By / Feb 9

February 25, 2024 is Racial Reconciliation Sunday. We created a free downloadable bulletin insert for use in your church.

Color Color Two-up Grayscale Grayscale Two-up

What is racial unity?

There are many misunderstandings about what racial unity is and what it entails. We might think, for example, that unity means uniformity, or sameness. But that would be incorrect. Or, we might assume that unity requires minority groups to assimilate to or be wholly subsumed into the majority culture, surrendering their own God-given distinctives for the sake of unity. This, too, would be an error.

The unity that Christ has accomplished for us doesn’t require uniformity or assimilation; it is a constitutional reality that we can either embrace by the Spirit or ignore in our flesh.

Instead, racial unity is the reality by which members of every nation, tribe, people, and language, having been redeemed by Christ, adopted by the Father, and sealed by the Spirit, are bound together in Christ as “one new man” and welcomed into the family of God together as brothers and sisters.

Racial unity in the SBC

In the SBC, one step we’re taking is through the Unify Project, an initiative led by pastors Fred Luter and Ed Litton that “provides simple, practical, and effective resources that can be adopted by churches across the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond.”

Our churches are yearning for unity, but often struggling to bring it to fruition among their congregations. Our communities are scarred and in turmoil. What are we to do? It is the Church to whom racial unity has been conferred, and by whom racial unity can be displayed and, through the Spirit, offered to a watching world.

So on this Racial Reconciliation Sunday in 2024, may we humble ourselves and pray that the unity of God’s heavenly Kingdom would be on display in our churches and be on offer for those who are so weary of our divided society and so weighed-down by its effects.

To see additional SBC event dates, visit sbc.net/calendar.

By / Feb 6

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — With the Super Bowl this weekend, don’t expect many pastors to place a bet on Kansas City or San Francisco to win the game, but a few may have more than a rooting interest riding on the game. 

Despite its legalization across many states, U.S. Protestant pastors remain opposed to sports gambling, but they’re not doing much about it, according to a Lifeway Research study. Few pastors (13%) favor legalizing sports betting nationwide and most (55%) say the practice is morally wrong. 

“Anything can happen in sports, and many Americans want the same allure of an unexpected win in sports to translate into an unexpected financial windfall,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Most pastors see moral hazards in sports betting and believe American society would be better off without it.” 

A majority of pastors (55%) believe betting on sports is morally wrong, including 33% who strongly agree. Around a third (35%) disagree, while 10% aren’t sure. 

While the Bible does not explicitly say, ‘thou shall not gamble,’ biblical principles regarding work and wealth indicate that gambling is unwise. The Bible teaches that sin has a ripple effect that harms not only the participant but those around him. This seems particularly true for addictive behaviors, and gambling is no different.

Miles Mullin, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission vice president and chief of staff

Read the full LifeWay newsroom article here.

By / Feb 6

A long-awaited bipartisan border proposal has arrived for consideration in the U.S. Senate this week. After months of negotiations, Sens. James Lankford (R-OK), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) released the text of their proposal that would bring about significant changes to the United States border and asylum system, while being paired with the national security supplemental funding bill for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and the southern border. As the legislative text was finalized over the last several weeks, it has been backed by Senate leadership of both parties as well as President Biden. But, upon release, the proposal is facing sharp criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.

Southern Baptists have spoken to the issue of immigration for decades, calling on Congress to secure our borders while upholding principles of compassion and human dignity. 

What is included in this bipartisan border bill?

This sweeping bill contains a number of significant provisions as it relates to border and asylum policy as well as avenues for legal migration. Some of these provisions include:

  • Funding for detention: Many migrants are not currently detained, but rather paroled into the U.S., because of a lack of space in detention facilities. This bill provides $7.6 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), $3.2 billion of which is dedicated to increasing detention capacity.
  • Funding for border patrol: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) face incredible staffing shortages and do not have the current resources to process and screen all who are arriving at the border. This bill provides $6.766 billion to CBP, giving them the ability to hire additional agents, improve technology for finding fentanyl, and to address trafficking-related issues.
  • Major changes to the asylum system: Current U.S. law guarantees a right to seek asylum for individuals who step foot on U.S. soil. Because of that, many individuals who do not have valid asylum claims have flooded the asylum system, seeing it as their only viable option to enter the U.S. Unfortunately, because of backlogs, many of these individuals are in the U.S. for many years before their asylum claims are eventually denied.  This proposal speeds up the adjudication process while also requiring a higher burden of proof in initial asylum screenings—a policy long sought by advocates seeking to curtail illegal immigration. Additionally, with faster adjudication of claims, the bill provides guidance for carrying out quicker expulsion and deportation for those who do not qualify. One change, flagged by critics, includes work permits for many who apply for asylum and HHS-provided lawyers for unaccompanied children under 14 to navigate this process.
  • New “border shutdown” authority: One of the most significant and most misunderstood portions of the bill would create a new border emergency authority. As described in the authors’ summary, “The ‘border emergency authority’ may be exercised if the 7-day average number of cumulative encounters of inadmissible aliens is between 4,000 and 5,000 per day and must be exercised if the 7-day average is above 5,000 per day. Exercise of the authority is also required if the number of encounters on a single day exceeds 8,500. Unaccompanied minors from non-contiguous countries are not included in the total number of encounters for the purposes of this section. When use of the emergency authority is authorized, the Secretary has the authority to prohibit the entry into the U.S. of all individuals, except unaccompanied minors, between ports of entry and may only screen individua ls for eligibility for withholding of removal or protection under the Convention Against Torture. Concurrently, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is required to continue processing a minimum of 1,400 inadmissible aliens per day across southwest land ports of entry under expedited removal or the 235B non-custodial removal proceedings contained in this title, ensuring that access to the asylum system remains available.”
  • Border wall: This bill would require the Biden administration to continue construction of the border wall with Mexico. While the policy was most prominent during former President Trump’s administration, initial construction of various portions of a border fence began under former President George H. W. Bush.
  • Anti-fentanyl measures: In addition to funding for new fentanyl screening technology, the bill also includes policies aimed at curbing the flow of fentanyl into the U.S. It also provides funding to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to aggressively target cartels involved in smuggling fentanyl. 
  • Afghan Adjustment Act: In 2021, the U.S. assisted many Afghans, including many of our military allies, in fleeing to the U.S. following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Since then, these individuals have been in the country without any pathway to a permanent status. The bill includes the Afghan Adjustment Act which would provide such a pathway following additional screening.
  • Additional visas: The bill authorizes an additional 250,000 immigrant visas over the next five years divided between those coming for employment-based reasons and those seeking to reunify with family. 

In addition to these immigration-related provisions, the bill includes funding for assistance to Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific region, and to restoring U.S. military readiness. 

If you’d like more details about the contents of this bill, you can read a full summary here.

Why is this significant?

The current situation at the southern border is untenable. In December of 2023, there were over 300,000 individuals encountered at the border, the highest number ever recorded. This flow of migrants is overwhelming the American resources at the border to process, screen, detain, and care for those who are arriving. As our ERLC team observed when we visited the border in 2022, U.S. border patrol officers are desperately in need of additional resources and help.

Compared to current levels, these proposed reforms would provide meaningful assistance to border patrol and those tasked with securing our border while making changes that could significantly reduce the number of migrants who initially qualify for asylum. Along with increased detention capacity and faster adjudication, these changes could make progress toward ending so-called “catch and release.” Senator Lankford termed the new policies “detain and deport.”

Additionally, though the president does have substantial authority in deciding border-related policies, that power is limited by existing law that guarantees those who arrive on U.S. soil the right to request asylum. The proposed changes to asylum coupled with the new “border shutdown” authority could provide the executive branch with increased powers to severely limit the number of individuals accepted into the U.S., particularly at times when border resources are overwhelmed. 

No significant updates have been made to the U.S. immigration system or border security laws since the 1980s. When compared to current law, these proposals would mark a meaningful shift in U.S. policy and provide new power to the executive branch.

How does this compare to what Southern Baptists have said about immigration?

At the 2023 Annual Meeting, Southern Baptists passed a resolution “On Wisely Engaging Immigration.” This resolution followed many others passed by Southern Baptists over the past decades. Relevant parts of the most recent resolution read:

RESOLVED, That we ask our government leaders to provide clear guidance for immigrants and asylum seekers regarding border policies, legal entry into this country, and work opportunities; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we implore our government leaders to maintain robust avenues for valid asylum claimants seeking refuge and to create legal pathways to permanent status for immigrants who are in our communities by no fault of their own, prioritizing the unity of families; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage elected officials to prioritize measures that secure our borders and to provide adequate resources to border patrol and those working in our immigration system; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge our government to take swift and bold action to protect and prevent the exploitation of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving to the United States; and be it further

Southern Baptist Resolution ‘On Wisely Engaging Immigration’

On many of these counts, this legislation is in line with these requests. This proposal would offer clearer guidance to those coming to the border, laying out new policies regarding work authorizations and vowing quick expulsion for those without valid asylum claims. Though some may disagree about the efficacy of various measures in securing the border, this is certainly a step forward from the current chaos (though some feel it does not enhance security measures enough). In addition to providing resources and policy changes that would make the border more secure, the proposal retains key narrow avenues for those with valid asylum claims to make their case. In nearly all changes within the bill, special care and attention is given to the unique situation of unaccompanied immigrant children.

Though the bill does provide some new legal avenues for those who would come to the U.S. and includes a pathway to permanent status for Afghans who were brought to the U.S. following the fall of Afghanistan, a measure that the ERLC has long advocated for, it does not provide any path forward for the broader undocumented population or for Dreamers, the young immigrants brought here as children. Some opponents of the proposal have called it a blanket amnesty plan, though no such provisions exist.

What happens next for this bipartisan border proposal?

Members of both parties have pushed back on this proposal. Three Democratic Senators, including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, immediately signaled their disapproval of the bill. House Republican leaders released a statement saying consideration of the proposal would be a “waste of time” in their chamber. Support quickly faded from several Senate Republicans as well. While some don’t believe that the bill is strong enough on border security, others argue against addressing the issue of the southern border in an election year.

At this point, the path forward looks highly tenuous for this proposal though attempts to amend it could be made in the legislative process. Currently, the Senate is expected to take an initial procedural vote on the bill on Wednesday. If the supplemental is unable to move forward, it raises the important question of what happens next in regards to defense funding for Ukraine, Israel, the Pacific, and the border. It should be noted funding deadlines for the government are set for March. 

Setting aside the uncertain path forward for the proposal, we are thankful for the hard work of Senator Lankford, a Southern Baptist, as well as Sens. Murphy and Sinema. Finding bipartisan consensus on an issue as fraught as immigration is no easy task, and initial responses prove as much. These Senators have put forth a serious proposal for an urgent problem. As our nation grapples with many challenging matters, including this one, we need more lawmakers willing to do the difficult work of legislating.

By / Feb 2

On Sunday, Jan. 28, another Iran-backed militant group known as Islamic Resistance in Iraq launched a drone attack on a small outpost in the country of Jordan, killing three U.S. Army soldiers and injuring more than 30 service members. “We shall respond,” President Joe Biden said on Sunday. Over the past four months, Iran-backed militant groups have increasingly attacked both civilians and military forces throughout the Middle East. The increase in violence began when Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing 1,400 people in what has been referred to as Israel’s 9/11.

Since November, another group, known as Houthis, have launched what the State Department describes as “unprecedented attacks” against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, as well as military forces positioned in the Arabian Peninsula to defend the safety and security of commercial shipping. These attacks against international shipping, says the State Department, have “endangered mariners, disrupted the free flow of commerce, and interfered with navigational rights and freedoms.”

Here is what you should know about the Iran-backed terrorist organizations responsible for numerous recent attacks in the Middle East.

How is Iran involved in the recent attacks?

Although Iran denies being involved in the attack on the U.S. outpost, the Shia-dominant nation has been accused of providing weapons and funding for several militant groups in the Middle East including the Houthis, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Earlier this year, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson said that “Iran proudly announces that it supports Palestinian resistance movements for the liberation of their land.”

These militant groups are used by Iran to fight a proxy war against Iran’s enemies—namely Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S. (In proxy wars, states arm and support actors in another country to achieve their broader geopolitical goals.) Iran-linked groups using drones packed with explosives have attacked U.S. troops in the Middle East more than 150 times since Hamas’s recent assault on Israel.

Who are the Houthis?

The Houthis—formally known as Ansar Allah or Ansarallah (Supporters of God)—originated in the early 1990s in northern Yemen. They began as a theological movement and took their name from their original leader, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who served in the Yemeni parliament and advocated for the rights of the Zaidi Shia Muslim minority in Yemen. 

Zaydi Shiites are a minority within the Islamic world, with distinct beliefs from other Shiite groups (The two main branches of Islam are Sunni and Shia, which differ in their views on political succession and the authority of Muhammad’s descendants. Roughly 90% of the world’s Muslims are Sunni and 10% are Shia.) 

The Houthis follow a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism, but the Houthi movement represents a complex blend of religious, political, and tribal elements.They seek greater autonomy for their region and oppose what they perceive as Western influence and Sunni dominance, promoted by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. The Houthi emblem, which offers a general idea of the group’s views, is composed entirely of the following phrases: “God is great, Death to America, death to Israel, damnation to the Jews, victory to Islam.” 

The Houthis have said the reason they were targeting ships that are Israeli owned, flagged, or operated, or that are heading to Israeli ports. However, many of the vessels that have been attacked have no connection with Israel

The Houthis originate from and operate out of Yemen, a country located in the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north and Oman to the northeast. The capital of Yemen is Sanaa, one of the oldest cities in the world.

The Houthi rebels’ control significant territories within this Arabian nation, including Sanaa, and large portions of northern and western Yemen. They remain a major force in the decade-long Yemeni civil war. The conflict has led to a dire humanitarian crisis, with millions of people displaced and more in need of aid. 

What is the Islamic Resistance in Iraq?

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq is a loose coalition of Iranian-backed militias that oppose U.S. presence in Iraq and Syria. One group with that coalition, Kata’ib Hizballah, has claimed responsibility for attacks on U.S. military bases, including the recent deadly attack on a U.S. military base in Jordan. The group’s membership is deliberately vague, allowing each armed group a level of plausible deniability. There is evidence suggesting that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards play a coordinating role in the coalition. The group’s actions are part of efforts to drive U.S. troops out of the region, galvanized by the Israel-Hamas war. The U.S. has pledged to hold the responsible parties accountable, and there are concerns about the risk of military escalation in the region due to these attacks.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq is part of the so-called “axis of resistance,” which also includes other Iran-linked groups in the region. These groups have carried out multiple attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria—and now Jordan—with the aim to push the U.S. to ramp up its Middle East defenses. The attacks have raised fears of regional escalation and have led to increased tensions between the involved parties.

What is Hamas?

Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement), is a Palestinian Islamist political and military organization. It was established in 1987 and is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an independent Islamic state in the land of Israel.

Hamas is widely popular in Palestinian society due to its anti-Israeli stance and its promotion of Palestinian nationalism in an Islamic context. Since its founding, Hamas has been involved in ongoing attacks against Israeli civilians, including suicide bombings, indiscriminate rocket attacks, and other war crimes.

Hamas has a military wing known as the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. These militants are currently engaged in war with Israel and concentrated in the Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank.

What is Hizballah?

Hizballah, also known as Hezbollah,  is a Lebanese Shia Islamist political and military organization that has state-like military capabilities including various missiles, rockets, and unmanned aircraft systems. The group is proficient in asymmetric and conventional tactics and has been involved in various attacks and operations throughout the Middle East. 

Hizballah was established in the early 1980s during the Lebanese Civil War. It arose with the financial and ideological support of Iran and aimed to establish an Islamic state in Lebanon based on Shia Islamic principles. The group’s ideology is heavily influenced by the Iranian revolution of 1979, which brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power in Iran.

What actions has the Biden administration taken toward these groups?

The Biden administration has redesignated the Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization. Kata’ib Hizballah has been on the list since 2009. Hamas and Hizballah since 1997.

The U.S. government maintains several lists related to terrorism, each serving distinct purposes and governed by different legal frameworks. These lists are tools for implementing and enforcing national security and foreign policy strategies. The most prominent of these are the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) and the Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT). 

The FTO is a list managed by the State Department that designates foreign organizations as terrorist groups. Designation as an FTO makes it illegal for persons in the U.S. or subject to U.S. jurisdiction to knowingly provide “material support or resources” to the designated organization. It also allows for the freezing of the group’s assets in U.S. financial institutions and denies entry into the U.S. to representatives and members of these organizations.

In contrast, the SDGT is managed by the Treasury Department, specifically under the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). This list, which targets individuals and groups worldwide, focuses on cutting off financial support to terrorists. It includes a broader range of entities compared to the FTO list including individuals, groups, and companies involved in terrorist activities. Those designated are subjected to asset freezes and travel bans.

The Treasury Department recently sanctioned entities and individuals associated with Kata’ib Hizballah, highlighting the ongoing efforts to target the group’s financial network and its supporters.

President Biden removed the Trump administration’s designation of the Houthi rebels as terrorists, arguing it hampered humanitarian assistance to people in Yemen. A U.S. official told Axios that the administration believes the “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” designation is the “appropriate tool at this moment.”

For the past few weeks, the U.S. and other Western countries have also been carrying out military strikes against Houthi sites in Yemen in retaliation for the attacks on shipping. 

By / Jan 26

Public policy advocacy is one of the primary ways that the ERLC fulfills its ministry in the public square. We recently released our 2024 Public Policy Agenda, which outlines more than three dozen policy issues that will shape our work in Washington, D.C., this year.

The first session of the 118th Congress proved to be wildly unproductive and crippled by intraparty fighting, culminating in the historic ouster of a speaker of the House. Congress left 2023 without funding the government and with little progress made on dozens of priorities. It is in the midst of this dysfunction and division that we must find a way to press forward on priorities relevant to the mission of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission: 

  • protecting life, 
  • safeguarding religious liberty, 
  • bolstering marriage and families, 
  • and upholding human dignity. 

Below is an overview of our policy priorities in these areas. You can learn more about each of these items in the agenda itself.

Life

As Southern Baptists, we believe that every person is made in the image of God, and thus, is worthy of protection and dignity, regardless of age, level of ability, or stage of development. Because of that, the ERLC will always advocate for life to be protected. Following the Dobbs decision in 2022, we’ve seen both monumental gains for life in many states and new challenges emerge. We must persuade our lawmakers that the federal government still has an important role to play in protecting life and combatting this evil in all forms. Here are some aspects of our federal pro-life legislative priorities:

  • Protect Pro-life Riders in the Congressional Appropriations Process: Longstanding policy riders such as the Hyde Amendment are essential aspects of preventing taxpayer funding for abortion
  • Ending the Proliferation of Chemical Abortions: Chemical abortions make up a majority of all abortions and not only take the life of a preborn child, but also pose significant risks to women.  
  • Respond to the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA decision: This summer, the Supreme Court will decide whether significant restrictions on the chemical abortion drug, mifepristone, must be reinstated.
  • Oppose the Women’s Health Protection Act: This act would allow for abortion on demand nationwide, strip away conscience protections, and allow for taxpayer funding for abortion.
  • Support the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act: This bill would codify the protections found in the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life funding riders.
  • Support the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act: This bill provides basic protections for precious children who survive an abortion attempt.
  • Support Federal Abortion Restrictions: Though the Dobbs decision gave power back to the states on the issue of abortion, it did not absolve Congress of its responsibility to protect life in the womb.
  • Oppose “Abortion Tourism”: Since the Dobbs decision, the Biden administration has worked to promote and mandate the right for women to travel to receive an abortion in another state.
  • Expand Hyde Protections to Prohibit Taxpayer-Funded Abortion Travel: Many of the aforementioned actions have circumvented Hyde-Amendment protections to require taxpayer funding for such abortion-related travel.
  • Oppose the Biden Administration’s Pro-Abortion Regulatory Agenda: In the absence of congressional action, the Biden administration has used its regulatory powers to promote and expand access to abortion in all contexts.
  • Support the Work of Pregnancy Resource Centers: Pregnancy resource centers are on the front line of the pro-life movement and have faced increasing attacks regarding their funding and perceived legitimacy.
  • Strengthen International Pro-Life Work: Organizations like the United Nations and other international bodies continue to press for an “international right to abortion” and seek to use international aid funding to promote abortion.
  • Oppose Physician-Assisted Suicide and all Euthanasia Efforts: Across the United States, there is an effort to expand the availability of physician-assisted suicide under the guise of “compassionate healthcare.”

Religious Liberty

A bedrock of Baptist belief is that “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” The Baptist Faith & Message continues in stating that “A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.” Our Baptist ancestors in the U.S. were instrumental in the crafting and adoption of the First Amendment to our Constitution, which guarantees free exercise of religion for all and forbids the establishment of a state-driven religion. The ERLC will continue this legacy in our moral education and in our advocacy. We expect some of the following to be issues of particular concern in 2024:

  • Oppose The Equality Act: This act would codify sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as protected classes in federal civil rights law and is the greatest threat to religious liberty ever considered in the U.S. Congress. 
  • Oppose attacks on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Recent legislation from both parties has explicitly removed vital religious liberty protections guaranteed by law in RFRA.
  • Support the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act: This bill would prohibit government discrimination against child welfare agencies on the basis of their beliefs and ultimately protect children in the foster system and children waiting for adoption by ensuring that a wide range of child welfare providers are available to serve them.
  • Support the Conscience Protection Act: This bill provides conscience protections for healthcare workers with religious and moral convictions that prohibit them from participating in activities that go against their pro-life beliefs.
  • Oppose the Biden Administration’s Regulatory Actions: The Biden administration has extensively used its regulatory powers to curtail religious liberty and conscience protections, especially as they intersect with sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
  • Support the Safeguarding Charity Act: This bill would protect the religious liberty of faith-based organizations by clearly stating that simply holding tax-exempt status does not equate to receiving federal financial assistance.
  • Support a Two-year Universal Charitable Deduction to Encourage Giving to Charities: Under the federal tax code, people can only claim a deduction for charitable contributions if they itemize their deductions, but a universal charitable deduction would incentivize such giving from all taxpayers. 
  • Combat Global Antisemitism: Following the horrific attack on Israel on Oct. 7, there has been a significant rise in antisemitism both domestically and abroad, with alarming tolerance for antisemitic rhetoric and actions on college campuses across the country and at many of our global institutions, such as the United Nations
  • Support Protections for the Uyghur People in China: Though national attention has shifted elsewhere, the Uyghur people continue to face a genocide, and more must be done to prioritize this issue in U.S. foreign policy with China.
  • Advocate for the Elimination of Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws: Dozens of countries still enforce these laws—often through the death penalty—prohibiting one from converting to another religion or speaking or acting in any way that is deemed offensive to the god of their particular religion.
  • Support the Designation of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern: Despite intense persecution of Christians, the U.S. State Department has ignored the recommendation of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern for religious freedom for three consecutive years.

Marriage & Family

We believe that families are the foundational institution of our society. However, shifting views in our culture regarding marriage, gender, sexuality, and family have left our society in disarray. We will continue to advocate for policies that promote availability and accessibility in adoption and foster care; provide wrap-around care for vulnerable mothers and families; and promote the rights and responsibilities of parents in raising their children and pushing back on harmful gender ideology. Some aspects of our advocacy for marriage and family include:

  • Support Adoption and Foster Care Policies: In addition to pushing back on the alarming religious liberty trends discussed above in the adoption and foster care systems, we are advocating for policies that would support and strengthen adoption, making it more affordable and accessible
  • Support the Adoptee Citizenship Act: The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted automatic citizenship to all foreign-born children brought to the U.S. who had at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen, but it only applied to adoptees under the age of 18 when the bill was enacted, leaving an entire population of adopted children without full U.S. citizenship. This bill closes that loophole. 
  • Ensure Intercountry Adoption Remains a Viable Option: Amidst significant declines in international adoptions, the ERLC is working with like-minded partners and the U.S. Department of State to ensure that intercountry adoption remains a viable option for families and vulnerable children around the world.
  • Support Pro-Family Policy in a Post-Roe World: The ERLC will advocate for policies that remedy marriage penalties, empower abortion-vulnerable women to choose life, and provide baseline levels of support for new parents. 
  • Oppose Harmful “Gender-Transition” Surgeries and Procedures: Going against both God’s good design and sound medical practice, “gender-transition” procedures are preying on vulnerable minors and should be outlawed. 
  • Oppose Taxpayer Funding for “Gender-Transition” Surgeries and Procedures: It is unconscionable that taxpayer dollars continue to be used to fund “gender-transition” surgeries and procedures that harm those experiencing gender dysphoria and that millions of Americans find objectionable. 
  • Support Parental Rights: Recent years have seen increased challenges to the fundamental rights and responsibilities of parents in areas of education, online access, and matters of gender and sexuality, and the ERLC will continue to support the rights of parents in both legislation and the courts.
  • Support Protections for Children Online: New data has demonstrated the detrimental effects on mental health, learning, and self-image that have come as a result from unhindered access for minors without the knowledge and consent of parents. More must be done to prevent children from accessing harmful content, such as pornography, and to empower parents in overseeing the online activity of their children.
  • Oppose Marijuana Expansion: The ERLC will continue to oppose various efforts to expand the availability and legality of marijuana in our communities, understanding the devastating impacts it has on many families.

Human Dignity

We believe that every person is made in the image of God and is worthy of protection and dignity, regardless of age, race, nationality, level of ability, or stage of development. The Bible also calls us to seek justice and righteousness, especially for those who are vulnerable. In our advocacy for fair and impartial judgment and equitable treatment of the unjustly oppressed and marginalized, we bear witness to a God who is ultimately the just Judge and to a gospel that saves all who believe without partiality. These realities spur on our commitment to the following priorities for this year:

  • Support a Permanent Solution for Dreamers: With litigation on its way to the Supreme Court that will likely end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, these young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents remain in an unstable situation without action from Congress.
  • Rebuild the Refugee Resettlement Program: Though progress has been made in rebuilding infrastructure, we will continue to advocate for fully restoring the refugee resettlement program and America’s legacy as a beacon of hope to those fleeing persecution.
  • Support the Afghan Adjustment Act:  This bill provides a path to permanent legal status after additional vetting for Afghans who were brought to the U.S. following the fall of Afghanistan and who remain in limbo.
  • Support Border Security Enhancements and Asylum Reforms: At the 2023 annual meeting, Southern Baptists called on lawmakers to “provide clear guidance for immigrants and asylum seekers,” “maintain robust avenues for valid asylum claimants seeking refuge,” and “prioritize measures that secure our borders and to provide adequate resources to border patrol and those working in our immigration system.” 
  • Support Further Criminal Justice Reform: The ERLC will continue to advocate for reforms that focus on fairness, safety, rehabilitation, and recognize the dignity of those in prison, including provisions requiring that only biological females may be housed together.
  • Combat the Epidemic of Mass Shootings and Gun Violence: In 2018, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention gave support for “preventative measures that would reduce gun violence and mass shootings while operating in accordance with the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.” In 2022, messengers urged lawmakers “to take concrete steps, towards solutions that uphold the dignity and value of every human life, especially the most vulnerable among us, and to minimize the threat of gun violence throughout our society.”
  • Support Payday Lending Regulations: Short-term payday loans often come with deceptive and predatory annual interest rates of over 400%, trapping the poor in a vicious cycle of debt and despair. 
  • Oppose Efforts to Expand Gambling: Even as millions are trapped in the addictive and destructive cycle of gambling, efforts are underway at both the state and federal levels to expand gambling, particularly through sports betting. 
  • Advocate for Anti-Human Trafficking Laws: The ERLC will continue to advocate for anti-human trafficking legislation in Congress—particularly legislation aimed at supporting trafficking victims and increasing the responsibility of companies to remove this explicit content from their platforms. 
  • Support Efforts to Shape Artificial Intelligence and Technology that Emphasize Human Dignity: In 2023, Southern Baptists called on lawmakers to “proactively engage and shape these emerging technologies rather than simply respond to the challenges of AI and other emerging technologies after they have already affected our churches and communities.” The ERLC will continue to assist lawmakers in understanding these realities and advocate for policies in line with this call of human dignity and the common good.
By / Jan 5

As we enter 2024, the complex political landscape in the United States, marked by division and a struggling Congress, presents unique challenges and opportunities for Christian engagement in public policy. It is in the midst of this dysfunction and division that we must find a way to press forward on the issues relevant to the mission of the ERLC: protecting life, safeguarding religious liberty, bolstering marriage and families, and upholding human dignity. Here are some of the top policy issues to watch in 2024.

Life: Beyond Dobbs

The overturning of Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs decision has reshaped the pro-life landscape. However, challenges like the rise of chemical abortions and “abortion tourism” persist. The sanctity of life is foundational (Gen. 1:27), and our advocacy must extend to all life stages, echoing our commitment to life and human dignity. 

Here are some federal pro-life legislative issues to be aware of:

  • Pro-life riders in congressional appropriations: A key legislative priority is maintaining and including historic pro-life amendments, known as riders, in Congressional appropriations bills. For example, the Hyde Amendment, a significant pro-life rider for over 40 years, prevents government-funded abortions and protects citizens’ consciences from funding actions they consider unjust. An effort will be made this year to extend Hyde Amendment-like protections to prevent taxpayer funding for abortion-related travel and services.
  • Proliferation of chemical abortions: The use of chemical abortions, which accounted for 53% of all abortions in 2021, has been on the rise, and the number likely increased following the Dobbs decision. The FDA has even increased access to these drugs, including mail delivery and availability at retail pharmacies, raising concerns about the risks to women and preborn children. Legislation like the SAVE Moms and Babies Act would help to regulate this industry.
  • The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA decision: The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case challenging the deregulation of the abortion drug mifepristone. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled to reinstate significant restrictions on the drug including in-person medical visits, halting mail-order distribution, and limiting its use to the first 7 weeks of pregnancy. By upholding this decision, the Supreme Court would be helping to protect preborn lives and women’s health.
  • The Women’s Health Protection Act: This act would remove all abortion restrictions and limits. The result would be to allow abortions up to birth, remove pro-life protections, and force taxpayer funding for abortions. 
  • Pro-life legislation: Several new pieces of pro-life legislation may be considered this year: The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which aims to codify the Hyde Amendment; and the Support for the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which requires healthcare practitioners to provide the same level of care to children born alive after a failed abortion as they would to any child born at the same gestational age. The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the Heartbeat Protection Act would also impose further federal restrictions on abortion. 

Religious Liberty: A Baptist distinctive

The Baptist tradition, with its strong emphasis on religious liberty and separation of church and state, informs our approach to issues like The Equality Act and attacks on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This principle, grounded in Scripture’s teaching on the conscience (Rom. 14:23), is not just for Christians but for all, reflecting God’s Lordship over the conscience and our call to live in a society that respects diverse convictions.

Some legislative and regulatory issues of particular concern to this issue in 2024 include:

  • The Equality Act: The Equality Act, which passed the House in February 2021 and amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, is likely to curtail religious freedom, impacting healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals, and undermining rights for women and girls.
  • The Do No Harm Act: This act is a threat to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), as it could weaken religious freedom protections. 
  • The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act: This act aims to prevent government discrimination against child welfare agencies based on their religious beliefs, ensuring a broader range of child welfare providers are available.
  • The Conscience Protection Act: This act offers protections for healthcare workers with religious or moral objections to participating in or providing insurance coverage for certain medical procedures, including contraception.
  • Regulatory actions under the Biden administration: As with the past few years, the regulatory changes proposed by the Biden administration could threaten religious liberty and conscience rights, including those affecting foster care, healthcare, and college campuses.
  • The Universal Charitable Deduction: This policy encourages charitable giving by allowing all taxpayers to claim deductions for donations, regardless of whether they itemize their deductions.

Marriage and Family: Upholding biblical standards

In a post-Roe world, the focus on marriage and family policies becomes even more critical. Advocacy for adoption, opposition to “gender transition” surgeries, and supporting pro-family policies are not merely social stances but are deeply theological, reflecting God’s design for the family (Eph. 5:31-32) and the value of children (Psa. 127:3).

Some aspects of particular interest in 2024 include the following:

  • Adoption and Foster Care policies: Congress might consider various proposals, including the Adoption Tax Credit Refundability Act, which would ease the financial burden of adoption.
  • The Adoptee Citizenship Act: This act aims to grant immediate citizenship to foreign-born children adopted by U.S. citizens who were excluded from the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.
  • Marijuana expansion and related banking legislation: Proposed efforts to legalize marijuana federally, including the SAFER Banking Act, would contribute to the drug epidemic. The Biden administration’s is also attempting to reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, which is a further leap toward federal legalization.
  • Gender “transitions” and parental rights: In recent years, we have seen alarming increases in the number of individuals, many of whom are minors, undergo physically damaging “gender transition” surgeries and procedures. This issue is also being pushed forward in all contexts, often without the knowledge of consent of parents. Many pieces of new legislation are seeking to outlaw these harmful practices and empower parents.

Human Dignity: Addressing global and societal issues

Our focus on issues such as the persecution of Uyghurs in China, anti-Semitism, and human trafficking aligns with the biblical mandate to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). These issues challenge us to recognize the imago Dei in all people, leading to advocacy that transcends national and ethnic boundaries. Here are a few examples:

  • The Afghan Adjustment Act: This legislation would provide a path to permanent legal status for Afghan evacuees brought to the U.S. under humanitarian parole following the fall of Afghanistan in 2021.
  • Gambling expansion: As nearly every state across the country has loosened restrictions on gambling, Americans spent approximately $213 billion on legal betting alone in 2021. Online sports betting has spread rapidly, making it easier than ever to become trapped in the addictive and destructive cycle of gambling. Lawmakers at the state and federal level will be thinking about how to push back on this trend. 

The road ahead 

These issues are just a sampling of areas that require our attention in the days ahead. Throughout 2024, the ERLC is committed to leading the way for Christian engagement in a world marked by division and ethical complexity. Because, as guided by Scripture, we value the sanctity of life, religious liberty, marriage and the family, and human dignity, we are called not only to advocate for policies but also to embody the transformative power of the gospel in public life. As we engage these issues, our ultimate hope rests not in legislative victories but in the sovereign grace of God, who calls us to be salt and light in a world in need of the hope found in Christ alone.

By / Dec 15

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission exists to assist Southern Baptist churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel, apply Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy, and to promote religious liberty in cooperation with churches and other Southern Baptist entities.

Under the leadership of Brent Leatherwood, elected as president in 2022, the ERLC has consistently shown a steadfast commitment to its foundational principles while adeptly navigating the evolving challenges of our time. From our offices in Nashville, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., our work is rooted in the truths of Scripture and can be categorized in four main areas: life, religious liberty, marriage and family, and human dignity.

Here are some of the highlights from our work in these areas featured in our 2023 Annual Report.

Life

In the wake of the landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, the ERLC reinforced its dedication to pro-life advocacy. This pivotal ruling, which overturned Roe v. Wade, brought new challenges and opportunities for the Commission. The ERLC remains resolute in its mission to foster a culture where life is cherished at every stage, advocating for the dignity of all, from conception to natural death.

During the ongoing Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations session, ERLC has prioritized safeguarding life and religious liberty. In recent years, we were concerned with the removal of pro-life and conscience protection riders, including the Hyde Amendment, from the initially proposed 2022 and 2023 appropriations bills. At the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention, a resolution was passed condemning efforts to remove these pro-life riders. The ERLC thoroughly reviewed the appropriations bills and continues to advocate for these riders and against pro-abortion funding.

Post-Dobbs, the Biden administration pushed policies promoting abortion access such as expanding access to abortion pills, funding abortion travel, and using taxpayer funds for abortion access education. This included changes by the VA and the Department of Defense to facilitate abortions, and the adaptation of HIPAA by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which could hinder investigations into illegal abortion and gender-transition procedures, raising concerns about the protection of those who have been abused.

The Food and Drug Administration also made chemical abortion drugs more accessible, despite a high complication rate. And we continue to monitor a court case challenging the FDA’s approval of the abortion drug mifepristone.

At the state level, the ERLC collaborated with North Carolina Baptists to impose a 12-week abortion limit in North Carolina and with Nevada Baptists to prevent Nevada from becoming a destination for assisted suicide. We are committed to working with state conventions to protect life from conception to natural death.

Religious Liberty

The ERLC’s defense of religious liberty has been unwavering. In 2023 we championed this cause through significant legislative and Supreme Court victories. By upholding the Baptist principle of a “free church in a free state,” the ERLC has ensured that the proclamation of the gospel continues unimpeded by governmental constraints.

We’ve recently focused on responding to two significant Supreme Court decisions impacting religious liberty: Groff v. Dejoy and 303 Creative v. Elenis.

In the Groff case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the standard for religious accommodations in the workplace, set by a 1977 decision, had been misinterpreted. This unanimous ruling clarifies that employers face a higher burden before denying religious accommodations. As Southern Baptists, we firmly believe in the inseparability of our faith from our work. Reflecting this belief, we filed an amicus brief to support the expansion of religious accommodations.

The 303 Creative case was another crucial victory. The court sided with Lorie Smith, a web designer who chose not to create websites for same-sex marriages, against a Colorado law that had targeted others for their beliefs, like cake artist Jack Phillips. This ruling not only upheld free speech but also acknowledged the constitutional protection of creative expression. It’s a significant win for individuals wanting to express their faith publicly.

At the federal level, we’ve been actively countering efforts by Congress and the administration that threaten religious liberty. We’ve opposed the Respect for Marriage Act and the Equality Act, both of which we find detrimental to religious freedom. The administration’s push to expand regulations on sexual orientation, gender identity, and abortion access often undermines religious liberty. We’ve responded through public comments pushing back against these changes across various federal departments including Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, Justice, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, and USAID.

At the state level, our partnership has extended to various SBC groups. With the Arkansas Baptists, we encouraged the adoption of a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In Wisconsin, we joined the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptists in an amicus brief supporting a Catholic charity’s right to operate according to their religious convictions. Our advocacy always aims to protect the ability of religious organizations to function without undue government interference.

Marriage and Family

Upholding the God-ordained institutions of marriage and family remains a cornerstone of the ERLC’s advocacy. In 2023, we actively engaged in policy discussions, supporting legislation aligned with biblical values and opposing acts like the Equal Rights Amendment and the Respect for Marriage Act, which deviate from these principles.

We achieved a significant victory in the area of marriage and family with the defeat of the “transgender mandate.” This mandate, part of the Affordable Care Act and implemented through the HHS, would have compelled medical professionals to provide gender-transition care, conflicting with their religious beliefs and medical judgment. Since its inception, we have actively opposed this policy.

In early 2022, we reiterated our stance by submitting public comments to HHS, calling for the repeal of the mandate. Thankfully, two federal court cases challenged the mandate and successfully struck it down as unconstitutional. The Biden administration chose not to appeal these decisions, preserving religious liberty and conscience protections.

We believe that this gender ideology directly contradicts God’s design for family and human flourishing. Our commitment remains strong to oppose any future policies that would undermine these values or infringe upon religious and conscience protections.

Part of our advocacy includes supporting parents in their pivotal role within the family. We collaborated with the Iowa Baptists and Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptists to file amicus briefs in state-level cases. These briefs emphasized the critical role of parents and contested any efforts by schools to intervene in matters of gender and sexuality, which are sensitive and significant for a child’s upbringing.

In Congress, our advocacy continues to focus on policies that support and strengthen families. In the post-Dobbs environment, there’s a growing momentum to support vulnerable women and families. While there’s ongoing debate about the most effective policies, it’s heartening to see congressional recognition of family needs and the exploration of creative solutions. The ERLC is dedicated to endorsing policy changes that bolster family and marriage, enhance child welfare, respect the dignity of work, and responsibly manage financial resources.

Human Dignity

The ERLC’s commitment to human dignity is evident in its wide-ranging efforts. From criminal justice reform to the care of immigrants, the Commission has been a vocal advocate for policies that recognize the inherent value of every person because each individual is made in the image of God (imago Dei).

Our work in promoting human dignity faced challenges due to a divided Congress, hindering the passage of significant legislation in areas like immigration and criminal justice reform.

Regarding immigration, we actively advocated for improvements in border security and a permanent solution for “Dreamers.” Despite our efforts, a compromise was not reached in time. We also championed a secure legal status pathway for Afghan and Ukrainian evacuees in the U.S. under “humanitarian parole.” Although these individuals are essentially refugees, they lack formal pathways to permanent status. Disappointingly, the Afghan Adjustment Act, despite having broad bipartisan support, was not included in the final legislative package.

Our commitment to immigration issues led us to join other Southern Baptists on an educational trip to the border. This experience significantly informed our approach, especially in light of the anticipated end of Title 42. Working with SEND Relief, we prepared border states for this policy change and urged Congress to take the necessary actions.

In the realm of criminal justice, we hoped to see the passage of the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act in the fiscal year 2023 appropriations. This bill aimed to address sentencing disparities that disproportionately affect Black Americans. Despite its passage in the House and substantial bipartisan Senate support, it was not included in the final appropriations package.

Despite these setbacks, we remain committed to engaging in these critical issues. Our efforts extend to regulating predatory gambling and lending practices, supporting human rights and religious freedom globally, and fighting against human trafficking. Our dedication to these causes is unwavering, even in the face of slow progress, as we continue to advocate for policies that uphold human dignity and justice.

Shaping public policy for Southern Baptist interests

Throughout 2023, the ERLC diligently represented Southern Baptist interests in public policy while navigating complex legislative landscapes. Our work, particularly in defending pro-life and pro-religious liberty provisions in appropriations bills, underscores our influential role in shaping policies that resonate with Southern Baptist beliefs.

As we look to the future, the ERLC remains dedicated to guiding churches in addressing the pressing moral and social issues of our times, continuing our vital role in the service of truth and gospel proclamation.

Editor’s Note: Will you give this year so that the ERLC can do more to support Southern Baptists and represent your interests in 2024? Click here to help us bring hope to the public square.

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 sbcabuseprevention.com, 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.