By / Oct 8

Jeff Pickering welcomes Brent Leatherwood of the ERLC and Paul Miller of Georgetown University to discuss their research project exploring what American adults with evangelical beliefs think about civility and politics.   

Guest Biography

Paul D. Miller is a professor of the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, and a research fellow with the ERLC. Miller also taught at The University of Texas at Austin and the National Defense University and worked at the RAND Corporation prior to his arrival at Georgetown. Before his career in academia, Dr. Miller served as Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the National Security Council staff; worked as an intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency; and served as a military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army. Miller holds a PhD in international relations and a BA in government from Georgetown University, and a master in public policy from Harvard University.

Brent Leatherwood is no stranger to our podcast but as a refresher, he serves as the ERLC’s Director of Strategic Partnerships. Before coming to the ERLC, he served as the executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party and also worked on Capitol Hill as a senior legislative aide. Brent and his wife Meredith have three children and are members of The Church at Avenue South, where he serves as a deacon.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Nov 6
By / Nov 1

With just a few days to go until Election Day, Americans are increasingly turning their focus to politics. According to the U.S. Elections Project, in 2014 (the last midterm election), approximately 37% of eligible voters actually made it to the ballot box. Elections are an important avenue for Americans to register their opinions about the direction of the nation and their local communities.

Given that, I was recently asked how Christians should think about the elections and how we should engage this moment. My answer: Be informed, not ignorant; be discerning about politics, not dogmatic; and dialogue without dehumanizing.

Be informed, not ignorant

I know, we are all busy. Our lives are consumed by family responsibilities, professional requirements, and our preoccupation with social media. I’ll admit, adding “candidate research” on top of that doesn’t sound like the most appealing way to spend a Friday evening. But the reality is, our vote is important, and we should want to know who we are voting for and exactly why that candidate deserves to receive our vote.

Samuel Adams put it like this in 1781, “Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual – or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society.” So how does one get informed to be able to approach Election Day as a “solemn trust”?

Being informed means getting inquisitive. But how? I’d suggest your local newspaper, first and foremost. The reporting there is likely based on the issues affecting people in your area.  Second, a great site to visit for some unbiased analysis is the Cook Political Report. Finally, if you’re looking for something that really dives into the history of states and districts, the go-to resource for journalists is The Almanac of American Politics.

All of these resources, and others like them, can help you form questions to ask of the candidates and their campaigns, help you research policies, give you handles for examining a candidate’s record (especially if they have a history in public service), and, ultimately, determining whether they exhibit enough of an alignment with your principles to merit a vote for them. In the post-truth age, though, that is a lot harder to do than it seems at first glance.

As we do this, we should realize that not every determination we make is going to be an easy call. There are going to be some political races where there isn’t a clear indication as to who deserves our individual support. That can be frustrating, especially operating in a culture that wants clear, binary choices. But that isn’t the world we reside in. While it can be tempting to withdraw entirely from the political space, we aren’t called to that. Instead, we must wisely process the information we collect and move forward.

Be discerning about politics, not dogmatic

As we are doing our research and gleaning the necessary information to make an informed choice, we should be on guard against false reports and misleading details, particularly from entities that are spreading them on purpose.

The temptation will be there to read sources or believe social media posts that only serve to reaffirm our political beliefs. That’s the type of behavior that political advertisers and Twitter bots feast upon. As such, we are merely turned into the talking heads that we see on cable news, parroting the talking points we’ve just been fed. We should resist this.

I would suggest, instead of being discipled by our favored media outlets, we take it upon ourselves to collect information from a number of different sources. Do you watch MSNBC all the time? Great. Pick up The Wall Street Journal, too. Do you follow all the writers at The Federalist on social media? Fantastic. But take the time to peruse what the good folks at The Atlantic are writing about, as well. Do you listen to “The Rush Limbaugh Show” on your drive in the afternoon? That’s fine. But switch the dial over to NPR for your morning commute.

All the outlets I just listed tend to focus on national issues. I would submit that local matters and candidates for offices closer to home are just as, if not more, important for your life than nearly everything that comes out of Washington, D.C. So pick up the local newspaper, scan what reporters across your home state are covering, and try to listen to some locally-produced podcasts. There are a number of critical issues in our communities that deserve our attention, but they are flying under the radar because all of us are devoting far too much attention to the latest procedural vote on Capitol Hill.

Let’s commit ourselves to being good stewards of information by keeping a discerning eye on what we come across. From there, we can be helpful voices as we actually engage with our neighbors.

Dialogue without dehumanizing

After we have taken the time to research the candidates for federal and local office and any ballot measures, what should we do with the information? In other words, if we’re given the opportunity, how do we helpfully engage people around us?

Unfortunately, there’s too few of us who are leading well in this regard right now. Instead, there are numerous examples where individuals are trying to rhetorically “own” their opponents and demean any hint of opposing viewpoints. While that may be appealing in our current cultural moment that’s not how a Christian should view his or her interactions with others. Ephesians 4:29 reminds us that we’re called to a higher standard: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

A motto I’ve been trying to guide myself by might be helpful here: Seek to persuade, not pulverize. All around us, whether on the political left or right, activists are trying to drive their opponents out of the public square. Online mobs attack their partisan adversaries. Political leaders completely dismiss their rivals. In lieu of mimicking that behavior, I would hope my words about current political issues bring a greater sense of clarity and perspective. Does that mean there won’t be disagreement? Of course not. Well-meaning people can disagree without seeking to dehumanize one another. That is the type of heart we should should display in both our personal interactions and our public pronouncements.

Here’s the added benefit: This type of healthy engagement on the personal level helps strengthen the public square. Much like the streams that form the headwaters of rivers, our conversations with friends, colleagues, fellow church-goers, and social acquaintances knit stronger social bonds in our communities. It helps build up what former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the “free trade in ideas.”

Moreover, there are some scriptural underpinnings to this too. Though in a different context, the call to “come and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18) stands out as well as what Paul tells us in Romans, “live at peace with everyone” (12:12). These are helpful reminders and framings for the posture we should take as believers. By inviting someone to sit down and talk through an issue (with the hope of finding common ground), you are respecting their status as a fellow image-bearer and, in our current context, reaffirming the notion that our American experiment is a shared project that’s better undertaken together than apart.

Overall, we must keep perspective. All that is mentioned above is advice for this particular season. Yes, we should stay abreast of the political developments of the day, but we cannot let it consume our lives. Politics and the policy decisions being made by our leaders are important in our society, but they are not eternal. We must be mindful of that as we engage in this space. Doing so will ensure we remain informed and charitable toward those around us who are casting ballots alongside us.

By / Feb 3

Russell Moore interviews with the Let's Talk with Mark Elfstrand Show about SCOTUS and faith issues. 

Listen here.

By / Jan 24

Russell Moore joined The Federalist to discuss Donald Trump, SCOTUS and the future of American churches. 

Listen here.

By / Aug 9

Trilla Newbell and Lindsay Swartz remind each other and fellow Christians of how our hope in the kingdom of God should shape our conversation about politics.

By / Aug 4

How should Christians think through this political season? What direction is religious liberty headed in our nation? And what do these new realities mean for the future of the church?

The ERLC is excited to partner with the Alliance Defending Freedom to offer a free post-conference on Saturday, August 27, at the Opryland Hotel, addressing these issues and many more. This event will follow the 2016 ERLC National Conference and is available to all attendees.

The post-conference, titled "The 2016 Presidential Race, Religious Liberty, and the Future of the Church", will feature Russell Moore, David French, Erik Stanley, Jennifer Marshall, Rod Dreher and many more. Through keynotes, panels and live Q&A, this content-rich gathering will tackle the tough questions facing evangelicals in 2016 and beyond.

The 2016 conference on cultural engagement and the post-conference will help equip you, as a Christian, to walk wisely in our ever-changing and increasingly complex world. To join us for the entire event, register here.

If you can’t attend the conference, a live stream of the main sessions will be available on They will also be posted to our site shortly after the event.

Want to attend this free post-conference on Saturday August 27th? Register today to attend the 2016 National Conference in Nashville, Tenn.

By / Dec 10

The 113th Congress is in its final days. Its constitutionally mandated term of two years is nearly concluded. Currently, each new Congress begins on or about January 3 after a congressional election, and lasts for two years, which is divided into a first and second session. If a Congress meets after a congressional election, but prior to the beginning of a new Congress, it is called a lame duck session. Technically, the lame duck session is not a new session of Congress, but rather a continuation of the second session of the Congress. The current lame duck session is a continuation of the second session of the 113th Congress, which began in January 2014.

While historically rare, there have been lame duck sessions at the end of every Congress in recent times. Since 1933, when the current date for starting a new Congress was established by the 20th Amendment, there have been 20 lame duck sessions. Between 1933 and 1998, there were only 12 lame duck sessions during 34 Congresses. Since then, however, all eight Congresses, starting with the 106th Congress in 2000, have held lame duck sessions.

What happens during lame duck sessions?

Earlier in this period, these sessions were principally about extraordinary issues, like war or impeachment, but more recently, they have been dominated by budgetary issues. As Congress has become more divided politically, it has become more difficult for a majority in both chambers to resolve policy differences and pass legislation related to spending priorities during regular sessions of the Congress. Seven of the eight Congresses since the 106th Congress in 2000 have had to meet in lame duck sessions to pass some kind of spending provision to keep the government funded.

Under normal circumstances, spending provisions are passed in the form of appropriations bills. Currently, Congress divides spending for government funding into 12 appropriations bills, each dealing with different governmental functions, like defense and agriculture. However, ideological gridlock has made it nearly impossible for the parties to agree on these appropriations and pass them. Eventually, Congress must pass some kind of spending provision during its term or the government is forced to shut down due to lack of funding. In order to avoid this, Congress passes a continuing resolution that simply empowers the government to continue to spend funds sometime into the incoming Congress. This has occurred during the lame duck session of every Congress since 2000 except for the 112th Congress in 2012. The only reason the 112th Congress didn’t deal with this in the lame duck session is because they passed their continuing resolution prior to the start of the lame duck.

In addition, because Congress is in session during the lame duck, it can also conduct other business if it so chooses. For example, it can pass legislation and approve nominees for federal office. This is especially important because once a Congress is adjourned, all its unfinished work resets to zero, and must go through the entire process all over again in the new Congress to pass, including reintroduction of bills for consideration, hearings, and committee approvals. Congress can also use this last opportunity to vote on presidential nominees for federal offices, like ambassadors and agency heads. For example, the Senate has already confirmed numerous ambassadors during the current lame duck session.

During these lame duck sessions, both houses of Congress also vote on their leadership for the incoming Congress, like Speaker of the House and majority and minority party leaders. They also elect their committee chairmen. These votes do not occur within the context of legislative sessions but are business conducted by the newly elected members of Congress within their parties while they are gathered together in Washington. The majority parties in both the House and Senate also use this time to create their respective calendars for the incoming Congress. These calendars typically mirror each other, but not exactly, especially when the majority party is not the same in each chamber.

How does the ERLC engage with Congress?

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission engages with Congress during these lame duck sessions in the same way we do so during the rest of the year. However, given the urgency created by the loss of progress on bills when a Congress adjourns, we attempt to focus more energy on bills of interest to us that are far enough along in the process and have adequate bipartisan support to possibly pass. So, for example, we are asking members of Congress to pass the Second Chance Reauthorization Act in this lame duck session. This bill provides funding for both secular and religious groups that help men and women coming out of prison obtain the necessary skills and training they need to break the cycle of criminality in their lives. We believe these men and women should get every chance our country can provide to reclaim their lives.

Another important matter Congress should address is the protection of religious freedom around the world. The lame duck session provides the 113th Congress one last opportunity to approve a couple important priorities here. First, we are working to ensure the reauthorization of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). This quasi-federal commission monitors religious freedom around the world and provides crucial information and counsel to the government to help protect and secure religious freedom in such countries as China, Iraq, and Pakistan, for example. Without action by December 11, the Commission will be forced to shut down due to lack of approved funding. Second, we are asking Congress to approve the nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein as the next U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom. Rabbi Saperstein has a stellar reputation for unbiased advocacy for international religious freedom. He has bipartisan support in the Senate as well. You can read more about Rabbi Saperstein in this article.

We are also working to make sure pro-life protections are included in various appropriations bills. These protections, known as “riders,” are amendments added to the appropriations bills every year that prevent government agencies from spending federal money on activities that are contrary to a pro-life ethic. For example, the Hyde Amendment blocks the use of federal dollars for elective abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or threats to the mother’s life. There are more than a dozen other riders that also address various aspects of the pro-life ethic. We believe government has a responsibility to protect the weakest and most vulnerable among us. The unborn certainly qualify.

Clearly, the lame duck session is a crucial part of the work of Congress. In fact, it provides a last opportunity for the Congress to fulfill its obligations under the Constitution and to those who elected its members. We are working to assist the members to finish well. We are also praying for them. The ideological differences that keep these elected men and women apart are at times insurmountable from a human perspective. But God is able to help where humans cannot. We ask that all God’s people join us in prayer for the 113th Congress as they finish their term. Their work matters.