By / Mar 4

Institutions in American public life are not what they used to be. National organizations like political parties and the news media have changed in dramatic ways in their influence on our lives. Political journalist Jon Ward noticed this change a few years ago and began exploring why it is happening and what people are doing to rebuild. Jeff Pickering, Steven Harris, and Travis Wussow welcomed Jon to the Leland House to explore what this all means for Christians in the public square.  

This episode is sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of Sam Allberry’s new book: Why does God care who I sleep with?  

Guest Biography

Jon Ward is senior political correspondent for Yahoo News, author of Camelot's End: Kennedy v Carter and the Fight that Broke the Democratic Party (Twelve Books, 2019), and host of “The Long Game” podcast. He has covered American politics and culture for two decades, as a city desk reporter in Washington D.C., as a White House correspondent who traveled aboard Air Force One to Africa, Europe and the Middle East, and as a national affairs correspondent who has traveled the country to write about two presidential campaigns and the ideas and people animating our times. He has been published in The Washington Post, The New Republic, Politico Magazine, Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, and The Washington Times. He and his family live in Washington, D.C.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Dec 4

For this two part series, we bring you ERLC president Dr. Russell Moore teaching on the Kingdom of God and what this theology means for Christian engagement in the public square.

The lectures were recorded live in Washington, D.C., as part of the ERLC Academy on the Hill event series earlier in 2019.

In part one, Dr. Moore introduces the theology by teaching on the Kingdom that is to come. And in part two, he teaches how the Kingdom has already come in Christ.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Sep 26

In June 2017 a gunman opened fire on a group of Republican Congressman, nearly killing one. Just over a year later, several pipe bombs were mailed to prominent Democratic officials, including former President Barack Obama. In recent years Americans have attacked and killed fellow Americans at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, a gay nightclub in Orlando, and a church in Charleston because of political, religious, or ethnic differences. In June 2018, 31 percent of respondents in a Rasmussen poll believed civil war was likely to break out within the next five years.

These sporadic incidents of political violence are still thankfully rare, and civil war is unlikely. But the violence is a warning sign, a dramatic indicator of a broader breakdown in the American public square—in how Americans perceive their neighbors, their government, and their opportunities for civic engagement. The American public square, as our interviewees unanimously told us, is caustic, toxic, ignorant, and corrosive. The level of polarization, mistrust, and tribal animus is not unprecedented in American history—the 1790s, 1860s, and 1960s were worse—but the 2010s rank close to those decades as among the least flattering to the aspirations of American democracy. We hate our politicians, and we hate each other.

Some observers warn that democracy cannot survive a wholesale loss of faith in one another, in public persuasion, and in the rules of democratic politics. That conclusion might be overdrawn— the United States did, in fact, survive the 1790s and 1960s (and, barely, the 1860s)—but it is also unnecessary. We do not have to believe that democracy is on its last legs to want it to see better days. It is enough that something is wrong for us to see a duty to put it right. Waiting for an apocalyptic crisis is a dereliction of the duties of citizenship, a form of national procrastination that is both cause and evidence of the state of the public square. Christians can and should desire a better public square, and we can and should bear public witness for that goal. Christians are called to love our neighbors; we are called to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” in which we sojourn (Jeremiah 29:7); we are called to “fear God, honor the king,” (1 Peter 2:17), to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” (Matthew 22:21), to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), to “work heartily, as for the Lord” in all things (Colossians 3:23).

This report explores how American evangelical Christians might contribute to healing political and cultural divides in America. It also aims to identify gaps in Americans’ civic education and civic practice and to suggest ways to fill that gap. We hope to engage Christians on what healthy democratic participation looks like: how do we love our neighbors politically, and how might our faith lead us to advocate for human flourishing in the public square?

This report shares what we heard from nearly 50 interviews with evangelical leaders and learned from a survey conducted by LifeWay Research. We do not have a central thesis or argument; we do not (yet) delve deeply into solutions or recommendations. This is only the first of many steps we aim to take over the following year. With the public release of this report, we hope to kick off a dialogue among churches, seminaries, with the public, in the media, and with the academy.  We also hope to develop materials for use in churches based on this research, helping equip church leaders to teach their flock about how to love their neighbors politically. Civic education is not the church’s primary mission, but the church’s primary mission of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ has implications beyond the four walls of the church, and we hope to help churches teach about those implications with truth and love.

The full report is available at this link

By / Jan 22

Over the last few days, a media firestorm has broken out over the fact that Karen Pence, wife of the vice president of the United States, will return to teach art on a part-time basis at a private Christian school. Immanuel Christian School, like many other private institutions, requires its staff members to sign a code of conduct and statement of beliefs. Within Immanuel Christian School’s statement of beliefs, one will find the ancient and biblical understanding of marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive covenant union as delineated in Scripture.”

In terms of the code of conduct, Immanuel Christian expects its staff members and students to “live a personal life of moral purity.” The governing document goes on to define certain aspects of “moral misconduct” as “heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites, and sexual abuse or improprieties toward minors as defined by Scripture and federal or state law.”

Most media outlets that have covered this news, even those who disagree strongly with the positions of the school, have been fairly understanding of a private school’s prerogative to maintain standards for its staff and students. The heartache for these journalists can be found in the “Second Lady of the United States” choosing to work at a school with such convictions, and thus, according to some, “sending a deeply hurtful message to LGBTQ youth and those who support them by acquiescing to, and upholding, deeply and directly discriminatory policies as a member of the school’s faculty.”

Christian convictions and the public square

This controversy provokes the question: Is a Christian allowed to maintain and live according to their convictions in the public square? Here are a few thoughts that we must consider:

First, Karen Pence is the wife of an elected official, but not the elected official herself. Even if Karen Pence was an elected official, though, the argument that someone with such a public role in the U.S. should not associate with institutions that hold potentially controversial beliefs principally violates the no religious test clause of the U.S. Constitution. Whatever role she plays or doesn’t play as the “Second Lady of the United States” is up to her and her husband. Yet, Mrs. Pence’s association with Immanuel Christian School should not surprise anyone who has been paying attention. Karen Pence previously taught art at Immanuel Christian School for 12 years before her current role. It is not as if she deceived someone about her beliefs and convictions. The Pence family has held these Christian convictions publicly for decades, which brings us to the second point worth noting in this controversy.

A second observation worth noting concerns how scandalized and outraged many media outlets seemed to be by Mrs. Pence’s commitment to historic, Christian sexual ethics. As other conservative thinkers have mentioned elsewhere, the media is surprised that the Second Lady, a Christian, is teaching at an institution that holds to orthodox Christian beliefs. Immanuel Christian School has the audacity to be Christian.

Sadly, the scandal surrounding such convictions is not limited to Mrs. Pence. In recent days, Sens. Mazie Hirono and Kamala Harris have all but applied a religious test to the nomination of Brian Buescher to the federal judiciary. They have raised questions and objections to his service on account of his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a historically Catholic organization that also happens, to the surprise of some, to be Catholic. And last year, Russ Vought, a nominee for The Office of Management and Budget, was criticized by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, for holding beliefs that are consistent with Christian doctrine.

One cannot help but wonder if those who oppose public leaders with Christian convictions do so in part because they cannot imagine a religious person in the U.S. being anything other than nominal. It now appears that decades of nominal, convictionless, western Christianity has paved the way for progressives to argue that there is no place for convictional religion in the public square. For decades, many professing Christians have argued publicly for the need to downplay or even abandon doctrinal convictions, thinking that such an approach would earn favor in the public square. But many progressives are not merely content with expanding rights for the LGBT community; they want Christian communities to abandon sexual ethics entirely or be shamed out of public life.

The free exercise of religious liberty

Surrender and capitulation, however, are not necessary. The First Amendment of the United States grants all religious people the right to live out their faith. They have not simply been granted the right of conscience. They have been granted the right of free exercise. Furthermore, this right, while enshrined in the First Amendment, does not originate from mankind. Religious liberty is not fundamentally an artifact of the Enlightenment. Religious liberty is deeply rooted in humanity’s relationship with God. God has made man and woman in his image, and they are supremely accountable to him as his creatures. When the government or others attempt to direct or guide the religious practices of God’s creatures, they are attempting to subvert the Lordship of Christ.

At times, people will use fear, slander, lies, shame, and intimidation to drive the Christian’s convictions back into the shadows. The temptation is to respond with fear, slander, lies, and shame of our own, but that is not the way of Christ. Instead, Christians must remember who they are ultimately accountable to and why they are here on this earth. Christ left his disciples on the earth to point others to “the kindness and severity of God “(Rom. 11:22). And at times, these faithful disciples will be “reviled and persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 5:11) because, like the prophets of old, they dared to remind people that they were sinners in need of God’s mercy. No amount of hedging or nuance will ever take away the offense of the cross of Christ.

The Christian faith was never intended to be “normal” in this world. It was intended to disrupt “normal.” The gospel, with its clear call to repent and believe in Christ, was and is “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). So, we do not lose heart when people disagree vehemently with our religious convictions and tell us to leave our Christianity at home. Instead, we remember that we are strangers in this world. We are sojourners who are looking forward to “a better and abiding possession” (Heb. 10:34) that is soon to be revealed when our Savior appears (Col. 3:1-4). May we be faithful witnesses to Christ until the very end, no matter what it costs us.

By / Nov 13

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Nov. 13, 2018—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention delivered a coalition letter to members of the U.S. Congress today calling for the repeal of a new tax on churches and nonprofits, which will extract $1.7 billion in taxes from the charitable sector over 10 years. This provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Internal Revenue Code Section 512(a)(7) imposes a new tax on all non-profits and will require many houses of worship to file tax returns for the first time.

Over 30 organizations signed this letter, demonstrating their support for repealing this section. Signatures came from leaders of diverse faith backgrounds and a broad range of institutions, including houses of worship, primary and secondary education, higher education and faith-based nonprofit organizations serving communities around the country and around the world. 

The letter states, “This significant change in the treatment of charitable organizations will require many nonprofit organizations to file federal Form 990-T and pay federal taxes on the cost of parking and transit benefits provided to their staff.”

“Whatever purpose Section 512(a)(7) was intended to serve cannot justify extracting $1.7 billion in taxes from nonprofits and houses of worship within just 10 years.”

ERLC President, Russell Moore, responds to this tax code provision. 

“Churches ought not be seen by the government as untapped sources of tax revenue. While the effect this section of the tax code may very well have been unintended, it must be remedied. As the American founders clearly understood, the power to tax is the power to destroy. The proper separation of the state from the church is at the heart of our American project. This section of the tax code, however, blurs those lines in harmful ways."

In addition to Moore, other notable signatories include:

  • Gérald Caussé, Presiding Bishop, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • Jerry Silverman, CEO, The Jewish Federations of North America
  • Leith Anderson, President, National Association of Evangelicals 
  • Nathan Diament, Executive Director for Public Policy, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
  • His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Letter signatories urge Congress to take action before the end of the year by repealing Section 512(a)(7) of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The letter and full list of signatories is available here.

By / Oct 23

How should our theology of human dignity impact our debates of public policy? Dan Darling, author of The Dignity Revolution, joins Travis, Steven, and Jeff to discuss how this rich Genesis 1 truth applies to the complex decisions Christians face in the public square.

Guest biography

Dan Darling is the Vice President for Communications at the ERLC. He is a writer whose work has appeared in USA Today, CNN, Washington Times, Huffington Post, and The Gospel Coalition. Dan is the host of another ERLC podcast, The Way Home, and an associate pastor at Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tenn.

Resources from the conversation

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By / Aug 28

WASHINGTON, D.C., Aug. 28, 2017—Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, commented on the death of Michael Cromartie, vice-president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center.

“I am grieving the death of my friend Michael Cromartie. One of the best men I ever knew, Mike was full of grace, honesty, humility and integrity. In a day when ‘evangelical’ has such a bad name among non-Christians, he represented the best of evangelicalism: intellectual depth, evangelistic zeal, and, most of all, unconditional love.

“In a time when many relentlessly blast ‘the media,’ Cromartie built the finest outreach to journalists I’ve ever seen—the Faith Angle Forum. The Faith Angle Forum put religious thinkers and journalists of all sorts together, in a way that helped inform secular journalists about religious people, not just scold them for not understanding us.

“Through all of that, Mike was clearly up to more than just building intellectual bridges. He loved those journalists, as people. And he loved Jesus. That was clear even to the most jaded atheist in any given room. After his cancer diagnosis, every time I saw Mike he would say, ‘Pray like a Pentecostal.’ We did. Mike now is in the presence of the Lord of Pentecost. We will miss him here, and must pray for more like him.”

By / Apr 1

“I’m sorry.”

These two simple words from Paul Ryan, Republican Speaker of the House, came rumbling down the Capitol steps, scrolling across social media timelines, and into the news cycle last week.

In a campaign year besotted with the crass and profane, in a culture that seems to rewards pride and hubris, Ryan’s words were a breath of fresh air.

There is little incentive these days for leaders to publicly admit their mistakes. Supporters see this as cowardice and opponents see this as an opportunity to capitalize on weakness.

What Ryan offered, in the midst of a speech on civility, was refreshing. While speaking out against the coarse nature of the presidential campaign, he admitted his own descent, at times, into less-than-inspiring rhetoric. He recalled previous comments about “makers and takers” in society, and confessed that his previous characterizations were born out of ignorance, “I didn’t come out and say all this to be politically correct. I was just wrong.”

When was the last time we heard a famous figure say, with sincerity, “I was just wrong?” Unlike so many public apologies, Ryan didn’t equivocate, didn’t sidestep, didn’t turn his contrition into an attack on his foes. This kind of leadership offers a stark contrast with the bombastic hubris we've seen so much of in 2016. Ryan's humility cuts against the narcissism of our age.

Public contrition is not just important for politicians. It’s important for any of us who hold positions of power. It’s necessary, though sadly rare, for ministry leaders.

A few weeks ago, we saw this kind of public grace exhibited by well-known mega-church pastor, Andy Stanley, A clip of Stanley disparaging the ministry of small churches went viral, resulting in quite a bit of pushback from small church pastors.

Stanley’s response was as refreshing in that it was unequivocal. No hedging. No defensiveness. No explaining. Stanley not only tweeted his remorse, he allowed Christianity Today to interview him further.

For a Christian, a genuine apology is a sign of something deeper going on in the soul, an admission of fallenness, a nod to our need for the redemptive grace found in Christ. Of course, public contrition can be narcissistic and selfish, an opportunity to save face and move on, without any deep reflection. But when authentic, an apology can be empowering. Narcissists may have short-term victories, but in the long haul of leadership, people follow leaders willing to admit what everyone already knows: leaders are human. This is true regardless of the size of the platform. It's important for national leaders. It's important for prominent pastors. It's important for those who lead in obscure positions unseen by the masses.

I've found genuine apologies empowering in my own roles as husband, father, executive, and pastor. In Scripture we are told, several times, that God “resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; Prov. 3:34; 1 Pet. 5:5).” I'd rather experience God's grace than his resistance.

The humility to apologize reflects a heart bent toward God. This is why King David, despite his egregious sins, was considered a man after God’s own heart. If you read Psalm 51, you don’t find a man with his chest puffed out, boasting about sin and eschewing repentance. You find a broken soul. Contrition starts this way, in the heart, as the result of godly sorrow that works repentance. Then it works its way out toward those who've been hurt the most.

The kind of courage it takes to publicly apologize is not learned in seminary or in business school or at leadership conferences. Humility is a discipline developed in the school of prayer, forged over a lifetime of self-reflection and dependence on the Spirit of God. The most mature leaders understand that humility is not a sign of weakness, but of strength.

This is why the people worth following are often not those with the loudest voices or the most clever turns of phrase, but those human enough to stand up and say those two simple words.

“I’m sorry.”

By / Aug 5

Phillip Bethancourt sits down with Russell Moore to get some perspective on how we, as Christians, should engage in the public square.

By / Aug 5

Phillip Bethancourt sits down with Russell Moore to get some perspective on how we, as Christians, should engage in the public square.