By / Mar 31

In this episode, Lindsay talks with Dana Hall McCain about her career as a writer, the intersection of faith and public policy, and how Christians can contribute to a healthy public square. They also discuss social media, pro-life issues, and what’s important for Southern Baptists in this particular culture.

ERLC Content

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • Racial unity | If we, as Southern Baptists, can be willing to listen and have good conversations about race, we will see fruit that will draw us closer together. That’s why we believe that A Conversation with Pastor Jon Nelson will be a helpful resource for you and your congregation. Watch this NEW video at ERLC.com/racialunity and listen as Jon candidly shares his thoughts on how we can meaningfully partner together on this work within our churches and communities. Again that link is ERLC.com/racialunity
  • Email updates | Now that 2023 is fully underway, we want to make sure you are kept up to date about the important work we are doing on behalf of Southern Baptists. Whether it’s our 2023 Public Policy Agenda or another ultrasound machine placement, we want to make sure you know how we are serving our churches and acting as missionaries to the public square. As we move forward in 2023, know that first in our hearts and at the top of our minds are our churches. And we are taking those next steps with a Mark 10:44 mindset: to be a servant of all. The best way to learn more is by joining us at ERLC.com/updates. Signing up for email updates allows you to hear directly from us about our work and ways we are serving you on the issues that matter most to Southern Baptists. You’ll learn about our work on your behalf in our nation’s capital, about exciting new partnerships with our state conventions and the ways we are working across the convention with our sister entities. Become an email subscriber at ERLC.com/updates.
By / Mar 17

On this episode, Lindsay Nicolet talks with Hannah Daniel about the Equal Rights Amendment and why it’s harmful, especially to women. We also discuss a review of states policies that cover the areas of human dignity, religious liberty, family and marriage, and the sanctity of human life. 

Content

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • Racial unity | If we, as Southern Baptists, can be willing to listen and have good conversations about race, we will see fruit that will draw us closer together. That’s why we believe that A Conversation with Pastor Jon Nelson will be a helpful resource for you and your congregation. Watch this NEW video at ERLC.com/racialunity and listen as Jon candidly shares his thoughts on how we can meaningfully partner together on this work within our churches and communities. Again that link is ERLC.com/racialunity
  • Email updates | Now that 2023 is fully underway, we want to make sure you are kept up to date about the important work we are doing on behalf of Southern Baptists. Whether it’s our 2023 Public Policy Agenda or another ultrasound machine placement, we want to make sure you know how we are serving our churches and acting as missionaries to the public square. As we move forward in 2023, know that first in our hearts and at the top of our minds are our churches. And we are taking those next steps with a Mark 10:44 mindset: to be a servant of all. The best way to learn more is by joining us at ERLC.com/updates. Signing up for email updates allows you to hear directly from us about our work and ways we are serving you on the issues that matter most to Southern Baptists. You’ll learn about our work on your behalf in our nation’s capital, about exciting new partnerships with our state conventions and the ways we are working across the convention with our sister entities. Become an email subscriber at ERLC.com/updates
By / Mar 15

Across the nation state legislative sessions are underway. Though we typically think of Washington, D.C., as the primary location for policy change, the realities of a polarized nation and nearly evenly divided federal legislature make it difficult for substantial decisions to be made at a national level. As a result, state legislatures are in a position to make more consequential decisions in the policy areas that Southern Baptists care about and have addressed.

One of the ministry assignments of the ERLC is to assist churches through the communication and advocacy of moral and ethical concerns in the public arena. While the public arena is often thought of federally, it is also just as important locally. We will continue to serve and partner with state conventions and state advocacy groups on the issues of missional priority that are not just of national importance, but state importance as well.

A picture of state-level engagement 

Perhaps the best picture of state-level engagement has been seen in the aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. 

Since the historic Dobbs decision, the pro-life movement has substantially shifted focus to the states. Though there certainly remains a role for federal legislation, it is now up to each state to decide the status of abortion. As a result, there is now a greater opportunity than ever before for the citizens of each state to advocate for both protections for the pre-born and care for vulnerable mothers. We’ve already seen creative action from several states to do more to meet the needs of abortion-vulnerable women and empower them to choose life in their states. 

Other issues of interest 

Beyond protecting life, there are several other issues being legislated at the state level that are of interest to Southern Baptists. Just as the ERLC advocates for life, religious liberty, marriage and family, and human dignity at the national level, many of these same issues are currently being considered in state legislatures. Some of these include gambling, conscience protections for medical professionals, gender-transition procedures, the abortion pill, predatory lending, and more. 

This review is not an exhaustive list of policy priorities but just a few examples of current debates happening at the state level where Southern Baptists may choose to engage. Regardless of the current state or outcome of these specific pieces of legislation, we look at these policies to chart a hopeful vision for the landscape of state legislatures in this season and years to come. 

Our hope is that this document will serve as a framework for engagement as believers and policymakers alike review the thousands of proposals made in each state this legislative session. For any of these proposals, we would encourage interested readers to engage with their Baptist state convention whose team will have the latest information about developments related to these bills.

Read the full ERLC 2023 State Policy Review

By / Mar 13

Throughout its history, the Baptist commitment to religious liberty coalesced with an abiding and deep care for the broader political society. In other words, freedom of conscience as a core tenet of Baptist belief in no way diminished the importance of Baptists also advocating for laws rooted in biblical precepts and creation order. 

Indeed, during the 17th and 18th centuries, Baptist support for religious liberty had far more to do with promoting the public good than it did with merely easing persecutory policies against religious dissenters. Baptists viewed their disestablishmentarian beliefs as connected to a more comprehensive public theology that promised peace and societal stability. Ultimately, early Baptists linked religious liberty to essential convictions over soteriology, ecclesiology, and the preservation of the church’s purity—all of which a religious establishment threatened. Still, the pursuit of a purer Christianity marked by voluntarism rather than religious establishment assumed with it a Baptist vision for a public square. 

In fact, as I argued for the ERLC, figures like Roger Williams in the 17th century understood that religious liberty engendered a societal responsibility rather than creating zones of retreat where folks could be left alone. Religious liberty was about the good of others. 

Thus, while disestablishment and religious liberty certainly arose as primary contours of the Baptist political-theological tradition, a concern for the public good equally redounded as a hallmark and has throughout the centuries.  

Religious liberty and the common good 

Baptists in the early American republic, for example, shared a zeal for seeking the welfare of the new nation, believing that a robust, vibrant, and active Christianity was needed in the public square if the republic hoped to survive. Samuel Stillman, pastor of First Baptist Church of Boston, preached in 1779 that “religion is of importance to the good of civil society; therefore, the magistrate ought to encourage it under this idea.” Isaac Backus imbibed similar beliefs in his Fish Caught in His Own Net, arguing that civil rulers must fear God and had a duty to promote Christianity. Backus described this relationship as a “sweet harmony.”

To be clear, both Backus and Stillman believed in religious liberty and contended throughout their lives for religious disestablishment. That conviction, however, merged with an understanding that the civil rulers, in the words of Stillman, must be “a nursing father to the Church, by protecting all the peaceable members of it from injury on account of religion; and by securing to them the uninterrupted enjoyment of equal religious liberty.” Religion—specifically Christianity—was necessary for the nation and the society; as such, the civil rulers were to ensure the passage of laws that helped churches fulfill their mission and provide the moral foundation for the republic. 

For many Baptists during this time, therefore, advocating for religious liberty—though certainly motivated by a desire to ease persecutory policies against religious dissenters—included a commitment to the common good. By securing religious liberty, Christians and churches enjoyed the freedom to proclaim the gospel, form voluntary organizations that met a variety of social needs, and to help inculcate the kind of virtue that formed the basis of a strong society. As Backus proclaimed, “Religion is necessary for the well-being of human society, as salt is to preserve from putrification, or as light is to direct our way and to guard against enemies, confusion, and misery.”

Caleb Blood, a Baptist minister from Vermont, similarly argued that as the gospel of Christ spread, it nourished mores and communal practices “essential to the good of society.” Georgia pastor Henry Holcombe, moreover, preached that true morality could not exist in society if it was unmoored from revealed truth and God’s created order. “Reason and experience,” he concluded, “both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.” Similar arguments existed amongst many of the leading Baptist figures in the new nation, including Richard Furman, Jonathan Maxcy, as well as from the minutes of various Baptist associations across the states. 

Over the course of American history, Baptists continued to juxtapose their dogmatism on religious liberty as a means to address cultural issues—it was a liberty to proclaim the full counsel of God to the conscience of the nation. In his famed 1920 address on religious liberty, George Truett asserted the fundamental necessity of freedom of conscience as a core Baptist distinctive.

Yet, liberty carried with it a responsibility for Baptists: “It behooves us now and ever,” Truett declared, “to see to it that liberty is not abused.” Relying on Paul’s instructions in Galatians 5:13 to “not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,” Truett argued that “this ringing declaration should be heard and heeded by every class and condition of people throughout all our wide stretching nation. . . . we are to set ourselves with all diligence not to use these great privileges in the shaming of liberty.” Indeed, Truett went on to summon Baptists to recognize their responsibility to inculcate through public advocacy laws, ideals, and a biblically rooted spirit, all of which was necessary for “the making of a great and enduring civilization.” 

A theology to prick the nation’s conscience

Regrettably, Baptists in the 20th century, including the Southern Baptist Convention, lost their way on the issue of religious liberty and the common good. This was most notable during the 60s and 70s on the issue of abortion. Baptists wielded their theological heritage on religious liberty not as a means to proclaim the need for pro-life policies; on the contrary, they abused Baptist beliefs on freedom of conscience, applying it to a pro-abortion ethic. As I argued elsewhere, liberal Baptists transformed the ideas of figures like Roger Williams, Thomas Helwys, John Murton, Obidiah Holmes, Isaac Backus, and John Leeland into an amalgam of moral madness. “Religious liberty” became a pretense for defending laws that promoted moral subjectivism. 

The Baptist tradition on religious liberty never anticipated its precepts to be used as a means to corrode transcendence and moral responsibility in the public square. Indeed, Carl F.H. Henry, one of the most prominent Baptist theologians of the 20th century, spent much of his career trying to awaken Christians to their obligations and responsibilities in political society. “The church of Jesus Christ is here,” Henry asserted. “We must march and sing our faith again in the public arena.” Henry called upon believers of Jesus Christ to recapture a profound public theology that pricked and convicted the nation’s conscience. He asserted, “God’s commands need once again to become an issue in national life, the truth of revelation a matter of contention in every sphere of modern culture, the call for social righteousness a cause of trembling in every vale of injustice and indecency in the land.”  

Without the ontological, moral transcendence that only Christianity offered, the culture bobbed around in tempestuous waters without an anchor. As Henry wrote, “Deprived of vital faith in the transcendent God, the very priorities on which liberal society prides itself today—its emphasis on law, on freedom, on pluralistic tolerance—are powerless to withstand deterioration into the very social alternatives that they were intended to prevent.” He warned Christians and the entire nation that without the “one transcendent source” of law and morality, the civilizational crisis would only grow wider and deeper, opening the American community to an unstoppable chasm of ethical chaos that would eventually consume the society. “Either we return to the God of the Bible,” Henry opined, “or we perish in the pit of lawlessness.” 

Conclusion

Baptists possess a profound heritage of public theology—a comprehensive understanding of our social and ethical responsibilities to seek the welfare of our city and the good of our neighbors. The commitment to religious liberty throughout the Baptist tradition coincided with a fundamental concern over the moral strength of the nation. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 affirms, “Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love.”

Yet, at times, Baptists have failed to uphold and publicly promote a Christian ethical paradigm that thoroughly addressed laws and social customs that violated God’s created order. This happened during slavery. It happened on the issue of abortion, with Baptists relegating the murder of the unborn to the auspices and caprice of conscientious freedom. 

Our tradition, however, which was situated within the scriptures and God’s revealed will to his people, demands otherwise. We must resist the temptation to retreat—to abandon the public square to the pagans. Baptists, rooted in the revealed and infallible Word of God, and standing upon our rich theological tradition, have a glorious message to proclaim.

As Carl Henry concluded, “‘Thus saith the Lord!’ is the only barricade that can save our unheeding generation from inevitable calamity.” Let us, therefore, contend for religious liberty while understanding that our advocacy for freedom necessarily encompasses a responsibility to restrain wickedness, promote peace, and to show a lost and dying world the glories of the redemption secured only by faith in Jesus Christ. 

By / Feb 2

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Feb. 2, 2023—Jason Thacker, director of the research institute and chair of research in technology ethics for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, released a new volume titled, “The Digital Public Square: Christian Ethics in a Technological Society,” published by B&H Academic.

This volume is among the first to focus on questions of digital governance, content moderation and the role of social media in society from a distinctly Chrisitan perspective. It is a part of a long-term research project launched by the ERLC that explores the intersection of Christian ethics and the increasingly digital public square.  

“Social media and emerging technologies have challenged some of our most basic understandings of truth, faith, and even the idea of a public square,” said Thacker. “Today we face immense ethical and social challenges such as the proper role of government, corporate responsibility, and personal accountability in light of the ways that technology is shaping us and the public square. The Christian moral tradition is not only sufficient for the immense task before us but also reframes these debates in light of God’s unchanging character, the Christian concept of human dignity, and a vision of social transformation and the common good rooted in the gospel message.”

Thacker assembled a team of 12 contributors to aid the church in applying the Christian moral teachings to topics including: 

  • Censorship;
  • Technology policy; 
  • Free speech;
  • Conspiracy theories;
  • Sexual ethics;
  • Hate speech;
  • Religious freedom;
  • Digital authoritarianism;
  • Tribalism;
  • Discipleship; and
  • Christian witness. 

Contributors such as David French, Patricia Shaw, Keith Plummer, and Brooke Medina cast a distinctly Christian vision of a digital public theology to promote the common good throughout our society and around the world.

The Digital Public Square project was launched by Thacker and the ERLC in September 2021 and is a multi-year initiative in technology ethics. The ERLC released the first ever faith-based statement of principles on artificial intelligence in April 2019.

“For years now, the ERLC has produced a number of thought-provoking resources about technology and the ways it is both challenging and changing us,” said Brent Leatherwood, ERLC president. “This newest resource continues that work to help our churches understand the complexities of our increasingly online world. While it can be tempting to think the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about emerging technology, Jason Thacker and the incredible team of thinkers he’s put together in this volume reveal how, in fact, Christian ethics offer the best possible guide for successfully engaging the digital public square.”

For more on this volume and the other resources from the Digital Public Square research project, visit jasonthacker.com/books.

By / Dec 22

Marriage and the family unit were established by God at the very beginning of creation as the first institutions. Genesis 1 and 2 shows us how God fashioned man and woman in his image, brought them together as one flesh, and gave them the charge to be fruitful and multiply, or bear children. God works in many ways, but it’s through marriage and family that some of his greatest blessings abound to the world and bring about flourishing.

Because of the importance of these God-ordained institutions in preserving and prospering our society, the ERLC will continue to advocate for policies that maintain and protect these essential aspects of life together. God’s ways are for our good, whether or not our culture recognizes this to be true. While marriage and family will not be perfect in the midst of a fallen world, it’s our responsibility as Christians to continue to champion God’s design and see it upheld for the good of our neighbor. 

Sexual Ethics event

One of the ways the ERLC carried out this aspect of our mission this year was by devoting significant attention to sexual ethics. Specifically, we addressed this topic in the month of June because of its unavoidable cultural designation as “Pride Month.” 

Jason Thacker hosted an online event called, Discipling Your Church For a World in Sexual Crisis, which featured Andrew T. Walker, Dean Inserra, and Katie McCoy, and sought to equip churches and individuals to understand this current cultural moment and engage in these important discussions. In addition to this event, we featured much-needed resources on the topic of sexual ethics including:

House Passage of the Adoptee Citizenship Act

Another way we sought to promote the health of families was through legislation. Prior to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, the administrative steps required of families adopting internationally were unnecessarily burdensome. The process included applying for and moving through a lengthy naturalization process for their children, in addition to the lengthy and costly adoption process. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted automatic citizenship to all foreign-born children brought to the United States who had at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, that act 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. The Adoptee Citizenship Act closes the loophole to provide immediate citizenship to these children already adopted by U.S. citizens yet left out of the previous bill.

The ERLC has supported the Adoptee Citizenship Act for years. We have been engaged with a broad coalition invested in child welfare to urge members of Congress to swiftly pass this bill and secure permanent citizenship for the thousands of impacted adoptees. In March of 2021, the ERLC wrote a coalition letter to the House of Representatives urging them to swiftly pass this vital piece of legislation. 

In February of 2022, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1953, the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2021. An amended version of the bill passed the Senate, but the House disagreed with the Senate’s amendments and left the bill in limbo. The House’s bipartisan action on this bill is a promising first step, but we urge members of both houses of Congress to agree on legislative language and pass this crucial bill.

The Equality Act

One of the greatest legislative challenges the ERLC has engaged with is The Equality Act. In February 2021, the House passed The Equality Act (H.R. 5.)—a bill that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal civil rights law. The bill would curtail religious freedom protections, hinder the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals, undermine civil rights protections for women and girls, and ultimately steamroll the consciences of millions of Americans.

The Equality Act would also gut the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The removal of this act would force faith-based child welfare organizations to abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down by the state. The Equality Act would also force healthcare workers and pro-life healthcare providers to participate in and provide abortions. 

The ERLC has worked tirelessly to defeat this bill. We have partnered with a broad coalition of more than 85 faith-based nonprofits, religious entities, and institutions of higher education to highlight the dangers of H.R. 5. We have raised these concerns with members of Congress and the administration through coalition letters and countless meetings with members, administration officials, and their staff. We have also engaged in public advocacy against the bill by producing a suite of resources available on our website to inform Christians and the broader public about the pernicious threat of H.R. 5. 

We will continue to lead efforts to oppose the Equality Act and any similar legislation introduced this Congress. As we do so, we will advocate for a public square solution that protects and upholds the dignity of all people and their rights, while ensuring that religiously motivated individuals and institutions are free to live and act according to their deeply held convictions.

Advocacy against SOGI provisions

The ERLC has also spoken out against the Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX, which would expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI). These dangerous federal guidances would allow biological men to participate in collegiate women’s sports and would penalize institutions that fail to expand the definition of sex to include SOGI. The ERLC submitted public comments urging the department to alter this proposed rule. 

In addition, the ERLC has also spoken out against the Department of Health and Human Services’ addition of sexual orientation and gender identity language to multiple nondiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act. This rule would mandate gender-affirming care and would impede the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals. The ERLC submitted public comments to the HHS urging them to alter this proposed rule. 

In all of these challenges, the ERLC will continue to advocate for the recognition of God’s good design for biological sex and for the protection of religious liberty.

By / Nov 2

Recent trends in American politics tempt Christians to two extremes: withdraw completely from the public square or adopt the vicious and worldly tactics deployed by partisan players. But wisdom beckons us to a different response. Attorney Alex Harris, a Harvard Law graduate and former Supreme Court clerk, demonstrates that it is possible for a Christian to helpfully interact in the public square in a way that is gracious, others-focused, and ultimately for the glory of God. Below, Harris helps us see why engaging in the public square matters, how we can think rightly about it, and how we can work for the good of our neighbors.

Lindsay Nicolet: How did you begin to feel called to work and advocate in the public square?

Alex Harris: I trace that back to my early teen years. My parents, Gregg and Sono Harris, were homeschool pioneers and my siblings and I grew up as part of what is known in Christian homeschool circles as the “Joshua Generation.” First-generation homeschool parents were like Moses, fleeing what they saw as a failing public school system and the moral decay of popular culture to raise their children in the wilderness. Our generation, trained and educated with a thoroughly biblical worldview, would rise up to claim the Promised Land, which meant taking America back for God. 

For me, pursuing that calling looked like participating in high school policy debate, working on political campaigns at the local, state, and national level, starting a youth-targeted nonprofit called The Rebelution with my twin brother Brett when we were 16, and writing a book called Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations at 19. That same calling eventually led me to Patrick Henry College, drawn to its mission to equip graduates to “lead the nation” and “shape the culture,” then Harvard Law School, and then judicial clerkships with then-Judge Neil Gorsuch and Justice Anthony Kennedy at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Over the years, though, my sense of calling has changed and matured, in large part because of my experiences working as a Christian in politics and law. I still feel called as a believer to work and advocate in the public square, but my vision for what that looks like is different. I know we’ll get into more of that in the later questions, but for now I’ll say that I no longer think God needs me to save America, and I’m not sure that should be our goal in the first place.

LN: Why should Christians care about what goes on in politics? How can we think rightly about it? 

AH: We should care because politics, broadly defined, is one primary mechanism through which we love our neighbor. We cannot be indifferent to politics because it touches every aspect of our lives, our families, our churches, and our communities, on issues ranging from education, housing, and criminal justice to immigration and religious liberty.

At the same time, politics is not everything. We think rightly about it by engaging in politics to love our neighbor and advance the gospel, all while recognizing that this world is not our home and that our hope is in Christ, not policies, politicians, or parties. In that sense, a believer’s posture toward politics is just one expression of our posture toward the world in general. In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter calls us “sojourners and exiles.” In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul describes us as “ambassadors for Christ” in a foreign land. Our words and actions, the manner in which we engage and advocate in the public square, represent the kingdom of God to the world.

Another passage that has influenced my understanding of these topics is Jeremiah 29:7, where God commands the exiled Israelites to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” The order is important. The command is not to seek our own welfare, or to seek the welfare of the city only to the extent we see a direct benefit to us, as if the good of the city is just a means to an end. 

Instead, the command is to genuinely seek and pray for the city’s welfare, despite the fact that we’re only temporary residents. But just like the command for children to honor their father and mother, it’s a command with a promise. We can confidently seek the good of the city because of God’s promise that, in and through its welfare, he will provide for us as well. 

LN: What would you say to the salesman, stay-at-home mom, or teacher who desires to be more active as a Christian in the public square but doesn’t know where to start? Are there ways to engage in this type of advocacy without formally working in government or public policy?

AH: The first thing I’d say is to remember that the “public square” is not limited to national or state politics, or to political skirmishes on social media. Most of the decisions that affect our families, neighbors, businesses, and churches happen on the local level. The great news is that local politics is also where our advocacy is most likely to have a real impact, even if we never formally work in government or public policy. 

The second thing I’d say is that the single best way to get involved in this type of work is just to be in community, seek to love your neighbors, and keep your eyes and ears open. If you do that, there will be opportunities.

LN: How did you prepare yourself and what sustains you as a Christian in the midst of your work?

AH: I’ve found that work in the public square, especially in politics, can quickly warp my perspective. I needed a local community that was outside of that bubble. I needed to regularly be in God’s Word and with his people, to feed my soul, to keep my priorities straight, and to equip me to hear the discordant notes both inside and outside my political tribe. I’ve been so grateful for family, friends, and local churches that have played that protective role over the years.

LN: What are some of your biggest takeaways from working at the Supreme Court?

AH: Working at the Supreme Court was a dream come true for me. Justice Kennedy was a wonderful boss, truly one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, and I was still there when my former boss, Justice Gorsuch, joined the court toward the end of the term. Gorsuch had clerked for Kennedy back in the early 1990s. As far as we know, it was the first time that three generations of justices and their clerks had served together at the same time.

Clerking at the court was hard work but also refreshing. On a personal level, I was prohibited by judicial ethics from publicly engaging in partisan political activity. After years of being actively involved in politics, that felt like a sort of detox. More generally, despite the characterizations you read so often in the media, the court really is insulated from many of the political pressures and dynamics that permeate the other branches of government. 

With few exceptions, I saw the justices and my fellow clerks genuinely trying to get it right. When they disagreed with one another, it was always with the idea and not the person. It was so different from the zero-sum, no-holds-barred world of partisan politics I was used to. Of course, there are many reasons for those differences, but one of the important ones is the simple fact that the Supreme Court is a small and tight knit community, whose members not only work together but also regularly share meals, share each other’s joys and sorrows, and share the very real weight of the public trust. 

My experience at the court made me far less interested in fighting partisan battles and much more interested in other ways of engaging with issues in the public square.

LN: Are there any biblical models or principles that you draw from as you carry out your work?

AH: Over the past couple years, one of the principles that has really jumped out at me is the Bible’s repeated command that our interactions, disagreements, and even defense of the faith be characterized by “gentleness.” Gentleness is an unmistakable biblical imperative for believers, and once you notice it, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. 

We’re told that gentleness is a “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:23. According to Ephesians 4:3, to “walk in a manner worthy” of our calling means to walk “with all humility and gentleness.” In the opening verses of Titus 3, Paul instructs Titus to remind the believers “to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” 

Even as we contend for the faith and seek to be ready to “make a defense,” like it says in 1 Peter 3:15, we’re commanded to “do it with gentleness and respect.” Perhaps most significantly, Jesus describes himself as “gentle and lowly,” and taught that it is the “meek,” a word often translated as “humble” or “gentle,” who will “inherit the earth.” 

In an age when political and social division is rampant, even in the Church, when it feels like religious freedom is under attack, and when our “opponents” seem loud, vocal, even hateful, I wonder what would happen if believers would start taking seriously the call to gentleness.

LN: As you do work in the public square, what does it look like to “seek the welfare of the city” specifically in 2022 America?

AH: In recent years, as an attorney in private practice, my engagement in the public square has been more local and focused on my immediate community. I’m serving and supporting my local church in Denver, a city full of distractions and filled with transient people looking to get away from God, their family, and their past. 

At the moment, I’m joining my neighbors in opposing the reopening of a bar that had become a serious disturbance and danger to the community. I’ve also supported or volunteered with different local organizations serving at-risk youth, refugees, expecting mothers, children in foster care, the homeless, and the elderly here in Denver. Each of those is a small way I am seeking the welfare of my city, which I plan to continue.

At the same time, I’m increasingly convinced that there is a growing need and hunger in the Church, perhaps especially among younger Christians, to discover a different way to faithfully engage with politics and culture. You see that in organizations like the AND Campaign, which seeks to equip believers of all political stripes for faithful civic engagement, marked by a firm commitment to both redemptive justice and values-based policy, not allegiance to a political party. 

As someone who has seen the good, bad, and ugly in politics over the last 15 years, but who has also seen the beauty of so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ living out their faith in the public square, I’d love to help cast that vision now and in the years ahead.

LN: Where are the pressure points and temptations to compromise in our line of work, and how do you resist those? How do you strengthen your character as a Christian to stand firm?

AH: The danger is always that our faith is co-opted in service of some cause or interest that is not the gospel and the kingdom of God. This happens whenever Christians compromise what is true and right to win the praise or acceptance of the world. In evangelical circles, we usually think of this in terms of currying favor with left-leaning members of the media, academia, or pop culture. But it can also happen in the other direction, if as Christians we start conforming our religious convictions to a conservative, libertarian, or Republican worldview.

We should not expect any party platform, man-made philosophy, or political movement to perfectly align with biblical principles. We can and should ally ourselves with others in common cause, and it may be that one group or another is a more frequent ally on shared priorities. But faithfulness ultimately requires allowing Scripture to challenge and critique every party and platform.

The way we resist both of these temptations is what I talked about earlier, being in God’s Word, being in community, and inviting our families, friends, and churches to speak into our lives. It’s so hard to see clearly when you’re in the trenches. Politics is so competitive, fast-paced, and relentless, which lends itself to black-and-white, us-versus-them, identity-based thinking on both sides. As Christians, we’re called to resist those impulses, but we can’t do it alone. 

LN: How do you work with people who don’t share your faith? And how should we interact with people on the opposite side of an issue?

AH: I’m sure that entire books have been written on these topics, but I’ll share a few thoughts from my own experience. First, strive to follow the biblical imperative of gentleness, like we talked about it earlier. 

Second, remember that they are your neighbor, made in God’s image. That means you are called to love them and treat them with respect, even when you disagree. 

Third, don’t expect someone who is not a Christian to act or think like one. As believers, while we can and should advocate for biblical morality and ethics, we should be far more concerned with whether we are faithfully acting and thinking like Christians. 

Finally, do expect to find common ground, even with people who don’t share your faith or political persuasions. Thankfully, the real world is not social media or a TV talk show, which tend to elevate the loudest voices and most extreme views and where the incentive is to perform for your own side rather than engage in good faith. If you’re willing to listen and seek to understand, I think you’ll be surprised how willing most people are to reciprocate, and how easy it is to find common ground.

LN: What do you see as the greatest needs in the public square, and how can Christians rise up to meet those?

AH: I do not presume to have the single right answer to this question, but I’d echo much of what I’ve talked about in previous answers. I’d love to see Christians lead the way out of our broken political culture and for our engagement in the public square to be marked by gentleness, love of neighbor, and fealty to Scripture, even if that leaves us politically homeless.

I’m also struck by the fact that so many people are hurting right now. We’re coming out of a global pandemic, we’re processing the constant, heartbreaking news out of Ukraine, and I think most people would agree that the last few years have been exhausting on every level: physical, emotional, psychological, relational, and spiritual. On top of that, we’re still dealing with all of the normal brokenness of living in a fallen, sinful world. So while this observation has always been true, you really have no idea what burdens someone may be carrying. 

Alarmingly, pastors, who have such an important role to play in their local communities, including by equipping their congregations to faithfully engage in the public square, are burned out and leaving the ministry in increasing numbers. We need grace, and we need to give one another grace. The good news is that we can do that, because all the grace we need is already ours in Christ.

Alex Harris is an attorney and former SCOTUS clerk.

This article originally appeared in the Light magazine issue, “Salt & Light in the Public Square.” 

By / Oct 31

Every follower of Christ is called to be salt and light in this world (Matt. 5:13-16). God has placed us in the midst of broken places that desperately need the gospel of Jesus Christ and the truth of his Word. How are Christian to flesh this out in a public square that is often filled with toxicity, combativeness, division, and evil? As a pastor, I want to offer you a few thoughts to consider as you seek to glorify God and influence the culture in which he has placed you.

The Word of God Guides Us 

The Word of God in its entirety (not just cherry-picked sections) is what should govern us and guide all that we do as believers. It is the filter by which we process all things in the public square. It is a “lamp unto our feet and light unto our path” (Ps.119:105). What we stand for or do not stand for, how we treat our neighbor, what we feel is valuable, and our understanding of how life should be is directly connected to the Word of God. 

We are kingdom citizens who operate on earth as ambassadors under the guidance, orders, and reflection of King Jesus. We are not only witnesses and representatives of Christ, but also of all that his heavenly kingdom entails. Virtually every aspect of our life and witness in the world should reflect this. When we lose sight of our mission in the public square, our motivations become carnal, self-seeking, short-sighted, and lacking the power of the Holy Spirit (James 3:13-15). It is too easy to be discipled by our favorite news networks and organizations. The result is that we speak their talking points and agendas instead of the Word of God. Be careful of this.

Loving Our Neighbors Means Desiring Their Best 

It is amazing to see the extent to which Paul tolerated the weaknesses of those around him. There is also much to be learned in observing how much he was willing to endure from those who often attacked him. He says to those in Corinth who have been attacking his authority and credibility, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor.12:15). 

How can Paul say such a thing to those who are hurting him and opposing him? One word: love. What we find is that Paul genuinely desires their best, even at his own expense. He sincerely loves them. Paul is not motivated by the desire to win an argument or to prove that he’s right in conflict. He’s compelled by a genuine love for people and a desire for their best in Christ.

Being salt and light in the public square is more than only sharing the gospel; it also encompasses our motivations for sharing the gospel. Why we communicate matters just as much as what we communicate.

Many of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day were known for their love for the law, but not for their love for their neighbor. Paul, schooled in the law, emphasizes the necessity of love: “If I . . . understand all mysteries and knowledge . . . but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). Paul concluded that if love isn’t the motivation and anchor, then we’ve missed the point. 

If we are truly honest, it’s extremely difficult to conclude in our society that many Christ-followers are sincerely motivated by love for people. It appears that like the Pharisees, we are more motivated by a love for truth. It only takes a few minutes of scrolling through most social media comment sections to see that we are more motivated by a desire to be right and win an argument than we are motivated by a genuine love for the image-bearer in front of us. It is a sad reality that we often mock, humiliate, and sarcastically criticize those we disagree with. 

Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. We do not have to choose between one or the other. We are called to love God, to love his Word, to love his ways, and to also love our neighbor (Matt. 22:34-40). Love has a deep concern for truth and the imparting of grace (John 1:14). Even in our correction of others, our hope and desired outcome should be to see repentance and alignment with Christ in those we speak truth to.

How You Communicate Matters Just as Much as What You Communicate 

If there are any words of wisdom that I can give you from my personal experiences of failure, as you seek to communicate the hard truth to those in Christ or those who do not know Christ, it is this: “Be surgeons, not butchers.” Both butchers and surgeons use sharp knives and objects to cut, yet they both cut in different manners, with contrasting goals in mind. 

Life is not the desired outcome of the butcher’s blade. There is no gentleness or concern for the object being cut. Surgeons, on the other hand, cut with great care and gentleness because their goal is to heal and not kill. Surgeons cut as is necessary for what is helpful to preserve life. 

The surgeon’s cuts may hurt and lead to months of recovery for the individual experiencing the surgery, but people are willing to lay on the operating table and be cut because they know that the surgeon wants to see them healed. No one desires to lay down on a butcher’s table. 

We often forget that the way in which we communicate truth either validates or diminishes the gospel message that we preach. For example, parents who regularly yell at their children and are harsh with them, give them a distorted view of God and the gospel. You can’t be a butcher and a faithful witness for Christ at the same time. Our goal should not be to correct harshly, but to exhort with humility as those who lean on God’s grace ourselves. 

Paul says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col.4:6). Jesus also gives us a warning by saying, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak . . . ” (Matt. 12:36). It is wise to remember that we are always in the Lord’s presence, and we should communicate from a humble posture.

We Are Citizens of the Kingdom 

In John 17, Jesus spends a significant amount of time praying that his followers would be one and united. The problem with being a spiritual butcher is that butchers naturally cause unnecessary divisions and lack the tenderness required to bring healing in environments of pain and conflict. 

Being a kingdom citizen, on the other hand, means that I should be highly sensitive to protecting, encouraging, and serving my eternal family in Christ. My inclination should be that of an agent of peace and healing, not division. Allowing categories from this temporal world to supersede our heavenly allegiance to Christ and our siblings is something that we should avoid and repent of. 

Today, we have Christians who are more committed to a political party, a particular tribe, or a set of followers than our heavenly kingdom. Christians are filtering their theology through worldly allegiances instead of their eternal citizenship. This has damaged our witness. We are too quick to slander and cancel anyone who doesn’t fall in line with our worldview. 

Why would anyone want to listen to the gospel message of Christ from Christians who are just as divided as the unbelievers they preach to? Why be a part of a group of Christians that can’t see beyond this world and rarely pursue unity? Jesus said that people would know that we are his disciples by our love for one another, not simply who we vote for or align with. 

If we are to have a united global church, then hatred and division cannot flow so easily out of us. Paul says that we should “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3). To be salt and light in this world as kingdom citizens, requires that our actions display that we are for one another, even in our differences, and that we are gracious and patient with one another as we speak truth. If not, we will see new converts in Christ entering a spiritual community that is no different than the physical community they came out of and which stunts their spiritual growth. This is not God’s heart.

My hope is that these categories have stirred your heart to consider how you are currently living as an ambassador in your context. I’m rooting for you and praying that Christ will shine brightly through you as you live boldly for him. The Lord bless you and keep you.

This article originally ran in the Summer 2022 issue of Light.

By / Sep 23

In this episode, Lindsay talks with Dana Hall McCain about her career as a writer, the intersection of faith and public policy, and how Christians can contribute to a healthy public square. They also discuss social media, pro-life issues, and what’s important for Southern Baptists in this particular culture.

ERLC Content

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • Dobbs Resource Page | The release of the Dobbs decision marks a true turning point in the pro-life movement, a moment that Christians, advocates and many others have worked toward tirelessly for 50 years. Let us rejoice that we live in a nation where past injustices can still be corrected, as we also roll our sleeves up to save preborn lives, serve vulnerable mothers, and support families in our communities. To get more resources on this case, visit ERLC.com/Dobbs.
  • Sexual Ethics Resource Page | Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of entertainment and messages that challenge the Bible’s teachings on sexual ethics? It often feels like we’re walking through uncharted terrority. But no matter what we face in our ever-shifting culture, God’s design for human sexuality has never changed. The ERLC’s new sexual ethics resource page is full of helpful articles, videos, and explainers that will equip you to navigate these important issues with truth and grace. Get these free resources at ERLC.com/sexualethics.
By / Aug 22

“Knowing what you know, what will you do?” This is the question that Steven Garber threads through his book, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, and it is a question that is begging to be asked and answered today. What we know—what is plainly obvious—is that the world of American politics has gone mad, and not only for the reasons that are most evident. 

What is obvious is that the Left seems to be charging leftward ideologically with a bushel of policy positions that are increasingly irresponsible and immoral. At the same time, the Right appears equally committed to rush to its own extreme ideological end; so far right, in fact, that we’re now hearing whispers of Civil War from the Right’s extreme loyalists. As a result, Democrats and Republicans, and their adherents, are constantly yelling at each other from across the growing ideological gulf that separates them. The rhetoric is loud and mad, and growing more disrespectful, partisan, and unproductive by the day. 

But the political conditions we’re witnessing today weren’t created ex nihilo. They are the fruit growing in the soil of poor and inept leadership—poor because it is alarmingly unvirtuous, and inept because it is so obviously self-interested. American politics is in crisis because American leadership is in crisis. Who among us has the courage to step in and show a better way? 

A crisis of leadership

Jesus says you can tell a lot about a person and their heart by their use of words (Matt. 12:34). Are their words true, fair and reasonable, and wise? Do they use words to build up and encourage? Are they kind, honest, thoughtful, competent, measured? Words matter, and they serve as a litmus test of a person’s character and their capacity for principled leadership. And the words being thrown around by a large cross section of our political leaders today, by and large, reveal a dearth of virtue, competence, and of good, moral leadership.

We have elected a subset of leaders today—a loud and vocal, but growing minority—that majors in charisma but minors in character and integrity. They can command crowds, stir up support, and raise large sums of money, yet they do it not with good and productive ideas but by tearing down the other side and whipping their followers into a near-violent frenzy with alarmism and shock theater. We are being led by men and women who, in any other era of American politics, would have been disqualified a hundred times over by their egregious lack of character and selfish ambition, the very thing the framers of the U.S. Constitution sought to prevent when constructing our system’s balance of powers. 

Our nation’s political leaders make some of the most difficult, complex decisions imaginable. We need prudent men and women with the moral capacity and proven character to make these decisions and to exercise good leadership. As it stands, though, our representative government is enduring a scarcity of principled, admirable leaders.

Christian responsibility

Knowing what we know, what will we do? At the heart of Garber’s question lies the words of the Czech playwright, Vaclav Havel: “The secret of man is the secret of his responsibility.” In stamping his own divine image upon us, God has assigned us responsibility for the world he has created and given as our dwelling place. And to know that something has gone woefully wrong in the world, as it has in American politics, is to be held responsible for its repair. Using Garber’s language, to know is “to be implicated.”

In other words, echoing the sentiment of James, it is not enough to merely know (James 2:17). Our knowing must compel our doing, and our doing, to reference Garber again, must be driven by love—love of God, love of neighbor, and love of this world, both broken and beautiful, that we are to steward. But this is a task that too often eludes us, as Garber says: “Knowing and doing are at the core of every examined life, but putting the two together is the most difficult challenge we face.” Nevertheless, if it is our responsibility—our vocation, in fact (Gen. 1:28)—to care for the world God’s given us, then to waive away the opportunity to help repair what’s gone wrong in American politics is a dereliction of our Christian duty. 

A call for Christians to lead

We are living through a crisis of American leadership. Sure, there are good and faithful people all over this country, in the public and private sector, leading with great competence and integrity. But we need more of them. We need them in the school boards and city councils of our local communities, and we need them in the halls of Congress, in our courts, in the west wing, and in the oval office. So, what are we to do?

American politics, in its 21st century conception, is among the most illusory and theatrical segments of our society and, for that reason, ripe for men and women of integrity to step in and lead the body politic with truth and honor and virtue. We need public servants who are above reproach. We need leaders who are honest. We need men and women who put to death the self-interest and ambition the framers were so leery of and, out of the love and responsibility they feel toward their neighbor, commit to serve for the good of others. We need leaders, men and women alike, who will carry the wisdom and ways of God into their public office. It is time to repair the crisis of American leadership, which is at its root a crisis of character.

This world is groaning for men and women to step forward who have the capacity “to live with [our] eyes wide open to the realpolitik of this life”—with all of its disappointment and despair—”and still love what [we] know” (Garber, emphasis added). It is a world desperate for Christians who, as St. Athanasius said of Jesus, find our love “evoked” by the brokenness we see, and who view that brokenness as “cause” and “occasion” for exercising our love on behalf of our neighbors. The arena of American politics is filled with people who are determined to use their words and their energy to tear things down. Our system needs people who will commit not to tearing things down, but building beautiful things like trust and rapport and bridges across the ideological gulf between Left and Right while firm in conviction, bearing good fruit that lasts beyond an election cycle.

And there is a part to play for every Christian. For the person with no official political aspirations, change begins at home. From there, serving on local boards and commissions, getting involved in the parent teacher organization (PTO) at your children’s school, and doing your job with excellence and integrity are all examples of simple and invaluable ways to lead locally. And, of course, we need Christians in the voting booth and on the ballot, leading the way toward a different kind of politics in this country. 

Do any among us have the courage to lead at a time when American leadership is in crisis? Knowing what we know, what will we do? This is a call for Christians to lead.