canadian National Baptist Convention as Baptists in Canada strove to share the gospel across their nation.

Over the next several decades, Southern Baptist mission work persisted as the HMB worked with various ethnic and other language groups, expanding its missionary force and enlarging its evangelism efforts. In the late 1960s, a grassroots effort fueled the creation of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, which grew into a national cooperative effort by the 1980s.

As the 20th century concluded, Southern Baptists determined to restructure and consolidate several existing entities by adopting the Covenant for a New Century in 1995. The move included bringing together the HMB, Brotherhood Commission and the Radio and Television Commission into a single Southern Baptist entity: the North American Mission Board. The transition was finalized in 1997.

Thirteen years later, messengers to the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Florida, asked NAMB to focus more of its efforts on church planting as one aspect of the Great Commission Resurgence, which was approved by a wide margin of messengers. That same year, trustees elected current president, Kevin Ezell.

Under Ezell’s leadership, NAMB developed its church planting arm, Send Network, and launched Send Relief, its compassion ministry arm in 2016. In 2020, NAMB joined the SBC’s International Mission Board to cooperate under the banner of Send Relief to provide a single organization for Southern Baptists to work through in their compassion ministry efforts both in North America and around the world.

The United States and Canada have, in recent decades, been undergoing significant demographic shifts, and the future of missions in North America requires Great Commission intentionality on the part of Southern Baptist churches. NAMB’s vision is to boost the efforts of local churches as they reach those who desperately need to hear the gospel of Jesus.

Sources:

Arthur B. Rutledge and William G. Tanner. Mission to America: A History of Southern Baptist Home Missions. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1983.

Implementation Task Force: Covenant for a New Century. Baptist Press.

SBC messengers adopt GCR report by wide margin.” Baptist Press.

Big Changes for NAMB and State Conventions Under GCR Proposal.” Baptist Press.
Canadian National Baptist Convention TimeLine.” Canadian National Baptist Convention.

By / Jun 1

In 1792, British Baptist William Carey published An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen. In the short tract, Carey set forth the thesis—controversial at the time—that most of the known world was without Christ and that it was the scriptural duty of ordinary Christians to reach them with the gospel. Carey and his friends, sympathetic ministers like Andrew Fuller, John Sutcliffe, Samuel Pearce, and John Ryland Jr., understood that the task before them would require organization and strenuous effort, and they responded to Carey’s plea by forming the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS).

The Baptist Missionary Society and funding

Upon organizing the BMS, Carey and his friends faced many challenges, but their most persistent struggle came from their efforts to secure funding for the mission. Carey’s Inquiry already anticipated the difficulty of raising funds for such an endeavor. In the tract he encouraged congregations to set aside even one penny per week for the propagation of the gospel. He noted how many British families had boycotted sugar from West India over “the iniquitous manner in which it is obtained,” and recommended that they devote the savings from this boycott to missions. No cause was greater than that of the promotion of Christ’s kingdom, Carey argued, as he pleaded with readers to invest in eternal reward.

Carey is appropriately known today as the “father of modern missions.” His missional vision and plodding work ethic helped launch a movement that reverberates to this day. But Carey did not labor alone; he depended on his friends and financial contributions from local churches. As Fuller later recollected, “Carey, as it were, said, ‘Well, I will go down if you will hold the rope.’ But before he went down, he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us at the mouth of the pit to this effect, that while we lived we should never let go of the rope. You understand me. There was great responsibility attached to us who began the business.” 

A large part of Fuller’s “rope-holding” involved a lifetime commitment to raising money to fund Carey and the other missionaries sent out by the BMS. This task took extraordinary effort, for the need for funding never relented. Fuller worked so hard in his fundraising and other administrative duties for the BMS that his widow believed it led to his death at the age of 61.

Mission endeavors like the BMS—the kind of works that require partnership across local congregations—have long struggled with fundraising. In the free church tradition where each congregation operates autonomously, larger cooperative ministries have often been overlooked, sometimes by necessity, as local congregations struggle to sustain their own ministries.

The SBC and the Cooperative Program 

Nearly a century after the formation of the BMS, Lottie Moon, an American missionary to China who had been sent out by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, was still laboring to secure funding for missions. In 1887, she lamented the shortage of financial contributions for the vital work to which Christ had called his church, writing, “Why this strange indifference to missions? Why these scant contributions? Why does money fail to be forthcoming when approved men and women are asking to be sent to proclaim the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ’ to the heathen?”

Moon, like so many others, sought creative ways to raise money for missions and eventually suggested the Christmas season when Christians celebrated the greatest gift ever given as a natural time to consecrate money for the cause. The first Lottie Moon-inspired Christmas offering was taken in 1888, and that offering has raised over $5 billion for world missions to date.

The 1920s were a difficult decade in America. World War I had just ended, the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920 had killed 675,000 Americans, and the “forgotten depression” of 1920-1921 hit farmers and other working-class Americans especially hard. As a result, the Southern Baptist Convention, which was made up mostly of rural churches, was having trouble funding its various ministries. In 1924, facing a debt of nearly $1 million, the Foreign Mission Board was forced to turn down the applications of 95 prospective missionaries.

In addition to the difficulty of financial shortfall, constant fundraising efforts were disrupting local church ministry. The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention were committed to funding home missions, foreign missions, and multiple seminaries, to name just a few, and the prevailing fundraising method prior to 1925 was for each of these entities to send representatives to local churches to plead for help. A representative would show up at a local church on a Sunday morning, preach a message about the need, and take up an offering to fund their ministry. The continual appeals for money exhausted local churches and kept local pastors out of their pulpits multiple weeks per year. The Southern Baptist Convention needed an alternative solution.

At the 1924 annual convention in Atlanta, Louisiana pastor M.E. Dodd, chairman of the Committee on Future Program, recommended a revolutionary solution to the funding dilemma. Dodd’s plan—known today as the “Cooperative Program”—asked the individual churches of the convention to commit a percentage of their total receipts each year to their state conventions. The state conventions would then designate a portion of the money to state-level ministries before forwarding the remainder to the SBC. Dodd’s plan was adopted at the 1925 convention in Memphis and continues to fund the cooperative gospel efforts of the SBC to this day. Last week was the anniversary of this adoption. 

How successful has the Cooperative Program been? Many of its benefits will never be measured. Dodd’s plan has freed countless gospel laborers from the tedious and time-consuming work of raising money and has kept pastors in their own pulpits on Sunday mornings. Missionaries have been freed to continue their labor on the field uninterrupted, freed from the heavy burden of fundraising. The Cooperative Program today funds six top-level seminaries that provide theological education for more than 13,500 students annually—more than any other denomination in the United States. Additionally, through the CP, Southern Baptists support over 3,500 on-the-field international missionaries through the International Mission Board and over 4,400 church plants through the North American Mission Board. This money also funds Lifeway Resources, the SBC’s publishing entity, Guidestone, which helps ministers with financial planning, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which advocates for religious liberty and Christian ethics in the broader cultural arena.

Churches are not required to give, but that has rarely been a problem. To date, Southern Baptist churches have given over $20 billion. The SBC’s annual budget is nearing $200 million. While these numbers are impressive, there’s no way to adequately assess the impact of M.E. Dodd’s idea. Spiritual fruit cannot be measured with data charts and pie graphs. Only God knows the full impact of the last century of Southern Baptists’ cumulative financial sacrifices. Here’s to many more years of faithful giving to the Cooperative Program.

By / May 20

In less than a month, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) will be holding its 2022 Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California. Although every local church affiliated with the SBC is autonomous, congregations send representatives (known as messengers) to the meeting to help guide and direct the future of the denomination. In a s​​imilar way, while the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice for our churches, the SBC has adopted a statement of faith known as the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) to “set forth certain teachings which we believe.”

Here is what you should know about the BFM and its various revisions. 

1. Throughout ​the history of the church, Christians have adopted various creeds and confessions for use, both internally and externally, in communicating what they believe. Creeds have generally been statements of faith that are agreed upon by most all orthodox believers, such as the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. In contrast, confessions have typically been formal statements of faith that explain a group’s beliefs about what is set forth in Scripture, both on first-order doctrines (such as the Trinity) and on issues in which Christians can reasonably disagree (such as the mode of baptism or the nature of the Lord’s Supper). Confessions often tend to be developed at a time when clarification is necessary because of challenges to biblical orthodoxy. From the time it was organized in 1845 until 1925, the Southern Baptist Convention did not have an agreed upon confession. 

2. In the early part of the 20th century, a bias against supernaturalism began to creep into both the secular culture and the church. As SBC theologian E. Y. Mullins said in the 1925 report of the Committee on Statement of Baptist Faith and Message, “The present occasion for a reaffirmation of Christian fundamentals is the prevalence of naturalism in the modern teaching and preaching of religion. Christianity is supernatural in its origin and history. We repudiate every theory of religion which denies the supernatural elements in our faith.” The committee recommended that the SBC adopt the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, “revised at certain points, and with some additional articles growing out of present needs,” as the statement of the Baptist faith and message. This document became the first version of the BF&M.

3. To explain the nature and function of confessions historically held by Baptists, and to “clarify the atmosphere and remove some causes of misunderstanding, friction, and apprehension,” the 1925 committee recommended a statement that was later incorporated into both the 1963 and 2000 versions: 

  • That [the doctrinal articles in the BF&M] constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
  • That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future Baptist should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.
  • That any group of Baptists, large or small, have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.
  • That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.
  • That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.

4. The next revision to the BF&M was prompted in the early 1960s by disagreement over what was being taught in the Southern Baptist seminaries. A prime example of the controversy, as R. Dwain Minor observes, was the publication of The Message of Genesis by Ralph Elliott, a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In his book, which was published by the SBC’s own Broadman Press, Elliott taught that the first 11 chapters of Genesis were not historical accounts. In an attempt to strengthen the view of the Bible, the 1963 version added that Scripture was the “record of God’s revelation of Himself to man,” that “all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy,” and that it is “a testimony to Christ, who is himself the focus of divine revelation.” The 1963 version was later amended in 1998 to include a section on “The Family.” 

5. As the 20th century was coming to a close, the SBC found it was necessary to update the BF&M once again to countercultural trends. “By the end of the twentieth century, several denominations had revised their confessions of faith or creeds,” says Albert Mohler, “but almost all had done so in order to accommodate theological liberalism.” The SBC took a different path, with the revision of the BF&M in 2000 having, as Mohler says, “nearly unprecedented status as an intentionally conservative revision of a major denomination’s confession of faith.” This revision further strengthened the view of Scripture by stating that “all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy” and that “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.” It also clarified for the first time in the BF&M’s history that, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

By / Apr 7

When describing the relationship between the church and state, I often turn to the great language of John Leland: “Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men, than it has to do with the principles of mathematics.” The quote is a reminder that the government has no authority to intervene in the religious opinions of citizens, just as it cannot dictate the rules of algebra or calculus. Leland was a relentless advocate for religious liberty, dedicating his life to the protection of this first liberty. He was also an eccentric figure, providing a massive ball of cheese to President Jefferson upon his inauguration, for example. Eric Smith, in the first biography of Leland titled John Leland: A Jeffersonian Baptist in Early America, gives us a window into the world and life of a man, in all his complexity, who spent his life defending the rights of all to live in accordance with their consciences. Smith recently joined us to talk about this new biography of this eccentric early Baptist leader.

Alex Ward: John Leland (1754–1841) lived across an incredibly dynamic period of American history. You point out that he could remember the coronation of King George III of England as well as the election of William Henry Harrison as the ninth president of the United States. He also would have grown up in the environment shaped by the First Great Awakening and lived to see Charles Finney’s revivalism of the Second. How did this affect Leland?

Eric Smith: Leland spent over 60 years in public life, in an era of unprecedented change in American culture. As an old man, he came to think of himself as a kind of Rip Van Winkle: had he fallen asleep before the Revolution, and then awakened in the 1840s to the age of steam trains and American political parties, he would not have recognized the same world! 

Leland’s long and eventful life intersected so many of the important changes that swept America from 1760–1840: the rise of popular, revivalistic religion; the disestablishment of religion in America and progress of religious freedom for all people; the increasing individualization of American society; the growth and sophistication of Baptist Christianity; the emergence of a popular political culture and the participation of evangelicals in partisan politics; the decline and modification of Calvinistic theology in America; the complicated journey of evangelicals and slavery; the rise of voluntary evangelical alliances to influence American politics and culture, and more. 

Leland celebrated many of these changes; others he fought kicking and screaming. In either case, his biography provides a unique vantage point from which to view the transformation of early America.  

AW: The word that so often comes to mind reading your biography to describe Leland is “individualistic.” He was a man who was led by his conscience and would not allow for another’s authority over him, even to the point of balking at ordination requirements in the Baptist church. Beyond just a strong personality, what led to his deep sense of individualism?

ES: Leland’s individualism defined his life, motivating his legendary efforts for religious freedom, as well as his more eccentric practices. He not only resisted the state-established church, but also ordination, settled pastorates, the use of historic creeds, denominational life, and even the Lord’s Supper. Without a doubt, Leland’s own, quirky personality lay behind much of this. But he also found his individualistic inclinations confirmed in his private reading of the New Testament, where God saves, leads, and judges men and women as individuals. If God called men to account as individuals on the last day, Leland reasoned, then each man and woman had the responsibility, and should be granted the freedom, to prepare for that encounter as best he or she knew how. 

The greatest historical factor in Leland’s individualism is the radical revivalism of the Great Awakening, which he imbibed from an early age in the “New Light” hotbed of Grafton, Massachusetts. Along with many of his neighbors in the 1760s, Leland exchanged the traditional, church-centered piety of Puritan Congregationalism for a highly individualistic brand of new birth religion. Along with the paramount experience of the new birth, Leland’s New Light spirituality involved the individual’s direct communication with God through charismatic phenomena, such as dreams, visions, “Bible impulses,” and prophetic premonitions.  

AW: When you describe Leland’s definition of religious liberty, you say that he “spoke fluently the revolutionary language of liberty, albeit with a Baptist accent.” How did these two strands work together in Leland’s thought? 

ES: Leland lived the majority of his life in Massachusetts, but spent his most formative, young-adult years in revolutionary Virginia. There, from 1776–1790, Leland absorbed and engaged with the religious freedom arguments of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Neither man could be considered a traditional, orthodox Christian. But both Madison and Jefferson maintained that the state and religion both flourished when individuals were left free to believe (or disbelieve) according to their own consciences. Leland would frequently quote and allude to the arguments of the Virginia statement for the rest of his life. 

But Leland also saw many New Testament principles at work in their reasoning. The individual’s responsibility before God at judgment; the theological distinction between the church and the state under the New Covenant; the necessity of a personal, supernatural conversion to be made right with God; and the inherent power of the gospel to change hearts all compelled Leland to argue for a policy of full religious freedom for all. After Leland returned to his native Massachusetts in 1791, he utilized a powerful combination of biblical and Jeffersonian arguments to contend for disestablishment and full religious freedom, in sermons, speeches, tracts, editorials, and in a brief term in the Massachusetts state legislature. 

AW: Leland was not the only prominent Baptist advocate of religious liberty at this time. Isaac Backus, though a generation older, was an important figure for New England Baptists in their struggle against the Congregationalist state church. How were these two Baptists similar, and how did they differ when it came to church-state relations? Did the views of one or the other “win” in the Baptist tradition?  

ES: Backus had been the leading Baptist religious liberty spokesman for several decades when Leland came along, and the two men collaborated with and appreciated one another. But while Backus fought religious discrimination and compulsory religious taxes, he also believed that the state should promote religion in a general way. Leland spoke forcefully of “disentangling” or “divorcing” the church and the state, while Backus favored what he termed a “sweet harmony” between the two. For example, Backus had no trouble reading government-appointed fast day proclamations from his pulpit and did not object to the requirement of general religious test-oaths for state office-holders. 

Leland, more influenced by Jefferson and Madison, believed such “entanglements” of church and state ultimately damaged both. Church-state unions harmed the state by violating the consciences of law-abiding citizens, creating a frustrated and unstable populous. Church-state unions corrupted the church by filling it with nominal Christians who had not truly been converted. Leland thus drew a stricter line of separation between the church and the state than did Backus. They made common cause in the fight for disestablishment, but after this goal was achieved, the tension between their two positions became more apparent among American Baptists. Generally speaking, Backus’s view won out among mainstream Baptist leaders in New England and more urban areas, while Leland’s view held sway in more rural and frontier regions of early America. 

AW: How do we reconcile Leland’s strict separation between church and state and his willingness to baptize the argument of Jefferson and Madison, stump for political parties, and also preach before Congress? Is there a contradiction there for Leland? 

ES: Jefferson coined the famous phrase, “a wall of separation between church and state,” in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, on the same day that Leland delivered the famous “mammoth cheese” to Jefferson at the White House. Yet it is interesting to note that neither Leland nor his fellow New England Baptists utilized Jefferson’s “wall” metaphor. Precisely what Jefferson meant by this image remains debated: did he intend to create a radically secular public square, or did he envision a more “neighborly wall,” in which religion was safe to flourish beyond the reach of government meddling? 

Whatever Jefferson intended, Leland clearly favored the latter vision. He labored to distinguish the church and the state, and to “dissolve any unnatural connection” between the two, so that both could prosper in America. The government’s role was to protect the basic rights of all its citizens, regardless of their personal convictions. This meant refusing to privilege or “establish” any particular church. It also meant preserving citizens’ rights to the “free exercise” of religion. Citizens should be allowed to not only practice their personally-held beliefs, but to try and persuade (not coerce) their neighbors of the same. Leland believed that if the state would simply preserve these freedoms, the gospel would triumph over all rival belief systems of its own power.  

AW: Leland is probably best remembered for his religious liberty advocacy. But he was not restricted to that issue. One way he is often portrayed, incorrectly you argue in the book, is as a proto-abolitionist. Is that a fair depiction of him over the course of his life? How did his views change?

ES: Like many evangelicals over this period, Leland took a journey regarding slavery. In the 1780s, he ministered to slaves in the “Great Revival,” when thousands of black Virginians poured into Baptist churches. In the wake of this revival, Leland and other Virginia Baptists began to publicly denounce the evils of slavery, and called for its eventual eradication. Leland’s powerful arguments stirred the wealthy planter Robert Carter to liberate over 400 of his own slaves. 

While this is remarkable, it is also important to note that Leland was more “anti-slavery” than “abolitionist.” Rather than calling for an immediate end to the institution (as abolitionists in the 1830s would), he acknowledged the complexity of emancipation and urged Virginia legislators to find a solution “consistent with good policy” as soon as possible. After leaving Virginia in the early 1790s, Leland said little about slavery, and his Virginia Baptist colleagues also pulled back from the issue. As Leland identified more closely with the Jacksonian Democrats, he shared President Jackson’s criticisms of abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison. In the end, there existed little difference between Leland’s position and that of his political hero, Thomas Jefferson (who also lamented slavery, but offered no solutions).

AW: Recent polling has shown a sharp decrease in religious attendance and identification, especially among Gen Z. Out of this fractured sense of shared moral consensus, an ever-increasing competition of voices in the public square are seeking to define what is good for culture and society. What does Leland have to offer for modern Christians, and particularly Baptists, in how he interacted with the culture around him? 

ES: Leland is best remembered for a handful of splashy historical episodes, like his delivery of a 1200-plus-pound wheel of cheese to Thomas Jefferson, or his purported negotiations with James Madison to include a Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution. But Leland was first and foremost an evangelist. He spent the majority of his life preaching the gospel up and down the Atlantic coast as an itinerant revivalist and was proudest of the 1,524 converted individuals he led into the waters of baptism. 

Leland engaged in politics largely to ensure that Americans would enjoy the freedom to preach and to respond to this gospel. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not want the state’s assistance in establishing churches; he also did not fear the changes in American society, or the diversification of the American population. To the end of his life, Leland maintained that if the gospel is simply turned loose in a free marketplace of ideas, it will prove itself compelling, time and time again. I think Leland encourages us to spend less time wringing our hands over the state of the culture, and more time sharing the gospel with confidence in its power to change hearts. 

AW: What stands out to you as the most important factor of Leland’s life for modern Christians? Are there any ways that we can especially learn from this unique and idiosyncratic preacher? 

ES: Leland is not a perfect model, and he knew it. He liked to say that, “Christ did not trust his cause to the goodness of his followers, but rested it on his own shoulders.” But we can learn from both the strengths and the weaknesses of historic Christians. As for his foibles, Leland’s hyper-individualism led him to devalue the role of the church in the believer’s life. I find this to be a most relevant warning for modern American Christians. 

Yet there is also so much to admire about Leland. He was a courageous, passionate, single-minded preacher of the gospel. As an itinerant evangelist, he repeatedly sacrificed his own comfort and safety to tell early Americans about the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ. He stood out from many of his contemporaries in his ability to communicate the good news to ordinary people in an accessible and engaging manner. He also never forgot that he needed the gospel as much as any of his listeners. “Let the preacher view himself as a brother-sinner to his hearers,” Leland advised, “and view sin as a great misfortune, as well as a crime; and, out of pity and love, persuade, and pray the sinner to be reconciled to God, if he wishes to do him good.”

By / Oct 6

When the COVID-19 pandemic brought Brazil’s economy to a screeching halt, the already impoverished communities were the ones most affected by the sudden loss of income.

Unable to beg at stoplights, get government subsidized assistance or even sell wares at outdoor markets like they have been accustomed to, these individuals were left with no means of providing for their families.

One region, known for being a vast and crowded slum, with over 200,000 occupants, was particularly devastated by the financial crisis. In this area, coronavirus-related deaths were recorded at a minimum of seven deaths a day—nearly six times the rate of China’s fatalities during this same period.

Send Relief heard about this community living hand-to-mouth and sprung into action.

Equipped with hundreds of food baskets and Bibles, teams were mobilized to help these families experience healing physically and spiritually—but God multiplied these efforts. Initially, this slum was the only neighborhood our teams were deployed to, but because of an increase in volunteer participation and many requests from other communities, we were able to reach five different neighborhoods in the poorest region of Brazil.

One volunteer, Maya*, told Send Relief teams, “The work of distributing the food baskets has been the fundamental help in these communities. Through the distribution, I’ve always seen gratitude in these people. Many of them don’t know how to express gratitude, but just looking in their faces [as they] demonstrate a happiness and hope that there is going to be food in their house, [I know they are]. And through the distribution of Bibles, God has also supplied the most important thing [for] their spiritual needs, and we will continue praying for these people to see that God is the Bread of Life.”

Eventually, this project became so successful that it spawned the creation of four identical efforts throughout São Paulo’s shantytowns and expanded to include mental health counseling. Thousands of people in need were assisted because of your generosity!

Since the beginning of these efforts, a prominent national Christian motorcycle club, Ministério Motociclistico Abençoados, has been an integral part of delivering baskets to families unable to travel to distribution sites. The club president commented on his experience volunteering, saying, “People came up to us and asked for Bibles while we were making deliveries, so we gave them out and prayed with them. In another place, a young pregnant couple came up and asked for a Bible and prayer because they wanted their baby to serve God. In both cases, we made sure that they were introduced to a local pastor and church so they can grow in their knowledge of the gospel.”

Our teams requested the involvement of five local churches to begin building relationships with faith communities, and, through their participation, hundreds of gospel presentations were conducted during the food and Bible distributions.

One church leader, Santiago*, shared, “[At] the distribution of the food, it was very gratifying to see these people so satisfied to receive these baskets. For me, it was an honor to know that we are working for Jesus. I want to thank the people who were involved in [healing] our community—thank you very much!”

This project was made possible by the generosity of Southern Baptists through Global Hunger Relief. On October 11, Global Hunger Sunday, you and your church can help more communities like this experience the tangible love of God.

*Names have been changed for security.