By / Oct 30

When disaster strikes, no other ministry or organization mobilizes like the SBC. Whether it is a warm meal cooked after a hurricane or care packages for folks fleeing a war zone, Baptists will be there to offer help and hope for the suffering. 

Why is it when abuse is the issue—a disaster that so often strikes our churches—we get weak in the knees or let lawyers take the reins of decision making? Do the same responsibilities outlined in Scripture to do what is right and seek justice not apply here, as well? Of course they do. And, here’s the thing, every pastor I’ve spoken with and every entity head I have worked with feels the same, even if we aren’t always consistent in applying that belief. 

Our messengers know this too. In fact, they have repeatedly made clear what they want—in overwhelming fashion: Abuse is a scourge upon our churches, and this evil must be confronted; survivors who have suffered so much are to be supported; and the vulnerable in our midst—even those you may not have at the forefront of your mind—are to be protected.

Some say what messengers have asked for is not feasible or that they don’t really know what they’re doing. I reject this line of thinking. 

By my lights, it is clear what messengers are requesting. For they see rightly that disaster has struck, and continues to do so. While so many of our churches, associations, state conventions, and national entities are taking proactive measures to combat abuse, there have been far too many instances when lives have been preyed upon by an abuser or rendered vulnerable by the failure to act. Messengers have given explicit instructions to entities at the national level and have initiated strong task forces for action at the state level. In all this, a clear call to action has emerged that no legal position or policy preferences should outweigh. Personally, I’ve interpreted this charge from our messengers to mean if it costs our entity its entire existence, it is worth it—if it means our churches are the refuge for survivors from abuse they should be.

That is why the news of the last week has filled me with grief. 

As the head of the entity that has been engaged in abuse reform efforts for years now and as the one that routinely reviews legal briefs as we carry out our ministry assignment, this move struck me as out of step with the work that has been done and the considerable work that is to come for our convention. This is not a path we would have chosen.

Nevertheless, we, at the ERLC, remain committed to getting this right. I know Dr. Barber does as well—his statement today confirms this. His heart for the Lord has been, and will continue to be, instrumental in moving reform efforts forward. And I know my fellow entity heads and executives of our state conventions are aligned in this effort, too. Of course, we are all autonomous and so we are free to go about this our own way. But, again, that’s not the expectation I sense from our messengers. They want us to not merely cooperate, but to be interdependent upon one another. That is, to see one another as part of the solution for ultimately stamping out abuse. Until we heed their call, instances like this will occur that erode the trust needed to implement the necessary reforms and assistance our churches need.

Above all of this, though, my heart is heavy for survivors. You have, for so long, made appeals, demanded justice, and suffered through inaction—and worse. You have rightly said disaster is striking within our churches, and the same urgency we bring to global events should animate a similar action here.

My only response to that justified frustration is this: Please don’t give up on us. To even ask that of individuals who have been subjected to so much terror feels wrong and hard-hearted. And while no individual or entity will be perfect, there are those of us who want to be a voice for the vulnerable, who want our churches to be sanctuaries of safety, and who want our convention ridded of this evil. We want our words matched by action. I am committed to working with you, our pastors, and all of my peers to do just that.

By / Sep 20

To make our churches safe from abuse, we must be proactive. Developing policies and procedures ahead of time, training and educating staff and volunteers, as well as partnering with abuse experts will set your church up well to be a safe place for your community. It is up to the pastors and leaders of a church to lead this charge. Here are five essential action steps you can implement to begin protecting your church from predators and caring well for survivors of abuse.

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. (Psa. 10:14)

The five essentials to make your church safe from abuse

1. Train

“Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you” (Prov. 2:11).

It is imperative that church leaders are aware and understand the scourge of sexual abuse that exists in our country, world, and even inside the Church. Statistics tell us 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys (though many believe this is much higher) are sexually abused before they turn 18. Only a small percentage of these victims ever reveal their abuse. Church leaders must help our churches understand that the mission to prevent sexual abuse and our response to it is a clear and compelling gospel issue. It is not one we can ignore. We must face it head-on and not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear because it may be difficult.  

Every church must train their members on how to prevent, identify, and respond to sexual abuse. Sexual abuse awareness training is a foundational component of onboarding new staff and volunteers who will have access to children, youth, and vulnerable adults. This reinforces a culture of zero tolerance. Church leaders must help dispel the idea that abuse can’t happen in our church, must not minimize it as a mistake, or must not think that doing a criminal background check is enough. Each church needs to be committed to an ongoing process of training and continually raising awareness of this issue. 

2. Screen

“Therefore, each of you must put away falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Eph. 4:25).

In order to make your church safe from abuse, it is critical that each implement a thorough screening process for anyone that will have access to children, youth, and vulnerable adults. A thorough process ensures that individuals are suitable and compatible with your church’s policies and procedures. Every potential staff member and volunteer should go through the same screening process. Statistics tell us over 90% of children who are abused know their perpetrator as someone who they trust. 

Relying only on background checks does not protect those in your ministry. While background checks must be done, churches need to gather more reliable information from several sources on applicants to determine their fitness for service. An in-depth screening process can drastically reduce the risk of abuse and increase safety for those in your church’s care. The six best practices for screening anyone wanting to serve with children, youth, and vulnerable adults are: 

  • implementing a six-month waiting period, 
  • a written application, 
  • requesting and checking references, 
  • an interview, 
  • a background check,
  • and a social media review. 

Below are some helpful resources that can assist you in developing your church’s screening process.

3. Protect

“Keep me safe, Lord, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent, who devise ways to trip my feet”  (Psa. 140:4).

Jesus calls us to minister to those who are oppressed (Isa. 58:6-7). Silence does not protect the Church or Christ’s name. One of the ways you can protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults is by having solid policies and procedures in place at your church. These protect those you are serving while also protecting those that serve them. Once developed, being intentional about following policies and procedures is imperative for the protection of everyone involved. 

If your church does have policies and procedures in place, now is a good time to review them, making sure they are current and being followed by staff and volunteers. Policies and procedures can only protect everyone if followed and adhered to. Policies should be: 

  • comprehensive,
  • written from a knowledge of how predators push boundaries and what their grooming patterns look like so that violations can be immediately reported and addressed,
  • accessible, 
  • tailored to your church, 
  • agreed to and trained by the staff and volunteers, 
  • and reviewed annually by your legal counsel and insurance companies for further input and guidance. 

Policies and procedures are the bookends to a solid prevention plan.  Proper screening and training coupled with solid policies and procedures that your staff and volunteers adhere to and abide by create a strong hedge of protection around those your church serves and those who serve them.

4. Report

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (Prov. 31:8-9).

Every state has laws identifying those required to report child abuse. Even if you believe you are not legally required to report child abuse in your state, you are still encouraged to report suspected or known abuse. In all states and territories, any person is permitted to report child abuse and abuse of vulnerable adults. As followers of Jesus, we are charged with protecting the vulnerable, and reporting known or suspected abuse is part of that mandate. If you know or suspect a child or vulnerable adult has been abused, you should report this to civil authorities. A church should have a proper response plan for when abuse occurs, including:

  • informing the insurance company that insures the church,
  • removing the alleged abuser from all ministerial duties until the report is resolved, 
  • informing the church as appropriate, 
  • ministering to the victim and the alleged abuser, 
  • and not attempting to investigate the allegations of abuse internally.

Here are some helpful sites for reporting information: 

5. Care

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psa. 147:3).

Church leaders are often called to the difficult and sensitive task of shepherding victims through the devastation of abuse. Abuse violates the dignity of our God-given image and disrupts our voice, sense of identity, and sense of trust and safety in relationships. The trauma of abuse can be a barrier to trusting God, trusting Scripture, and connecting to a church community. Our response in supporting survivors of sexual abuse has the opportunity to accurately reflect the mission and character of Jesus Christ. If we fail in this, we can grossly misrepresent our Savior, thus damaging and failing both survivors as well as abusers, and being a detraction to the gospel.  

Walking alongside survivors is a long, slow, necessary, and valuable commitment. It takes collaboration with a variety of community resources such as trauma-informed counselors, legal support, and victim advocates. To make your church safe from abuse, church leaders must become informed about the impact of abuse and how to find the necessary supportive resources to come alongside survivors, for the sake of the gospel.


NOTE: This article was adapted from sbcabuseprevention.com, the website created by the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF). This will be the future site of Ministry Check, which “will provide leaders with the ability to search for information about individuals who have been convicted, found liable, or confessed to abuse.” For future updates on the work of the ARITF, follow their website.

The information contained here is general in nature and is not intended to be legal advice. The Southern Baptist Convention encourages each church to consult with legal counsel when implementing local policies and practices.

By / Jun 14

“Life is precious.” 

We repeat this phrase frequently. As believers, we know this statement pronounces a timeless truth rooted in Scripture. In Jeremiah 1:5, the Lord said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I sanctified you.” This gift of life, given to each of us by God from the moment of conception, is sacred and worthy of fervent prayers, our strongest advocacy, and our sincerest acts of service.

That is why this Commission has sought to help culture understand not just the meaning of, but the responsibilities that spring forth from the phrase, “life is precious.”

In 2023, we helped explain the historic Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision of the Supreme Court that struck down the hideous Roe v. Wade precedent. As the justices did so, they opened up a new chapter for the pro-life movement that we have long prayed for.

While we have continued our urgent work to protect life on Capitol Hill and before our nation’s highest court, I want to briefly draw your attention to the cooperative ways this Commission has been active, not just in areas of policy, but also practical ministry.

In the last year, we have locked arms with conventions in North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, the Southern Baptists of Texas, and the SBC of Virginia, who have all given generously to the life-saving work of our Psalm 139 Project.

And it is fitting that the annual meeting is in Louisiana, as our next ultrasound placement will be in partnership with the Louisiana Baptist Convention, the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home, and the Northshore Baptist Association. These entities have come together, not only as an outstanding example of Baptist cooperation, but also to send a strong signal that we are willing to put our money where our heart is in order to save lives and serve mothers.

The commitment we have to protect life has guided our work at the state and national levels. In partnership with our state conventions, we brought a distinctively Baptist voice to matters important to our churches in our first ever state-level public policy review. We did this through:

  • requesting new safeguards be put in place to protect children from harmful transgender surgeries and destructive interventions in Tennessee;
  • pushing back against school administrators’ attempts to insert themselves in the relationship between a parent and child, both in Iowa and Wisconsin;
  • and standing with Nevada Baptists to successfully urge the governor to reject a bill to make that state a destination for assisted suicide.

At the federal level, we have been a leading voice in opposition to the Biden administration’s efforts to curtail religious liberty and conscience protections through the consequential federal rule-making process.

And overseas, we worked to strengthen this nation’s resolve to oppose authoritarian regimes that assault human dignity, destroy religious freedom, and help those fleeing persecution.

In all these matters, the ERLC is rooted in Scripture, guided by the Baptist Faith & Message, and informed by our convention’s resolutions. And everything we do is grounded in the simple phrase: Life is precious.

That truth has taken on new meaning for me, because the worst day of my life occurred on March 27, when a deranged individual entered the school of my children and opened fire. It would end as the deadliest school shooting in Tennessee history and be added to a horrific list of similar events that continue to plague our society.

Six precious lives were lost.  Seven families were fractured. And each and every child was rendered vulnerable by a person in deep emotional and psychological distress who was in desperate need of help and intervention.

In the following weeks and months, the Lord, who has graciously sustained our family throughout this nightmare, has worked on my heart and opened my eyes to the ways our culture of anger and animosity can so quickly become one of annihilation. Think about all the ways this occurs:

  • The mother who is convinced by a culture of death that the only way to truly thrive is by taking the life of her unplanned child. 
  • The young boy who has his mind preyed upon by social media and unhinged activists to become a pawn in the sexual revolution’s ever-changing definition of gender to the point he thinks he is a girl. 
  • The out-of-work father who, lacking community and neighborly love, chooses to escape into a drug culture rather than support his family. 
  • Or a survivor of abuse who seeks refuge in the church only to become vilified because of some flimsy Pharisaical or political excuse. 

There are many more examples of the ways our lives are rendered vulnerable on a daily basis. Too many. And the Lord is revealing to me all the ways he wants this Commission—and our SBC churches—to be a voice for the voiceless, to speak up for the marginalized, and to be a servant for the widow, the orphan, and the vulnerable.

When I see the three little survivors of the Covenant School shooting in my own home every day, I know that I cannot be quiet and cannot stand idly by while our culture tears itself apart, because life is precious. Far too precious.

By / Jun 14

NEW ORLEANS, La., June 14, 2023 —The Southern Baptist Convention became the first national denomination to pass a definitive statement on the ethics of artificial intelligence, which will become the cornerstone of the ERLC’s advocacy on this issue. 

Other significant resolutions were voted on and overwhelmingly affirmed by the messengers of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination during its annual meeting June 13-14 on the topics of immigration and gender transitions. 

The SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will remain a strong voice for dignity on issues of artificial intelligence, immigration and gender, as the resolutions supported the current positions advocated by the organization. 

Brent Leatherwood, president of the ERLC, commented below on each of the three resolutions and how they related to the ERLC’s mission to assist churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel. 

On Artificial Intelligence

“Our resolutions committee deserves all the appreciation we can muster for crafting this first-of-its-kind resolution for any denomination or network of churches. Artificial Intelligence has been a hot topic, both in Washington and on the international stage. This resolution comes at an opportune time and proves once again that even when it comes to the leading edge of emerging technologies, the Bible, as always, gives us principles to guide us in uncharted waters.” 

On Wisely Engaging Immigration

“Our convention of churches has consistently called for a secure border and for immigrants to be treated with dignity. This resolution once again asserts our commitment to these twin principles that should never be pitted against one another. It rightly calls on our nation’s officials to come together and create solutions to solve our immigration crisis.” 

On Opposing ‘Gender Transitions’

“As the Baptist Faith & Message states, gender is a gift and is an essential part of the ‘goodness of God’s creation.’ It is not fluid, self-defined, or subject to the whims of a prevailing culture at odds with biological reality. This resolution rightly affirms those state governments that have taken steps to protect children from becoming pawns in the sexual revolution through harmful interventions and surgeries. At the same time it confirms the SBC will continue to be a strong voice advocating against these exploitative efforts that render far too many children and young people vulnerable.”

The ERLC has long advocated for human dignity, life, religious liberty and marriage and family. To learn more about our work and current priorities, visit erlc.com

By / May 26

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is the SBC entity tasked with speaking for Southern Baptists in the public square and speaking to Southern Baptists on matters of moral importance. As an organization committed to bridging the gap between the moral demands of the gospel and the practical realities of life and society, the ERLC is dedicated to assisting local churches in navigating contemporary issues from a Christian perspective.

One of the key ways the ERLC supports local churches is by helping them understand the moral implications of the gospel for our culture. We provide resources, training, and education to empower church leaders and members in comprehending the ethical demands of their faith and how these principles can be lived out in their daily lives.

We have identified four key areas where our Commission is uniquely positioned to provide a distinctly Baptist voice in the public square on behalf of our convention. Our team continually produces insightful content and analysis in these areas, enabling you to stay informed and engaged. Visit our website to explore the extensive resources available in these categories:

  1. Religious liberty
  2. Life
  3. Human Dignity
  4. Marriage and Family 

Light magazine

By connecting the agenda of the kingdom of Christ to the cultures of local congregations, the ERLC seeks to help churches carry out the mission of the gospel in the world​​. We do this by providing guidance on how to interact with contemporary culture in a way that is both faithful to Christian principles and responsive to current societal needs and concerns.

A key resource in this area is Light, our in-house magazine, which provides in-depth articles, interviews, and thought-provoking content on a range of topics relevant to Southern Baptist churches. We encourage you to explore our past issues by visiting our landing page, where you can access content on pursing a culture of life, human dignity around the world, and being salt and light in the public square.

Ethics primer series

The task of equipping and assisting churches with resources often involves addressing complex moral and ethical issues including bioethics, religious liberty, war, biblical justice, and human dignity. That’s why we have developed our Ethics Primer Series, which provides concise yet comprehensive guides on a variety of topics. These primers serve as valuable resources for you and your congregation.

Digital downloads

Over the years, we have also compiled a library of digital downloads that cover a wide range of subjects, from guidance regarding religious liberty to cultural engagement strategies. These resources are readily accessible on our website, allowing you to equip yourself and your church community with relevant information and practical tools. For instance, check out this resource for pastors on gender and sexuality. 

Public policy 

The ERLC also aids local churches in applying Christian principles to moral, social, and public policy problems. As the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the ERLC actively engages with legislation and court cases that have implications for a variety of ethical issues. By doing so, we provide a necessary bridge between local churches and broader societal and political discussions, ensuring the voice and convictions of these religious communities are represented.

Additionally, the ERLC promotes religious liberty in cooperation with churches and other Southern Baptist entities. In a world where religious liberty is increasingly coming under threat, the ERLC advocates for the rights of Christians and other religious groups to practice their faith freely. This work not only involves advocatingat the legislative level but also providing resources and support to local churches facing challenges to their religious liberty.

Past conferences

Over the past six years, the ERLC has held national conferences on such topics as Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World, the Cross-Shaped Family, Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis, How Christians Can Serve Refugees, Pursuing Unity: A Discussion of Racial Reconciliation Efforts and the SBC, and ​​the Future of the Pro-Life Movement.

As a part of our assignment from the Southern Baptist Convention, the ERLC has sought to be a valuable resource for local churches, providing guidance, representation, and advocacy in matters of ethics, religious liberty, and public policy. Our work empowers local churches to not only understand their faith in more profound ways but also to live it out in their communities, influencing society for the gospel and God’s glory.

By / Apr 28

On this episode, Lindsay Nicolets talks with Palmer Williams about her work at the ERLC, the realities of politics, and future Supreme Court rulings. They also discuss Palmer’s hopes for the SBC. 

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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 24

On this episode, we’ll hear the installation address of President F. Brent Leatherwood. In his message, he shared his gratitude for this stewardship, his hope for the SBC, and his vision for the ERLC.

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 22

This Commission stands at the beginning of a new era. 

We will build and reconstitute this team to meet the demands of the times we find ourselves in; fulfill the assignment given to us by our churches, initiated over a century ago; and do all we can to bring honor and glory to the name and saving grace of Jesus Christ by telling a dark public square of the “light of life” we read about in John 8.

Times of challenge

Yet, we must acknowledge the broader context we are operating in. Right now, an ideology of extreme individualism, coupled with a wave of loneliness and despair, is coursing through our society. We see this in the breakdown of institutional life, the atomization of culture, and the fact that not only are meaningful relationships being tested, but are even failing to be formed. Community life is eroding. Neighborliness is fading.

In Baptist life, cooperation is being strained. Each day seems to bring new events, legal matters, and moments that are conspiring against us.

While some of this may be naturally refining, in many instances, something far more devious is occurring. Figures and voices have emerged seeking to gain attention, followers, and influence. They would do this at the expense of cooperation on the essentials that have long been a hallmark of our churches.

A dark public square. A distressed convention. Division all around us.

An encouragement for dark and divided times

However, as a Christ follower, I am never without hope. And, as a Tennessean, I always believe something can be done. My state has produced a long line of heroes who sought to develop solutions, work with anyone of goodwill, and build bridges: 

  • From former Sen. Howard Baker, who rejected the notion that our adversaries on any given question must be our enemies; 
  • to Bob Corker, who became the leading voice in Washington against human trafficking and unjust systems when no one else would,
  • and Lamar Alexander, who became governor at a unique moment of constitutional peril for our state.

All of these figures and others in Tennessee’s history often sought to overcome gaps and achieve consensus between people—all while adhering firmly to their own conservative principles. While I am a far cry from any of these noble statesmen, their body of work has had a profound effect on my vision of leadership. In fact, Alexander would often quote a friend from West Tennessee, author Alex Haley, who said “Find the good and praise it.”

My Baptist mind translates that like this: Be an encourager. Be a Barnabas. So allow me to do that briefly here.

While our convention is certainly being tested right now, both from within and without, my discussions with pastors over the last several months lead me to believe we can get through this hour––and be the better for it. There is an appetite for association, a real call for cooperation, and a renewed belief in the Baptist view of the world. And that is where this Commission has such a unique role to play:

  • An agency that assists our churches and acts as an ambassador to the state.
  • An entity that serves our pastors and engages the culture.
  • A team that operates and speaks with both conviction and kindness.

What our name means for our churches 

There’s a theme communicated by the very name of this organization: The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. While this entity is over 100 years old, that name is actually rather new. Given to us in 1997 and purposefully selected, every word is just as important now as it was then:

  • Ethics: applying the moral demands of the gospel to the cultural questions and challenges of the day.
  • Religious liberty: believing that a “free church in a free state is the ideal;” and that this principle is helpful for spreading the gospel because no one can be coerced into the Kingdom of God.

Without a doubt, these twin priorities are robust and challenging. Yet, as I consider how this entity may best fulfill our mission, I am increasingly convinced the most important word is “and.” And is the bridge that shows these two concepts are inextricably linked in our minds. We don’t sacrifice one for the other; they are of equal value. 

I believe this framing is essential to the very work carried out by our team.

It means we operate at the intersection of both faith and culture.

It means we tell the state that it has a God-ordained responsibility to protect the most vulnerable, from the abortionist’s knife to the drugmaker’s chemicals.

It means we remind the Church she has always been a refuge for the abused and marginalized—for those preyed upon by the sexual revolution in culture and those preyed upon within our walls. In fact, we should rush to link arms with the foremost experts to rid us of the plague of abuse in our midst, to cast out those who would target the vulnerable in our pews and playrooms, and make our churches places of safety and sanctuary for everyone.

It means we hold the state accountable by reminding it of the proper limits of its authority. When it tramples the consciences of citizens or seeks to overturn the fundamental and biological truths of what it means to be a man, woman, or, very soon now, a human.

And it means we continue to walk alongside our churches as we pursue true racial unity. This convention has come so far, yet our work is far from finished. But I have hope because I know our churches possess a Revelation 7-heart that will not relent from this mission until every tribe, tongue, and nation is reflected in our convention.d

In all this, I speak clearly because our churches have done so. 

We must always take care to listen to our churches and assist them. When we are aligned like this, it ensures this Commission will continue to bring a deep, abiding, consistent, and thoroughly Baptist voice to the public square. And that is our foremost aim: Render assistance to our churches and, from that service, speak to a watching world.

*This article is adapted from President Leatherwood’s address at his installation on March 20, 2023. 

By / Mar 21

May 8, 2020, marks one of the anniversaries of the founding of what would become the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (more on those others below). The ERLC is the Southern Baptist entity tasked with speaking for Southern Baptists in the public square and speaking to Southern Baptists on matters of moral importance. Below are some highlights from the history of the ERLC and all its previous versions.

What’s in a name?

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is just the latest name in the history of this entity. Previously, it has been called the Christian Life Commission (1953-1997) and Social Service Commission (1947-1952). Also, depending on how you want to date the founding of ERLC (information below), you could include a previous Social Service Commission (1913-1942) and a standing Committee on Temperance (1908-1913).

Each of these names has focused the organization at that particular time. The initial commissions were sporadic and worked on individual assignments rather than having a comprehensive agenda, focusing more on prohibition than other goals. As time progressed, the organization came to address more and more needs, prompting the change in the name. For example, the Committee on Temperance and Social Service had little to say about the 1918 flu epidemic, whereas the ERLC has written extensively about the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

The name change from the Christian Life Commission (the previous name of the organization) to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission represented the absorption of other committees and a commitment to the importance of this first freedom.

When did it begin?

As I mentioned above, there is some debate about when the organization that would become the ERLC began. Southern Baptists have been organizing and weighing in on social issues since their founding. However, the formalization of an entity to address the moral and spiritual concerns of Southern Baptists in the public square represented a new attempt to work together for the goal of bringing the gospel to bear on social issues.

If you were to date the organization based on formalization and a line of discernible work, then the earliest date of the commission’s founding would be 1908 with the creation of the Standing Committee on Temperance led by Arthur James Barton, which was the precursor to the Social Service Commission. In 1913, the Social Service Commission was founded. Barton would lead the group until 1942 (through various name changes) without pay.

However, if you were to date the commission based on when it first received official funding from the Southern Baptist Convention, then you would begin in 1942 under the leadership of Jesse Weatherspoon. A.J. Barton had occupied his position as head of the organization without pay for more than 30 years. In 1942, the SBC first formally apportioned money ($1,000) from the convention for the commission. Previously, the Sunday School Board (the precursor to LifeWay) had helped to financially support the organization and work of Barton.

The ERLC recognizes the need for thoughtful engagement in every realm of society and seeks to provide Christians with resources for engaging the culture with the truths of the gospel.

But it was not until 1947 (hence the current anniversary) that the leader of the organization was recognized with a title that was equivalent to an entity head and received Cooperative Program funding on a continual basis. Hugh Brimm was the first person to lead the organization when it was formally receiving funding from the SBC, and he was also given the title of “Secretary-Treasurer of the Social Services Commission.” This position was a title equivalent to other entity heads and corresponds (loosely) with the current position of president for SBC entities.

Regardless of whether you date it to initial work (1908), funding (1942), or a recognized title (1947), there has been a concerted effort on the part of Southern Baptists to bring the gospel to bear on issues of moral importance in culture for over a century.

Significant leaders

There have been a number of leaders (and again, the founding makes it tricky to decide who is in or out) throughout the agency’s tenure. Though there is not space to describe all of them below, I have chosen to highlight some who have proved significant in the latter trajectory of the organization. A full list of the past leaders is also below with their dates of service.

Arthur James Barton: As the first leader of the organization that would eventually become the ERLC, Barton stands unparalleled for his work for the organization. He worked, without convention pay, for over three decades. Though initially commissioned to lead the Committee on Temperance, he would also lead the Social Service Commission to address a host of other issues. He was noted for his work in crafting the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale of alcohol, and remained committed to that cause until his death in 1942. It was not until after his death that the commission received funding ($1000 in 1943, and a percentage of Cooperative Program funds in 1947). This makes the work he and the standing committee accomplished all the more remarkable.

Foy Valentine: Valentine represents an important figure in the life of the ERLC for several reasons. First, he, and Weatherspoon before him, supported efforts that today would fall under the umbrella of racial reconciliation. Valentine worked diligently to lead the convention to recognize the dignity of all peoples, especially African Americans. In his 1960 address, he encouraged the convention to help African Americans “to secure [equal rights] through peaceful and legal means and to thoughtfully oppose any customs which may tend to humiliate them in any way.” Valentine’s work, and many others as well, was crucial in setting a foundation for what would eventually be the Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention. Though Valentine was correct in his views on race, he also represented the drift left of the convention and was a member of the moderate wing which prompted the Conservative Resurgence in the 1970s and 80s within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Richard Land: Richard Land was the first president elected to the Christian Life Commission after conservatives were able to appoint a leader. Land moved the commission back to its historic biblical roots and was a force for theological conservatism. Land helped to move the commission into new media avenues, including regular television appearances and a daily radio show. He, building on the work of Valentine, was essential in the crafting and passage of the 1995 Resolution on Racial Reconciliation. He also emphasized the role that the commission had for protecting religious liberty. Land also was the first person to serve as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (the name was changed in 1997). His service ended in 2013 after 25 years, making him one of the longest serving heads of the organization.

Russell Moore: Russell Moore was appointed president of the ERLC in 2013 following Land’s retirement. During his presidency, the ERLC was instrumental in launching the first Evangelicals for Life conference, a whole-life, pro-life gathering centered around the March for Life. This conference aimed to help evangelicals see the connection between a theology of the image of God and issues beyond just abortion, recognizing the inherent dignity of all people as those made in God’s image. Additionally, in 2018, the ERLC, along with The Gospel Coalition, convened the MLK50 conference, which marked 50 years since the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It also pointed to the ongoing work being done and needed within evangelicalism and the wider culture of gospel justice and reconciliation for racial minorities. His tenure was marked by an unwavering commitment to the defense of religious liberty for all peoples, including non-Christians such as the Uyghurs of China, as well as taking steps to ensure that the SBC would be a place where victims of sexual abuse were safe and cared for.

  • Arthur James Barton (1908-1942)
  • JB Weatherspoon (1942-1947)
  • Hugh Brimm (1947-1953)
  • Acker Miller (1953-1960)
  • Foy Valentine (1960-1987)
  • Larry Baker (1987-1988)
  • Richard Land (1988-2013)
  • Russell Moore (2013-2021)
  • Brent Leatherwood (2022-present)

Significant areas of work

The ERLC continues to work in a long line of cultural engagement on a number of social issues. Although it is impossible to cover all of them, there are several that stand out as major themes in the work of the organization.

Religious liberty: First, religious liberty was not an initial concern because it was the area of the other committees. However, with the absorption of the Public Affairs Committee, the organization took on the role of being the denomination’s strongest advocate for religious liberty. This is reflected in the name of the organization, and its ongoing work at both the state and federal level. The ERLC has worked to protect this right because of its intrinsic connection to the Baptist tradition and the belief that each person has the right to worship as they please without fear of government interference.

As early American Baptist John Leland often argued, because the government will not answer for a person’s soul at judgement, it should not direct that soul in matters of religion. The ERLC continues this work.

Human dignity: Another area of work is that of human dignity. This inclusive term includes a holistic approach to questions of life, dignity, and worth. The ERLC has not always carried out the truths of the gospel perfectly in this area. Valentine did not oppose the 1971 resolution on abortion which was supportive in some cases, and Barton was supportive of segregation practices. However, even in those areas there have been at least small hints that Southern Baptists were seeking to uphold the truth that each person was created in the image of God. Barton supported segregation, but he also supported theological education for African Americans and urged the convention to support this work (even as he urged them to not integrate). In contrast to Valentine, Richard Land and Russell Moore have been tireless advocates of the preborn. Both Land and Moore worked on issues of race and helped to pass the 1995 Resolution (Land) and organize the MLK50 event which brought together African American and white Christians to think on the legacy of Martin Luther King (Moore).

The current staff of the ERLC stand in a long line of Southern Baptists who recognize the worth of every person and seek to uphold and proclaim their dignity as people of God.

Cultural engagement: The final area of importance is that of cultural engagement. The work of the ERLC (and its previous versions) has always been to engage on the issues of importance to Southern Baptists. This has included work on poverty, gambling, morality in public office, hunger, public policy, and popular culture. Southern Baptists have long recognized that Christians have a duty to speak into the culture with the truths of the gospel. This is not limited to one area. Rather, it encompasses every place where a Christian goes in their life. To quote the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch in the whole of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

The ERLC recognizes the need for thoughtful engagement in every realm of society and seeks to provide Christians with resources for engaging the culture with the truths of the gospel.

By / Mar 1

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 1, 2023The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention is highlighting key organizational efforts this week to encourage racial unity across SBC churches. 

In a new video conversation between ERLC President Brent Leatherwood and former Missouri Baptist Convention President Jon Nelson, the two leaders discuss challenges Nelson has faced as a minority pastor and their commitment to pursue racial unity in the SBC. 

This video conversation followed on the heels of a recent ERLC webinar where former SBC presidents, Ed Litton and Fred Luter, joined Leatherwood to discuss how the SBC can improve its pursuit of racial reconciliation. They also discussed The Unify Project, a pastor-led initiative designed to equip and inspire pastors and churches to become leaders in racial reconciliation and bring hope and healing to their communities through the transformative power of the gospel. 

“This conversation with my friend, Jon Nelson, provides a timely and important opportunity for us to reflect and consider ways we can bolster our work pursuing a biblical mandate of reconciliation. Time and time again, our churches have said this is a priority for our convention. This resource reflects that heart and my hope is it will assist our pastors and wider Baptist family as we move forward with this vital, God-honoring work.”

As a part of the ERLC’s commitment to pursue racial unity, the organization will be partnering with The Unify Project at this year’s SBC annual meeting to host an event on Monday evening, June 12. More information will follow.

To view more assets from the ERLC on racial unity visit ERLC.com/racialunity