By / Feb 5

Our form of government invites Americans to engage in the legislative process through advocacy. The ERLC advocates for issues of missional priority that are of national import through the cooperation of congregations throughout the Southern Baptist Convention, as was recently noted in the introduction to our 2021 Public Policy Agenda.

Our public policy team’s advocacy work in Washington is organized through the categories of religious liberty, sanctity of human life, justice, marriage and family, and related international engagement. On some issues, there is a wide shared consensus and purpose, and on others, there is deep disagreement. As our public policy agenda says, “whether issues are currently popular or unpopular, we have the opportunity to bear witness, to seek to persuade, and to build the consensus needed to make change.”

In a newscycle driven by soundbites and hot takes, one tool that helps our advocacy efforts rise above the fray is the traditional letter. We send letters to Congressional leaders, the President of the United States, and other policymakers and administration officials to advocate on the issues of our day. Sometimes, these letters are written and sent by Russell Moore directly as president of the ERLC, and other times the ERLC leads or joins a coalition letter drafted with multiple signatories. Coalition letters include signatures from partner organizations working together to advance a certain policy priority. Some coalition letters accumulate dozens, even hundreds, of organizational signatures before they are sent to the White House or Capitol Hill.

Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents and learn what issues are important to them. Anyone can reach out to their local Representative and Senator and ask for a meeting, send a letter, or call to share an opinion on a policy. Constituent representation is fundamental to the job of public office holders, and so, their office contact information is readily available online

When the ERLC sends letters to Congress, we often address it to Congressional leadership, including the Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader and the House Minority Leader. Other times, we address the letter to a particular Chairman and ranking member of the appropriate committee where a piece of legislation resides. The same is true for letters we send to the executive branch. Often, Moore will correspond with the President, but occasionally, the issue is better addressed to a cabinet secretary or other public official.

When a Congressional office receives a letter, the staff in the office will make note of the letter for the Representative or Senator. This is an important step for members of Congress to understand the support and the opposition for a particular policy. Often, when we send a letter, the office returns a request for further conversation on the issue. That then gives us the opportunity to build a new relationship, or deepen an existing relationship, over a meeting. The same happens with the presidential and vice presidential staff at the White House.

Our goal when sending such letters is not only to provide an opinion on legislation, but also to provide expertise on the underlying issue. For example, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 unfortunately included a little-noticed provision which created a new policy to tax nonprofits—including houses of worship—on the cost of parking provided to employees. We advocated for its repeal alongside a broad coalition of religious groups. In our letters and meetings, we offered examples of how such a tax would negatively impact our ministries and organizations. Through these efforts, the tax was repealed in December of 2019.

Thankfully, in our advocacy, we are also often able to share about the incredible work of Southern Baptists in disaster relief in the wake of a hurricane, child welfare providers in adoption and foster care, and feeding the hungry in their communities and globally. Sharing our perspective as Christians helps influence public policy.

In June of 2019, the ERLC led a coalition of scholars, religious and secular leaders, and human rights advocates through the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable to send a letter expressing our concerns over the human rights violations and religious freedom abuses in China. This coalition letter was sent with over forty signatories.

While the letter was addressed to former President Trump, we also sent copies to contacts within the White House, National Security Council, and the State Department. Later that day, we heard that National Security Advisor John Bolton had read the letter on his flight to Osaka, Japan ahead of the G-20 summit. Ambassador Bolton made a few phone calls to others in the Administration about the importance of the issues raised by the IRF Roundtable letter.

Eventually, this advocacy effort resulted in the IRF Roundtable meeting with then Vice President Pence, Ambassador Sam Brownback, and NSC staff. The Trump Administration invested heavily throughout 2020 in countering the Chinese Communist Party morally, eventually declaring the abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang a genocide. And now the Biden Administration is signaling a continuation of posture against the CCP for this genocide.

Like so much else in public policy advocacy, we never fully know what the effect of a letter will be, or who all will read it, until it has been sent.
For more on how the ERLC advocates in Washington, D.C. and what the team is working on each week, sign up for our policy newsletter.

By / Jan 19

God loves us and He is for us, but we are not always for him.

Few moments in history are a more vivid illustration of that fact than the occasion for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from the Birmingham jail in April 1963. He was in jail after being arrested during a nonviolent protest against racial segregation. And he wrote this open letter in response to a letter signed by eight white Birmingham clergymen who were appealing to Dr. King to show more patience and to allow the local citizens to negotiate for justice through the proper channels.

Dr. King’s open letter from jail was widely circulated throughout the summer of 1963. It has been the subject of both criticism and admiration for over fifty years, but it remains a remarkable tutor for the church as we consider our responsibility to “Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed” and to “speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9).

Everyone should read the letter from the Birmingham jail, but below are a few excerpts along with eight lessons that well-applied can still change a nation.

Start and stay humble.

“But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.” 

The eight Birmingham clergymen were standing on the sidelines while Dr. King and others were fighting the good fight. It would have been easy for him to vilify them because of their perspective and their complacency. Instead, he took a humble posture and stayed on the high road. Even after making his case, Dr. King ended his letter with humility and kindness. We never effect positive change through disrespect. God will sooner use our humility than our indignity to turn our enemy into an ally.

Assume the problem of injustice is your problem.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Dr. King was criticized as “outsider” from Atlanta. When it came to the issue of justice, he did not see himself as an outsider anywhere and neither should we. We are our brother’s keeper, and we do not have the luxury of waiting until injustice is on our doorstep to act. Those who are far from us are no less our responsibility than those who are just across the street.

Speak up sooner than later.

“There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair.”

Dr. King believed the time for waiting was over. Delay seems to give advantage to the oppressor rather than to the oppressed. If we saw a man beating a woman in the street we would run immediately to give aid. Injustice calls with an urgent cry. It is desperate. Not every need is a call from God to act, but let us avoid the temptation to close our ears and look the other way. Let us not pit intentionality against urgency. Let us not discount the legitimacy of the need simply because it is right here upon us. It could be that the cries for help echo in our ears because the ability to help is in our hands.

Appeal to the highest good.

“One may well ask, ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws.”

Scholars and legal minds have used Dr. King’s letter as a reference point for understanding and applying what is known as natural law. Just because something is legal does not mean it is right. Dr. King reminded his readers that Hitler’s actions were legal; but there is a higher law, the law of God, that rightly condemned Hitler’s actions.

Laws established in the state house are always subject to the law of God established in heaven and recorded in the Bible. And it is in the society’s best interest when the people of God know the difference and champion the causes nearest to the heart of God.

Prepare to suffer for doing right.

“One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.”

According to Dr. King, to obey God occasionally means we disobey the civil authorities over us. We know this as civil disobedience. But when we disobey an unjust law, we do not hide, we do not act in a spirit of hatred, and we do not expect to be above the legal consequences of our actions. Sometimes suffering is required on our part to relieve the suffering of others.

Take action to make a difference.

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?”

We do not rescue the oppressed from the lukewarm waters of compromise. Justice is not a call to agreement. It is a call to action. Action topples the status quo in our churches and sometimes puts a strain on our most cherished friendships. It is our action not our sentiment, however, that makes the difference for the people who are hurting the most.

Mobilize the church to champion justice.

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.”

“If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”

Jesus showed compassionate attention to the poor, the captive, the weak, and the hurting. “The least of these” was not a secondary consideration. His public teaching was often in the context of His public service to people who needed help. The church without mercy is the church without a voice.

Dr. King believed churches would rally together for the cause of racial equality. He was wrong. Many churches sat this one out. And we learned again that neutrality is never neutral in its effect. God created every person, ascribed dignity to every person, and sent His Son to redeem every person, so justice is not something the church supports. Justice is central to our Gospel mission.

Never give up.

“If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”

Dr. King faced opposition from the right and from the left. People he counted on did not come through. His family felt the pains of persecution. Despite many reasons to despair, Dr. King did not. He knew his cause was just and that his God was faithful. We too can carry on with great confidence that when we work for justice, God accomplishes much.

So let us persevere in our fight for the unborn. Let us walk on in our advocacy for the orphan and widow. Let us stay the course to rescue the vulnerable from the sex traffickers. Let us keep working to starve hunger in our day. And may the next generation look back with admiration and look ahead with inspiration in the way we sacrificed to defend the most helpless among us and to speak up for those who had no voice.

This article was originally published here.

By / Aug 3

Today, the Senate has planned a vote on a bill to halt federal funding for Planned Parenthood. To learn more about how to contact your Senators, see this article. Matthew Lee Anderson provides an example of a letter to ​Senator McConnell, the Majority Leader of the Senate.

Senator McConnell, 

I write with gratitude for your leadership in bringing S. 1881 to the Senate floor so quickly, and with hopes of persuading you to expend every ounce of your own and the Republican Party’s capital, energy, and resources to ensure it passes. 

Our society and political order is in dire need of statesmen, men and women who are willing to face and pay an enormous political cost—even defeat—in order to defend the right and the just. We do not choose our times, or the opportunities that we are given. But Senator McConnell, you now have a chance to remind not only Republicans, but the country, of what should be our deepest conviction: that every member of our own species deserves protection, care, and welcome. Every baby deserves a home, and every mother deserves a helping hand. This principle goes beyond and outside politics, but S. 1881 is one form of its political expression. It is just the kind of principle that, when articulated with clarity, confidence, and grace, can inspire admiration and respect. Such principled stands, regardless of any political calculus about their risks and rewards, are the basis for renewing our civic life and a young generation’s belief that the gears of government do not simply grind at the behest of the highest bidder or most powerful lobby. 

The argument on behalf of S. 1881 is simple: we now know that Planned Parenthood is an organization that houses practices that, even if legal, are grossly immoral and repugnant to people of common sense. But they are almost certainly not even legal. If Planned Parenthood is not profiting from these sales, then why do its executives clearly entertain various pricing options in the videos from the Center for Medical Progress? It is possible that the various videos show only isolated, rogue individuals rather than structural features of the organization—that these are ‘abuses’, rather than commonplace. However, in this case, the ‘abuses’ are so egregious and despicable that they call the entire environment that could produce them into question.  

Additionally, the claim that these videos simply contain medicalized language obscures the true tragedy at work: in order to ‘procure’ organs from fetuses, they must first be removed as members of our own species. If we are, as a society, to allow such ‘tissue’ to become ‘products’ for research, we cannot bear to recognize them as what we ourselves are:  human beings.  This is a structural feature to Planned Parenthood’s abortion business, and itself sufficient reason to ensure our tax dollars are never given to them. Such dehumanization of members of our own species is, tragically, not unknown in American history.  South Carolina recently removed the flag of the last society to institutionalize it, an institution that the Republican party you lead in the Senate, Senator McConnell, was founded to fight against. 

Yes, it is possible that defunding Planned Parenthood will lead to a potential disruption in some health services for low-income women. However, our intolerance for any social harms does not entail that we should continue to commit evils in order to avoid them, as we have learned recently in our debates on torture. The wrong, in this case, is grave and serious enough to justify any potential disruption—and, as you know, S. 1881 seeks to avoid one by redirecting funds toward other organizations. Planned Parenthood is not ‘too big to be defunded’; no institution should be, as otherwise they would hold far too much power over the operations of the government and our society.  

The question before us, Senator McConnell, is not what kind of civilization we will be. Instead, it is a question of whether we will be a civilization at all, or if we will instead descend further into the barbaric dehumanization of our own required to make the killing, dissection, and transport of them for ‘research’ palatable to our consciences. We can no longer look away from the systemic injustices involved in this regime—and we should no longer fund it with our tax dollars, either.  It is your responsibility, Senator McConnell to ensure Republicans defend the right; it is your opportunity, for it is a rare chance to lead others in a cause that is just, true, and good. I hope you seize the hour. 

Respectfully, and hopefully yours, 

Matthew Lee Anderson

By / Jul 28

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, led other religious leaders and educators in signing the following open letter on the defense of religious liberty. The letter, addressed to Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urged the passage of the First Amendment Defense Act.  

Dear Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner:

The Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges has shaken millions of people of faith in our nation. As a result of this ruling, the very meaning of religious freedom is under scrutiny in many circles today. In order to ensure the protection of religious freedom, we urge immediate passage of the First Amendment Defense Act (H.R. 2802/S. 1598).

We were made keenly aware of the potential threat to people of faith and faith-based institutions during the oral arguments in Obergefell. When Justice Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli if a university or college would lose its tax exempt status if it opposed same-sex marriage, the Solicitor General responded, “. . .it’s certainly going to be an issue.”

It should not be “an issue” for any individual or institution to be discriminated against by the federal government for deciding to honor the dictates of their faith regarding marriage. Many of the Supreme Court justices have acknowledged the ancient roots of heterosexual marriage. Indeed, until only very recently, it was the only acceptable form of marriage in practically every society on the planet. It would then seem arbitrary and capricious to marginalize or punish persons and institutions whose definition of marriage the government shared up until last month.

In their opinion in Obergefell, the majority affirmed that people of faith should be able to continue to teach and advocate for their religious beliefs about marriage. However, this is not the totality of what our forefathers intended when they ratified the First Amendment to our Constitution. The freedom to believe, but not to act on that belief, is not religious freedom. Our forefathers intended to honor practice as well as belief. What else can be meant by “free exercise”?

Unanimous affirmation of the redefinition of civil marriage is unnecessary for the wellbeing of those who partake in same-sex relationships. Our nation allows for religious dissent in many instances without exercising governmental discrimination against dissenters. The Catholic Church will not officiate at a marriage in which one (or both) of the persons is validly married but civilly divorced, and yet the Church’s tax exempt status is not in jeopardy over its sincerely held religious belief regarding such divorce and remarriage. Religious schools hire and fire faculty based on adherence to core beliefs of their faith, yet their freedom as tax exempt institutions has been affirmed.

Regrettably, respect for religious belief and practice regarding the nature of marriage is not as secure today. Some are already calling for governmental discrimination against those who hold to their religiously informed belief that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman. This must not be allowed to happen.

The First Amendment Defense Act will help to ensure the protection of the core American value of religious freedom. The bill bars the federal government from taking “any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” Such adverse action includes federal government discrimination in such areas as programs, grants, contracts, and tax treatment against individuals and organizations that believe on religious grounds that marriage is between a man and a woman. The bill also provides crucial protections for our nation’s faith-based institutions.

Governmental discrimination on the basis of religious belief and practice about marriage will have devastating effects on people of faith, their institutions, and the communities they serve. Millions of law-abiding, faithful people are likely to be suddenly deemed bigots and social outcasts. Their institutions will be crippled and many may cease to exist. Most distressing, millions of people will lose the safety net and affirming services they depend on each and every day, from daycare to meals to job training to adoption.

No one in this country should face the discriminatory power of the federal government over a matter so fundamental to the religious teachings of most of the world’s faiths as marriage. The undersigned fully support the First Amendment Defense Act, and we urge Congress to pass it without delay in order to demonstrate its commitment to the protections of faith and conscience promised the people of the United States in the Constitution.


Russell Moore
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Bishop Richard J. Malone
Chairman, Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez

Hispanic Evangelical Association
Jerry A. Johnson, Ph.D.
President and CEO
National Religious Broadcasters

David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)
Christian Medical Association

Penny Nance
CEO & President
Concerned Women for America

Brian S. Brown
National Organization for Marriage

Carl A. Anderson
Supreme Knight
Knights of Columbus

Dr. Keith Wiebe
The American Association of Christian Schools

Thomas J. Cathey, Ed.D.
Director for Legal Legislative Issues
Association of Christian Schools International

Daniel L. Akin
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Jason K. Allen, Ph.D.
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Dr. Jeff Iorg
Golden Gate Seminary

Chuck Kelley, ThD

Steve Lemke
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Paige Patterson
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Dr. Richard Land
Southern Evangelical Seminary, Charlotte, NC

Thomas White 
Cedarville University

C. Ben Mitchell, PhD
Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs
Union University

Barry Creamer, Ph.D.
Criswell College

Dr. Tony Beam
Vice-President for Student Services and Christian Worldview
North Greenville University

Valerie Huber
National Abstinence Education Association

Terry Schilling
Executive Director
American Principles in Action

William J. Murray
Religious Freedom Coalition

Andrea Lafferty

Rev. Lou Sheldon
Traditional Values Coalition

Maurine Proctor
Meridian Magazine

Dr. Carl Herbster

Jim Backlin
Christian Coalition of America

By / Mar 13

The following is a joint letter addressed to Senator Birdwell from a coalition of Baptists regarding Section 10 of Texas Senate Bill 3. You can download a PDF copy of the letter here.

March 13, 2015

The Honorable Brian Birdwell P. O. Box 12068 
Capitol Station 
Austin, Texas 78711 

Dear Senator Birdwell, 

We are writing to express our concern with Section 10 of Senate Bill 3, which would amend the definition of smuggling of persons in the Texas Penal Code. The bill provides that a person could be charged with smuggling of persons if the person “recklessly conceals, harbors, or shields from detection or encourages or induces a person to enter or remain in this country who is present in this country in violation of federal law.” We believe the bill as currently written could inadvertently criminalize ministry to undocumented church members and communities.   

The inclusion of the word “recklessly” potentially places pastors, church staff, and lay people in danger of being criminally liable for smuggling of persons for aiding undocumented persons in the regular course of ministry. For example, a pastor could be charged if he transported undocumented church members to Bible study.  

We represent a broad coalition of Baptists from across a political and theological spectrum. We disagree on many things, but we agree pastors should be able to minister to undocumented persons in our churches and community without fear of criminal prosecution. We believe that there is an undeniable biblical responsibility to love and show compassion for the stranger among us (Deuteronomy 10:18-19). 

We respect the rule of law, but we are extremely concerned the implications of Senate Bill 3 for our pastors and churches that work regularly with the undocumented community. Many of our churches provide access to church services and other assistance without regard to a person's legal status in this country.   

We ask you to amend the language in Section 10 of Senate Bill 3 in order to make it clear that it does not apply to those who engage in ministry to undocumented individuals. Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to working with you to resolve this issue.  


Russell Moore, President 
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention 

Jim Richards, Executive Director Southern Baptists of Texas Convention 

David Hardage, Executive Director Baptist General Convention of Texas 

J. Kie Bowman, Senior Pastor Hyde Park Baptist Church 

Gus Reyes, Director 
Christian Life Commission 
Baptist General Convention of Texas