By / Sep 27

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has a full-time presence in Washington, D.C., based out of the Leland House, and has a scope of policy work that covers religious liberty, life, human dignity, and marriage and family. In the following interview, President Brent Leatherwood discusses the fundamentals of representing Southern Baptists on the Hill and the ultimate work the ERLC hopes to accomplish. 

Jill Waggoner: What is the ERLC? What do we do here?

Brent Leatherwood: When we are talking to the man on the street, we tend to describe the ERLC as the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. What that means on a practical level is that we speak both for and from our churches. I use that purposely because we can only effectively speak in the public square for our churches if we are actually working alongside and serving our churches. I like to tell people it is from that service that we’re rendering to our churches that we’re able to effectively speak on the issues of the day, the issues that our churches are dealing with, or the issues that may affect their ability to do ministry. 

We have been doing this for over 100 years now, and I’d like to remind folks that this institution has always sought to be a voice that represents the principles of our convention of churches, whether that’s to policymakers or to the media. We’re always trying to make sure that we are bringing the thoughts, cares, and principles that guide our churches to the issues of the day.

JW: There are a lot of groups in Washington, D.C., advocating for their various policy concerns. What is so unique about the ERLC and our role on Capitol Hill?

BL: The best way I can answer that question is from an experience I had last summer on Capitol Hill. We were invited into a meeting with a U.S. senator who was looking forward, at that point, to the post-Roe moment when there would be no more Roe v. Wade. This senator was saying, 

“I brought you here to this meeting because I really want to map out what actual pro-family policy will look like. And I want you as representatives of the ERLC to be here because I look at you and I know that you are guided by eternal and unchanging truths. And I can’t say that about a number of other organizations that do good work in Washington. Oftentimes, they are driven by political items, the political calendar, or maybe even sometimes political expediency.” 

Knowing that a U.S. senator recognizes that about the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is the best kind of endorsement that I could offer here, because it shows that we are different than a number of our peers. A lot of our peers do really good work, but oftentimes they want to do that work and immediately turn it into fundraising appeals or trying to get some sort of grassroots activism.

Instead, we’re coming because we’re saying, “This is what our pastors care about. This is what Southern Baptists have said they care about. This is what the Bible has to say about this issue.” And that really resonates with those policymakers because they have a number of activists and lobbyists in their ear at any given time. But when they invite us to the table, they know that they’re getting something that has a much longer-range view in mind.

JW: In broad terms, what do we hope to accomplish with the ERLC’s policy work?

BL: At a basic level, we want to make this a better world. We live in this time between times—a fallen world that is racked by sin. In a sense, we’re doing Kingdom work because we are trying to point policymakers toward a better world. And that Kingdom that we learn about in Scripture actually has principles that can be enacted now. That’s what we’re driving for. It’s a hope-filled kind of work, knowing that at the end of the day, for eternal flourishing, one needs to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 

In a conversation with a member of Congress, a staff member for a senator, or some other representative from the committees on Capitol Hill, we may not get a policy passed, but you never know how those conversations are allowing you to plant gospel seeds in that person’s life.

That reality underlies the work that we do, whether it’s at the federal, state, or local level. Are we always being attuned to how the Lord might be opening an avenue to spread the gospel? I never want to diminish or forget that because I think, in many respects, the work that we do on Capitol Hill or in the policy arena is akin to missional work. We are missionaries in the public square.

For more on the ERLC’s policy work, listen to this episode of the ERLC Podcast.

By / Sep 20

To make our churches safe from abuse, we must be proactive. Developing policies and procedures ahead of time, training and educating staff and volunteers, as well as partnering with abuse experts will set your church up well to be a safe place for your community. It is up to the pastors and leaders of a church to lead this charge. Here are five essential action steps you can implement to begin protecting your church from predators and caring well for survivors of abuse.

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. (Psa. 10:14)

The five essentials to make your church safe from abuse

1. Train

“Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you” (Prov. 2:11).

It is imperative that church leaders are aware and understand the scourge of sexual abuse that exists in our country, world, and even inside the Church. Statistics tell us 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys (though many believe this is much higher) are sexually abused before they turn 18. Only a small percentage of these victims ever reveal their abuse. Church leaders must help our churches understand that the mission to prevent sexual abuse and our response to it is a clear and compelling gospel issue. It is not one we can ignore. We must face it head-on and not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear because it may be difficult.  

Every church must train their members on how to prevent, identify, and respond to sexual abuse. Sexual abuse awareness training is a foundational component of onboarding new staff and volunteers who will have access to children, youth, and vulnerable adults. This reinforces a culture of zero tolerance. Church leaders must help dispel the idea that abuse can’t happen in our church, must not minimize it as a mistake, or must not think that doing a criminal background check is enough. Each church needs to be committed to an ongoing process of training and continually raising awareness of this issue. 

2. Screen

“Therefore, each of you must put away falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Eph. 4:25).

In order to make your church safe from abuse, it is critical that each implement a thorough screening process for anyone that will have access to children, youth, and vulnerable adults. A thorough process ensures that individuals are suitable and compatible with your church’s policies and procedures. Every potential staff member and volunteer should go through the same screening process. Statistics tell us over 90% of children who are abused know their perpetrator as someone who they trust. 

Relying only on background checks does not protect those in your ministry. While background checks must be done, churches need to gather more reliable information from several sources on applicants to determine their fitness for service. An in-depth screening process can drastically reduce the risk of abuse and increase safety for those in your church’s care. The six best practices for screening anyone wanting to serve with children, youth, and vulnerable adults are: 

  • implementing a six-month waiting period, 
  • a written application, 
  • requesting and checking references, 
  • an interview, 
  • a background check,
  • and a social media review. 

Below are some helpful resources that can assist you in developing your church’s screening process.

3. Protect

“Keep me safe, Lord, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent, who devise ways to trip my feet”  (Psa. 140:4).

Jesus calls us to minister to those who are oppressed (Isa. 58:6-7). Silence does not protect the Church or Christ’s name. One of the ways you can protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults is by having solid policies and procedures in place at your church. These protect those you are serving while also protecting those that serve them. Once developed, being intentional about following policies and procedures is imperative for the protection of everyone involved. 

If your church does have policies and procedures in place, now is a good time to review them, making sure they are current and being followed by staff and volunteers. Policies and procedures can only protect everyone if followed and adhered to. Policies should be: 

  • comprehensive,
  • written from a knowledge of how predators push boundaries and what their grooming patterns look like so that violations can be immediately reported and addressed,
  • accessible, 
  • tailored to your church, 
  • agreed to and trained by the staff and volunteers, 
  • and reviewed annually by your legal counsel and insurance companies for further input and guidance. 

Policies and procedures are the bookends to a solid prevention plan.  Proper screening and training coupled with solid policies and procedures that your staff and volunteers adhere to and abide by create a strong hedge of protection around those your church serves and those who serve them.

4. Report

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (Prov. 31:8-9).

Every state has laws identifying those required to report child abuse. Even if you believe you are not legally required to report child abuse in your state, you are still encouraged to report suspected or known abuse. In all states and territories, any person is permitted to report child abuse and abuse of vulnerable adults. As followers of Jesus, we are charged with protecting the vulnerable, and reporting known or suspected abuse is part of that mandate. If you know or suspect a child or vulnerable adult has been abused, you should report this to civil authorities. A church should have a proper response plan for when abuse occurs, including:

  • informing the insurance company that insures the church,
  • removing the alleged abuser from all ministerial duties until the report is resolved, 
  • informing the church as appropriate, 
  • ministering to the victim and the alleged abuser, 
  • and not attempting to investigate the allegations of abuse internally.

Here are some helpful sites for reporting information: 

5. Care

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psa. 147:3).

Church leaders are often called to the difficult and sensitive task of shepherding victims through the devastation of abuse. Abuse violates the dignity of our God-given image and disrupts our voice, sense of identity, and sense of trust and safety in relationships. The trauma of abuse can be a barrier to trusting God, trusting Scripture, and connecting to a church community. Our response in supporting survivors of sexual abuse has the opportunity to accurately reflect the mission and character of Jesus Christ. If we fail in this, we can grossly misrepresent our Savior, thus damaging and failing both survivors as well as abusers, and being a detraction to the gospel.  

Walking alongside survivors is a long, slow, necessary, and valuable commitment. It takes collaboration with a variety of community resources such as trauma-informed counselors, legal support, and victim advocates. To make your church safe from abuse, church leaders must become informed about the impact of abuse and how to find the necessary supportive resources to come alongside survivors, for the sake of the gospel.

NOTE: This article was adapted from, the website created by the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF). This will be the future site of Ministry Check, which “will provide leaders with the ability to search for information about individuals who have been convicted, found liable, or confessed to abuse.” For future updates on the work of the ARITF, follow their website.

The information contained here is general in nature and is not intended to be legal advice. The Southern Baptist Convention encourages each church to consult with legal counsel when implementing local policies and practices.

By / Sep 5

In today’s digital world, how can we help children find their identity in Christ? Every child is looking for a place to anchor his or her identity, whether that be in the search for a best friend on the preschool playground, trying to make the team, or joining the right club in their teen years. It is essential that Christian parents guide their children toward their identity in Christ while protecting against spiritual identity theft in today’s digital age.

Internally, all people are asking three questions: 

  • Who am I?
  • Where can I have meaningful human relationships? 
  • And what should I do with my life? 

In Deuteronomy 6, God gave parents the task of forming their children’s spiritual identity. In that day, they spent time raising crops and herding flocks (Deut. 6:7-9). In our day, we spend time on social platforms and streaming platforms. In the middle of this digital age, we cannot replace the essential need for our children to find their identity in Christ, their calling in God’s mission, and deep community in God’s family If we can turn down some of the noise, they will hear the beauty of God’s design for their identity.

In order to nurture our children’s spiritual vitality, we must find ways to lessen the noise that is drowning out the beautiful symphony of God’s design for them. We need to protect our children’s spiritual identity from being hijacked by a digital identity. We have to challenge and propel kids toward real-life impact instead of virtual experiences. In a world in which many children have a myriad of superficial connections, we have to encourage them to cultivate real-life, meaningful connections.

Digital identity theft 

We live in a digital age where most of our day is a dance between screens. We are curators of our own content and sometimes pawns of algorithms that plunge us down rabbit holes of digital content. For many children, their dance between screens has begun to define them. 

Nearly 2/3 of teenagers are on screens for more than four hours a day. Research has shown that dopamine levels produced in the brain in response to social media interaction are comparable to that of drug or gambling addiction. It is not a stretch to say that children are addicted. Perhaps like me, you have witnessed a child melt down and exhibit withdrawal symptoms when a device is taken away. The child’s identity is so wrapped up in their digital identity that it is actually painful to be away from it. 

Pursuing a digital identity leads to addiction, but it is also leading to increased levels of anxiety and depression. Between 2006 and 2016, the suicide rate for those between ages 10 and 17 rose by 70%, and clinical depression rates rose by 40%.

Our children are swimming in a sea of digital content that misinforms them about their identity. As parents, we have the opportunity to anchor our children’s identity in what God says about them. My wife and I often remind our son to listen to the people who love him when he is trying to decide what he will believe about himself. Often, our children are listening to people who do not love them as we do or as God does.

Our job as parents is not to instill self-esteem in our children, but to guide them to the foundational truths about who God says they are. The God who breathed everything into existence says that they have inherent dignity and worth and that they are irreplaceable (Luke 12:7, Jer. 1:5). Once your child trusts in Christ, you can take them to even greater depth of identity through their adoption into God’s family, the indwelling in the Holy Spirit, the shepherding care of Jesus, and so much more. These realities will not shake with the wins and losses of the digital world, because they are rooted in the character, nature, and activity of God.

Differentiating between digital wins and real-life impact 

For many children, the rise and fall of their lives depends upon what happens in the digital world. We must separate digital identity from spiritual identity as we lead and empower our children to embrace their calling in the real world, not by living vicariously through YouTube or video games.  

A few weeks ago, I was talking with one of our children’s ministry leaders. He asked our church’s elementary-aged kids to name a challenge they faced recently. Almost every tough scenario named was faced in a video game. We have an opportunity to help call our kids to join God’s mission and gain a sense of accomplishment outside of their digital world.

We often undervalue the influence that our children can have, but preteens and teenagers have made a big impact throughout history. Think about young men and women like David, Daniel, Joseph, Samuel, and Esther. Perhaps part of the problem is that we are not giving our teenagers any challenges to face in the real world, so they are fleeing to a digital world.

Helping your children cultivate an awareness of God and desire submission and obedience to him is the biggest gift you can ever give them. Calling them to see his glory and purpose while inviting them to embrace their unique personality, gifting, and calling is the greatest privilege and joy of parenthood. The Bible says our children are like arrows, so let us aim them so that they hit the bullseye of eternity (Ps. 127:3).

From superficial digital connections to biblical community 

Finally, we need to model and prioritize biblical community for our children. When we do so, they will be able to distinguish deep connections from superficial digital interactions. We set the example for our children when we spend more time engaging in deep relationships at our church and in our neighborhoods than in our online communities or on social media. Orienting our lives around spending time with God and people will become the true source of our identity—for parents and for children.

The digital world is an extension of the real world, not a replacement for it. Although disconnection is not caused by devices, our devices can multiply our disconnection. Children need to understand that relationships are messy, but they are a mess worth making. In a digital confrontation, you do not have to look a real, living person in the eye. In the digital world, personality is often removed from intimacy and people can hide their flaws while magnifying their strengths. We need to figure out ways to get our children involved in deep relationships and invest in people rather than digital experiences. 

When Jesus was asked to summarize the Old Testament, he responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-28). Jesus took the same identity that God gave his people in Deuteronomy 6 and paired it with a missional imperative. When we listen to these passages, we hear God beckoning our kids to find their identity in Christ, their relationships in biblical community, and their purpose in their God-given calling. There are no perfect parents that handle this dance with screens perfectly, but all of us can help point our kids toward God’s glory and their good.

By / Sep 1

Monday marked the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Held on Aug. 28, 1963, the march stands as a watershed moment in the Civil Rights Movement, influencing civil rights legislation and contributing to the end of racial segregation.

Here is what you should know about the Christian significance of the march, its impact on civil rights laws, and the ongoing quest for racial reconciliation.

Historical context: A moral imperative to overturn Jim Crow

The March on Washington occurred during a tumultuous period characterized by racial discrimination and social unrest. Although slavery had been abolished, systemic racism persisted, particularly in the form of Jim Crow laws. Named after an offensive and degrading stereotype of African Americans, Jim Crow laws were a collection of state and local statutes that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States.

One of the primary tenets of Jim Crow laws was the doctrine of “separate but equal,” upheld by the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. This doctrine allowed for racial segregation so long as facilities were “equal,” though in reality, they were often inferior for African Americans. 

Jim Crow laws also mandated the segregation of public schools, public transportation, restrooms, restaurants, and even drinking fountains. They entrenched racial boundaries by establishing voting restrictions and prohibiting interracial marriages. These laws often enforced job discrimination, ensuring that lucrative and desirable jobs were reserved for white individuals.

Jim Crow laws were enacted primarily from the late 19th century to the early 20th century and remained in effect at the time of the march. This struggle for civil rights was therefore not merely a political or social endeavor but a moral imperative deeply rooted in the Christian doctrine that all human beings are created in the image of God.

The march: A manifestation of Christian activism

Organized by civil rights and labor leaders like A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the March on Washington brought together an estimated 250,000 individuals of all races. Many of the promoters and speakers at the events were Christian leaders, as were a great number of those who participated in the march.

Although the organizers disagreed about the purpose of the event, the group came together on a set of goals

  • passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; 
  • immediate elimination of school segregation; 
  • a program of public works, including job training, for the unemployed; 
  • a federal law prohibiting discrimination in public or private hiring; 
  • a $2-an-hour minimum wage nationwide; 
  • withholding federal funds from programs that tolerate discrimination; 
  • enforcement of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by reducing congressional representation from states that disenfranchise citizens; 
  • a broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to currently excluded employment areas; 
  • and authority for the attorney general to institute injunctive suits when constitutional rights are violated.

Event organizer Bayard Rustin recruited 4,000 off-duty police officers and firemen to serve as event marshals and coached them in the crowd control techniques he’d learned in India studying nonviolent political participation. The official law enforcement also included 5,000 police, National Guardsmen, and Army reservists. No marchers were arrested, though, and no incidents concerning marchers were reported.

At the close of the event, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister, delivered his iconic speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. King improvised the most recognizable, memorable part of the speech for which he is most famous, according to his speechwriter and attorney Clarence B. Jones. Although King had spoken about a dream two months earlier in Detroit, the “dream” was not in the text prepared by Jones. King initially followed the text Jones had written, but gospel singer Mahalia Jackson yelled, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!” King nodded to her, placed the text of his speech aside, and veered off-script, delivering extemporaneously what is referred to as the “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most famous orations in American history.

A cultural shift and the end of segregation

The March on Washington was instrumental in the passage of key civil rights legislation. 

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, echoed the biblical principles of justice and equality.
  •  Similarly, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to eliminate racial discrimination in voting, aligning with the Christian conviction of fair treatment for all people made in God’s image.

Beyond legislation, the march initiated a significant cultural shift. The event brought the issue of racial inequality into the American consciousness, challenging people to confront their prejudices and to strive toward the Christian ideals of love, mercy, and unity. While laws could mandate desegregation, it was this change in collective consciousness that truly began to dismantle systemic racism.

As we reflect on the march, it’s essential to recommit to the Christian call for racial and ethnic reconciliation. The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This verse highlights the biblical mandate for unity, transcending all racial and ethnic divisions, especially in the Church.

The March on Washington serves as a profound reminder of the Christian principles of justice, equality, and love for one’s neighbor—all grounded in the reality that we are all created in God’s image. The event was not just a milestone in American history; it was a manifestation of Christian activism that led to transformative civil rights legislation and cultural changes. However, the journey toward racial reconciliation is far from over, as evidenced by the devastating and sinful acts of racial hatred and violence we see too frequently. As followers of Christ, we are called to continue this vital work, striving to build a society where all are equal, all are loved, and all have the opportunity to hear the good news of Christ Jesus.

By / Aug 31

We’ve been working behind the scenes and are excited to announce an all new ERLC Podcast. While the format is new, our goal for the podcast remains the same. The ERLC seeks to help you think biblically about today’s cultural issues.

We’ve been listening to you to better understand the questions you’re facing and how the ERLC can help on matters related to marriage and family, life, religious liberty, and human dignity. 

On this updated format of the ERLC Podcast, we want to give you brief, informed, practical, and biblically-based answers to important cultural issues.

You are not the only one asking these questions. Just like you, we want to hold fast to the teachings of Scripture as we seek to raise our families, serve our churches, and love our neighbors in an ever-evolving and often challenging cultural landscape. 

Join us starting in September as we look to the Bible for wisdom, hear from trusted voices, and break down complex issues so that we can live in the world, but not of it—all for the sake of the gospel.

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By / Aug 18

A Massachusetts couple recently filed a complaint in federal court against the state’s health secretary and multiple officials in the Department of Children and Families (DCF) after their application to become foster parents was denied because of their religious beliefs about marriage and sexuality. 

What happened? 

Mike and Kitty Burke are a Catholic couple from Massachusetts who applied to become foster parents in order to care for vulnerable children in need of a loving home. Mike is an Iraq war veteran, and Kitty is a former paraprofessional for special needs children. Unable to have biological children, they sought to become foster parents through the state’s foster care program with the hope of caring for and eventually adopting children in need of a stable home.

According to Becket Law, the nonprofit legal firm representing the Burkes, the Massachusetts DCF currently does not have enough foster homes or facilities to meet the needs of the children in its care, leaving over 1,500 children without a family. The crisis has become so extreme that the state has resorted to housing children in hospitals for weeks on end—not because the children need medical attention, but because the Commonwealth has nowhere else to put them. 

The couple went through 30 hours of training, lengthy interviews, and assessments of their home, health, and family life. Despite meeting all the requirements, the DCF denied the couple because they “would not be affirming to a child who identified as LGBTQIA.”

The Burkes believe that all children should be loved and supported, and they would never reject a child placed in their home. They also believe that children should not undergo procedures that attempt to change their God-given sex, and they uphold orthodox Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. As the author of their license study put it, while the Burkes are “lovely people,” “their faith is not supportive and neither are they.”

DCF regulation and policy, as well as the Massachusetts Foster Parent Bill of Rights, all prohibit religious discrimination against potential foster parents. As Becket Laws points out, the “Supreme Court has already—unanimously—rejected the attempt to exclude Catholic foster care agencies from the child welfare system (Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, 2021). And the Third Circuit held that the First Amendment prohibits retaliation against foster parents for sharing their religious beliefs on marriage.”

Why does this matter?

This is another instance of the state overstepping its authority and failing in its duty. The state has no authority to penalize individuals for their religious beliefs. This is a bedrock principle of our constitutional order, and one that has been affirmed repeatedly in court decisions at all levels. 

Instead, the state does have a duty to promote justice. One way it does that is through the care of the most vulnerable. A loving husband and wife willing to care and provide for a vulnerable child should not be seen as dangerous because they will not support dangerous and medically unnecessary surgical interventions for children experiencing gender dysphoria. No government should use the state’s power to cause children to suffer by advancing a progressive agenda out of step with the actual goal of caring for vulnerable children. 

How is the ERLC advocating for similar issues? 

The ERLC has made it a priority to protect the religious liberty of foster care and adoption service providers. 

A number of states and cities are working to exclude child welfare providers who seek to operate in a manner consistent with their religious convictions. This leads to fewer families available for foster care and adoption. Legislation is needed to further prohibit government discrimination against child welfare agencies on the basis of their beliefs and ultimately protect children in the foster system and those waiting for adoption by ensuring that a wide range of child welfare providers are available to serve them. Such religious liberty protections are especially necessary to support pro-family policy in a post-Roe world.  

One example of such legislation at the federal level is the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act. The bill would prohibit “the federal government, states, tribal nations, or localities from discriminating or taking adverse action against a child welfare provider that declines to provide services due to the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The ERLC has long supported this legislation and hopes to see states take up similar efforts to preserve religious liberty and help vulnerable children find a place to call home.

As Christians, we are called to hold fast to God’s design for marriage and sexuality as we care for the vulnerable. Furthermore, as Southern Baptists, we believe that government should not interfere with our ability to live out our faith as we participate in our communities. As our culture continues to turn away from a biblical view of gender and sexuality, the ERLC will steadfastly affirm the foundational rights of parents—including foster and adoptive parents—in decision-making regarding their children and advocate against harmful gender-transition practices while we seek the flourishing of our society and hold out the hope of the gospel to a confused culture. 

By / Aug 11

A recent article in Politico Magazine about a Louisiana law HB 142 has gone viral because of its astounding headline:  A Simple Law Is Doing the Impossible. It’s Making the Online Porn Industry Retreat. “Unlike past efforts to curb online porn that had simply declared the sites a danger to public health, these laws are not symbolic,” writes Politico’s Marc Novicoff. “And they are having real effects on how the massive online porn industry does business.”

Novicoff is referring to laws passed earlier this year that requires users to prove they are 18 or older before accessing pornographic websites. Louisiana was the first state to pass such a law, with similar bills passing in six other states—Arkansas, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia, and Texas. 

The positive effect of such laws—traffic to Pornhub has dropped 80% within Louisiana—shows why similar legislation should be adopted by other states and highlights why these efforts deserve the support of Christians across the country.

What is the Louisiana law HB 142?

The Louisiana law, known as HB 142, was the first of this type of legislation and provides a model for how they can work.

The process: That law requires users in that state to prove they are 18 or older before accessing sites that contain at least 33.3% pornographic material that is “harmful to minors.” To meet this requirement, users must show government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license, to verify their age. (Louisiana is one of the few states in the U.S. that allows residents to store government-issued IDs digitally on their smartphone.) Doing this helps to prevent minors from accessing adult content and ensures that the websites are complying with age verification laws.

The penalty: Companies that violate the Louisiana law can be sued for damages in civil court by the parents of minors who were able to access the site without being verified. The law makes it clear it does not apply to legitimate uses, such any “bona fide news or public interest broadcast, website video, report, or event,” nor does it “affect the rights of any news-gathering organizations.”

Why should state laws curbing online porn be embraced?

While some privacy advocates have expressed concerns about the law, there are several reasons why this is a legal approach to curtailing pornography that should be widely embraced.

1. Such laws protect minors from exposure to adult content

Christians and other anti-pornography advocates make no apologies for wanting to see all pornography banned. But the primary reason for these laws is the more limited effort to protect minors from exposure to adult content. By requiring users to prove their age before accessing pornographic websites, the law ensures that children and teenagers are not exposed to inappropriate content. 

Decades of social science research has shown that exposure to adult content can have negative effects on young people, including:

  • increased sexual activity,
  • risky sexual behavior,
  • and negative attitudes toward women.

By preventing minors from accessing adult content, these laws are helping to protect young people from the negative effects of porn.

2. Such laws ensure compliance with age verification requirements

Another reason why the Louisiana law is a particularly helpful model is that it ensures compliance with age verification laws. Many states have laws that require websites to verify the age of their users before allowing them to access adult content. However, these laws are often not enforced, and many websites ​either do not comply with them or do so in a way that negates the effectiveness and intent.

By requiring users to show government-issued ID to prove their age, the Louisiana law ensures that websites are complying with a community’s efforts to protect its children.  

The law also puts the onus for compliance and enforcement on the community. Louisiana doesn’t identify which companies need to comply. Instead, the state allows companies to determine for themselves whether or not they decide to implement age verification to avoid legal liability. Parents, rather than the state, also bear the burden of determining harm and seeking restitution.

3. Such laws do not pose an undue threat to user privacy

Some privacy advocates have expressed concerns about the Louisiana law HB 142, arguing that it could lead to the collection of sensitive personal information. However, the law is designed to protect user privacy by:

  • requiring that the information be collected by third-party sites—rather than the porn websites,
  • and that all information contained on the user be deleted within 30 days of verification.

This means that websites cannot collect and store user information, which helps to protect user privacy. 

Additionally, the law only requires users to show government-issued ID, which is already required for many other activities, such as buying alcohol or tobacco products. Therefore, the law does not require users to provide any additional personal information beyond what is already required for other activities intended to protect minors from harm.

4. Such laws encourage other states to take efforts to protect our children 

These laws have already provided a positive example for other states to follow. If adopted by a majority of states, it could reshape the landscape of the internet in the U.S., reinforcing the importance of responsibility and accountability in the digital age.

While the main focus is on protecting minors from adult content, the implications of such laws go beyond this. They highlight the broader issue of how society should regulate online pornography to ensure the safety and well-being of its users, particularly among the most vulnerable groups.

The ripple effects of these laws can already be seen, with discussions and debates arising in legislative chambers across various states. This reflects the widespread recognition of the potential dangers of unrestricted access to adult content for minors and the need for concrete steps to address it. It’s also an invitation for tech companies and website developers to innovate in creating more robust age-verification mechanisms that are efficient, user-friendly, and respectful of user privacy.

Whether we should be all that concerned about the privacy of pornography users is debatable. What we should not do is put such concerns ahead of our need to safeguard the well-being of minors in the digital age. The Louisiana law HB 142 and the ones that have followed serve as pioneering models, emphasizing the importance of finding creative legal solutions and setting the stage for broader discussions on how best to navigate the complexities of the internet.

As other states consider similar legislation, it’s imperative that lawmakers are aware that Christians support such efforts to protect our children from the soul-destroying evil of pornography. 

By / Aug 9

Life is hard. I’m not sure any three words better encapsulate what many people feel on a daily basis. The statistics are staggering. We are among the most anxious, most depressed, most stressed, most overwhelmed, and even hopeless groups of people who have ever lived—at least in the last several hundred years. Despite all the so-called progress we’ve made, all the advancements in science and technology, all the wealth and convenience and relative ease we enjoy, the fact remains: life sometimes feels like a burden too great to bear. Some days, it’s hard to even claw ourselves out of bed.

And life’s difficulties are not reserved for a select few. They are universal, and they are universally hard. Even for Christians, whether we like to admit it or not. That’s why Alan Noble’s new book On Getting Out of Bed: The Burden and Gift of Living is so timely; because for many, the burden of living feels heavier now than it ever has.

In On Getting Out of Bed, Noble takes on a tender topic and does so with both candor and compassion, with sensitivity and sincerity. Life can feel overwhelming, but Noble reminds readers that “life is a good gift from a loving God, even when subjectively it doesn’t feel good or like a gift.” 

The burden of living

“There’s a kind of unspoken conspiracy to ignore how difficult life is,” Noble says. Like most conspiracies, this one diverts our attention from what’s plainly true. We can ignore life’s difficulties in any number of ways—by trying to numb the pain, by reframing them “as something romantic” or “heroic,” or by trying “to hide our scars from those closest to us and even from ourselves.” But sooner or later, the unspoken conspiracy will no longer hold. The truth emerges, the dam breaks, and we are forced to admit that “Life is far more difficult than we let on.”

One of the unfortunate realities about the moment in which we find ourselves is that our society is “governed by technique.” It’s a society that prizes maximum efficiency. We see this, as Noble points out, in our “time-saving technolog[ies], apps that maximize our workouts, drugs that drown out our anxiety, ubiquitous entertainment in our pockets, and scientifically proven methods for parenting, working, eating, shopping, budgeting, folding clothes, sleeping, sex, dating, and buying a car.” Of course, none of these things are necessarily bad, but all of them together have conditioned us to expect efficiency over inefficiency, ease over difficulty, now over later. And life just doesn’t work that way. Life in this fallen world is inefficient, difficult, and slow.

Our techniques will not deliver us from the burdens we bear as humans. In fact, when they fail to deliver it’ll send us down a spiral of shame. We’ll be left thinking that it’s our fault when we can’t move past the grief we feel or that there’s something wrong with us when the darkness won’t ever seem to lift. “If life doesn’t have to be this hard,” we think, “then it really is my fault that I’m overwhelmed or a failure.” This is the burden of living in the 21st century when technique is expected to solve every problem we face. And however we choose to “explain the difficulty of living in the modern world” or attempt to cope with it, we’re still “stuck with the reality that a normal life includes a great deal of suffering. 

The gift of living

But life in the modern world is not chiefly a burden; it is a gift. Despite the challenges, the difficulty, the heartbreak, the suffering, and the anguish that awaits us all, “life is good and worth preserving.” 

One of the stories Noble uses to illustrate this point is Cormac McCarthy’s heart-wrenching novel The Road. In the novel, a father and son struggle to survive at what appears to be civilization’s end. Facing unthinkable conditions, this father and son press on for survival because they recognize “the goodness of life,” even though their circumstances are bleak. Life testifies to God’s goodness, the father says, “even in a world with few other signs of goodness.” And the choice to go on living in the face of hardship testifies that life is good, that life is worth living. 

Think about our lives, and all the little joys—the evidences of God’s grace—we get to enjoy every day: “beauty, love, a good meal, [and] laughter.” What are these “but the means of grace through which God nurtures us?” What are they but gifts that testify to the gift of life and love of the Father? Sure, life is hard—it can be brutal sometimes. But Noble is rightly insistent that life is good regardless, despite all the pain, despite all the loss, despite all the hardship. “Life is worth living despite the risk and uncertainty and the inevitability of suffering,” because life is a gift. 

Noble’s plea

In his book, Noble is clear-eyed and plain-spoken about the burden and gift of living. Both are true. Neither negates the other. He stares the hardships of life in the face and names them, which is important for those of us given to “the conspiracy to ignore how difficult life is;” and for those of us who want to grin and bear it or tough it out. He gives credence to the mental suffering we all feel at one time or another. But he argues against the primacy of life’s inherent burden by reminding us that life is a good gift from a good Father who wants good things for us (Gen. 1 and 2; Rom. 8:28). And in that, he helps to redirect our focus to what’s most true: that life is a gift.

Throughout the book, Noble gives readers some important directives that are both sensitive and stern. Recognizing the difficulties that many face, he encourages readers to press on, to do the next thing God puts in front of us, and to do everything we can to claw ourselves out of bed every morning. “The decision to get out of bed is the decision to live,” he says. “It is a claim that life is worth living.” The world needs you. Your neighbors need you. Your friends need you. Your family needs you.

The importance of community and relationships, which includes our contributions to the community around us and the benefits we derive from it, cannot be overstated. And belonging to a community—really belonging—can be the difference between getting out of bed or not. So, if you do struggle to get out of bed in the morning, give those closest to you the privilege of bearing your burdens with you. Give them the chance to hold you up, to remind you “of the truth that is truer than [y]our deepest misery . . . that our lives are good even when we do not feel that goodness at all.” 

The bravest thing

In reading On Getting Out of Bed, I couldn’t help but think of a poem by John Blase that has meant a lot to me over the years. It’s titled “the bravest thing:”

“Maybe the bravest thing,
Is opening your eyes in the
Morning and placing your
Two feet on the cold floor and
Rising up against the gravity
Of the night. Maybe that’s the
Brave thing from which all other
Bravery flows, the brave to
Seek ye first. Maybe that’s the
Single thing God requires of you,
The spiritual discipline that takes
All your will to muster. Swallow
Down the fear, my child, and face
The dawning day for what the
Surface of the world needs most
Of all is bravery skipping and
You, yes you are the stone.”

Maybe the bravest thing we can do daily is to conquer the temptation we face each morning to stay in bed. Maybe the first step to bearing the heavy burden we feel is to stare the inevitable hardships we’ll encounter in the face and put our two feet on the floor anyway, recognizing that life is a gift. Maybe the first step to a life of faithfulness lies in the simple act of getting out of bed and doing the next thing God puts in front of us. In doing so, Noble argues, we’ll “bear witness to the goodness of this existence God has given us.”

By / Jul 28

In the first seven months of 2023, four states have liberalized their assisted-suicide laws. Vermont and Oregon have dropped the requirement that people who receive a lethal prescription must be citizens of the state, thereby allowing “suicide tourism.” Washington and Hawaii have expanded those eligible to prescribe a fatal dose from physicians to other healthcare providers. 

Responding to recent developments in state laws, Miles Mullin, ERLC vice president and chief of staff, commented to Baptist Press,

Life is precious from conception to natural death. It is a travesty that some political leaders think that making suicide easier and more accessible is an acceptable answer to the pain and suffering of their citizens. It is the state’s job to protect life, not encourage taking it. Politicians should do the hard work of coming up with better solutions that will support life. . . . [The ERLC] will stand for this Christian ethic, work to cultivate a culture of life and stand against a culture of death that encourages vulnerable, suffering people to seek their own death.

Here is what you should know about the practice of medically assisted suicide in the United States.

What is medically assisted suicide?

Medically assisted suicide refers to the process where a licensed medical professional provides a patient with the means (typically in the form of lethal medications) to end their own life. The patient then administers the lethal agent to themselves. 

Usually, before a patient can be provided with the means for assisted suicide, they must meet specific criteria, including:

  • A terminal diagnosis with a prognosis of six months or less.
  • Mental competence to make and communicate healthcare decisions.
  • Multiple requests over a specific timeframe, indicating a consistent desire.
  • Consultations with at least two physicians who confirm the diagnosis and prognosis.
  • Once these conditions are met, the physician can prescribe a lethal dose of medication, which the patient takes on their own, without the medical professional’s assistance during the act of ingestion.

This practice differs from voluntary euthanasia, wherein the medical provider directly administers the lethal agent. The federal government and all 50 states prohibit euthanasia under general homicide laws. State laws legalizing assisted suicide also violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

How does medically assisted suicide differ from physician-assisted suicide and “medical aid in dying”?

Physician-assisted suicide was the common term used when lethal medications for suicide were provided solely by doctors. But over the past decade, some states have eased the requirement to allow other medical health providers who are able to write prescriptions, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, to provide the lethal dose. For this reason, the term ​​medically assisted suicide is often more accurate. 

However, the phrase “medical aid in dying” has been promoted to obscure the fact that the procedure is a form of suicide. Suicide has always been defined as the act of deliberately killing oneself. But because of the negative connotations associated with the term suicide and the general opposition to having the medical community involved in suicide, the euphemism has been offered to remove the stigma. Some medical organizations such as the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and the American Academy of Family Physicians now use the the term “medical aid in dying.” 

In which states is medically assisted suicide legal? 

The locations within the U.S. where medical assisted suicide is legal includes:

  • California,
  • Colorado,
  • Hawaii,
  • Maine,
  • Montana,
  • New Jersey,
  • New Mexico,
  • Oregon,
  • Vermont,
  • Washington,
  • and Washington D.C.

However, Vermont and Oregon do not have a state residency requirement, which means that patients can travel to those states and receive a legal lethal prescription to take their own life. (It’s been reported that Vermont allows the procedure to be done remotely, but currently, travel to the state appears to be required to obtain the prescription.)

What should Christians think about medically assisted suicide?

Medically assisted suicide is the intentional act of taking a human life for the purpose of relieving pain and suffering. Christians should reject suicide because it denies the inherent dignity that God has given human beings and seeks to take the place of God in determining the end of life.  

While those seeking medically assisted suicide and those participating in the practice may want to eliminate suffering, what they are doing is actually undermining the objective value of life. Although the Bible does not speak about the practice directly, it teaches that we must regard life as belonging to God and approach issues of suffering with a critical and biblically-based approach. 

As Kathryn Butler has written,

Anguish afflicts those with terminal illness, and we must minister to our dying neighbors in tenderness (Matt. 22:39; John 13:34–35). But Scripture points us to the sanctity of mortal life, and to our imperative as God’s image bearers to protect life and commit our days to his glory (Gen. 1:26; Exod. 20:13; 1 Cor. 10:31; Rom. 14:8; Acts 17:25). Compassionate intent doesn’t change the fact that in cases of physician-assisted death, demise is artificially—and intentionally—hastened. This is true even while terminal illness broils in the background, and even when death’s purpose is to alleviate suffering.”

See also: How would you counsel someone interested in assisted suicide?

By / Jul 13

In 2016, California’s assisted suicide law called the “End of Life Option Act” was passed which allows terminally-ill patients who meet specific criteria to request lethal drugs from their physician to end their life. The law requires patients to receive clearances of mental competency and terminal status from two doctors and undergo a waiting period before acquiring the drugs. The 15-day waiting period was shortened to only 48 hours by a 2021 revision to the law. 

A lawsuit brought by a collection of disability rights groups and two individuals with disabilities alleges that California’s assisted suicide law discriminates against people with disabilities and minorities, who often fail to receive proper diagnosis and medical treatment. The petitioners in the case explain that the law “steers people with terminal disabilities away from necessary mental health care, medical care, and disability supports, and towards death by suicide under the guise of ‘mercy’ and ‘dignity’ in dying.”

What is the case against California’s assisted suicide law about?

Ingrid Tischer was born with muscular dystrophy, which has required her to seek medical attention her entire life. Unfortunately, Tischer contracted pneumonia in 2021, leaving her especially weak. When she requested therapy to regain her strength, the doctor denied her request saying, “Well, I mean, look at you, there’s nothing we can do for you. And you’ve known this is coming for a long time. So why are you surprised?

Tischer is just one victim of what the plaintiffs call “steering,” the effect on disabled and terminal patients who have difficulty receiving the care they need. The result may compel people to seek assisted suicide to reduce their perceived “burden” on their families, doctors, or the healthcare system. While the doctor did not directly recommend assisted suicide to Tischer, his response implied she was untreatable and unworthy of any other assistance.

The other individual plaintiff, Lonnie VanHook, has quadriplegia and requires around-the-clock care. VanHook says he could not get the necessary hours of medical assistance he needed, which left him depressed, even considering assisted suicide. VanHook is a victim of “attendant deficiency diagnosis.” Medical care was the solution to VanHook’s depression, not suicide.

Proponents of California’s assisted suicide law say that safeguards are in place to prevent non-terminal patients, like VanHook, from accessing lethal drugs to end their life. However, some have challenged this notion, citing the 2021 revision to the law that reduced the waiting period from 15 days to 48 hours and the eradication of other protections as leaving more people vulnerable.

The lawsuit claims the End of Life Option Act violates equal protection and due process laws in the 14th Amendment and the anti-discrimination provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The disability rights groups argue that while the coercion is not explicit, the healthcare system’s shortcomings for people with disabilities can implicitly push them toward choosing assisted suicide. 

What is assisted suicide?

The term “assisted suicide,” or “physician-assisted suicide,” is the act of ending one’s life through prescribed lethal drugs to cease the suffering caused by a terminal illness or incurable disease. 

It was first introduced in the United States in Oregon when the 1997 Right-to-Die law was enacted. Since then, 10 states and the District of Columbia have implemented laws allowing assisted suicide. Canada has also legalized what they call, “Medical Aid in Dying,” or MAID, a superficial term for assisted suicide that dilutes the gravity of the undertaken action.

What is the issue?

Assisted suicide laws create significant life and human dignity issues that reflect our society’s larger disregard for the value of life. Genesis 1 tells us that we were created by God and possess inherent worth. With such a respect for life, we have been commanded, “Thou shalt not murder” (Exo. 20:13). The Hebrew word “ratzah,” translated as “murder” in the passage, includes death caused by carelessness and negligence. While assisted suicide is not direct murder, individuals involved are intentionally assisting in taking a dignified life created by God. 

Doctors are sworn to the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm,” but what greater harm is there to a living patient than to help them end their life? Individuals with disabilities and those experiencing mental health crises should be met with care and compassion—not with encouragement to end their life.

A former lawsuit against the law filed by a coalition of Christian doctors protected them from assisting in the suicide of patients because of their deeply held religious beliefs. While the religious liberty of these doctors should be protected for valuing the lives of their patients, the existence of this law continues to devalue the life and dignity of terminally ill individuals and those with and disabilities.

What happens next in the lawsuit against California’s assisted suicide law?

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Central District Court of California at the end of April and creates a potential avenue for sweeping changes to assisted suicide laws around the country. This challenge would likely spend a long time in the court system because of the appeals process. The ERLC will be closely watching this important case.

Why is this important to Southern Baptists?

As Southern Baptists, we recognize that every person is created in the imago Dei, possessing immeasurable worth and requiring the utmost dignity. This principle applies equally to every person, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, or even quality of health and ability. We are called, as Christians, to advocate for the vulnerable like those who are told they are better off ending their lives than living through severe and terminal health complications.

Proponents of assisted suicide erroneously refer to it as “dying with dignity.” However, they fail to see that preserving the individual’s dignity is best achieved by showing them the value of their life amid their trials. Our circumstances do not dictate our worth; it is etched into every individual through God’s design.

In our efforts to care for the vulnerable, we should work to improve the healthcare system so that it provides ethical means of relieving suffering and dignity to those nearing the end of their lives. This does not mean aiding and abetting thoughts of suicide induced by wanting an end to suffering. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” While persevering through trials can feel like an unendurable challenge, we should come alongside those in their suffering and show them their worth in Christ. 

As pro-life advocates, we commit to promoting all life from conception to natural death. We must advocate for vulnerable individuals who are preyed upon by a society that tells them their lives have no worth. We strive for a day when the dignity of every individual is recognized by a society that embraces a culture of life.