By / Dec 15

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission exists to assist Southern Baptist churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel, apply Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy, and to promote religious liberty in cooperation with churches and other Southern Baptist entities.

Under the leadership of Brent Leatherwood, elected as president in 2022, the ERLC has consistently shown a steadfast commitment to its foundational principles while adeptly navigating the evolving challenges of our time. From our offices in Nashville, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., our work is rooted in the truths of Scripture and can be categorized in four main areas: life, religious liberty, marriage and family, and human dignity.

Here are some of the highlights from our work in these areas featured in our 2023 Annual Report.

Life

In the wake of the landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, the ERLC reinforced its dedication to pro-life advocacy. This pivotal ruling, which overturned Roe v. Wade, brought new challenges and opportunities for the Commission. The ERLC remains resolute in its mission to foster a culture where life is cherished at every stage, advocating for the dignity of all, from conception to natural death.

During the ongoing Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations session, ERLC has prioritized safeguarding life and religious liberty. In recent years, we were concerned with the removal of pro-life and conscience protection riders, including the Hyde Amendment, from the initially proposed 2022 and 2023 appropriations bills. At the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention, a resolution was passed condemning efforts to remove these pro-life riders. The ERLC thoroughly reviewed the appropriations bills and continues to advocate for these riders and against pro-abortion funding.

Post-Dobbs, the Biden administration pushed policies promoting abortion access such as expanding access to abortion pills, funding abortion travel, and using taxpayer funds for abortion access education. This included changes by the VA and the Department of Defense to facilitate abortions, and the adaptation of HIPAA by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which could hinder investigations into illegal abortion and gender-transition procedures, raising concerns about the protection of those who have been abused.

The Food and Drug Administration also made chemical abortion drugs more accessible, despite a high complication rate. And we continue to monitor a court case challenging the FDA’s approval of the abortion drug mifepristone.

At the state level, the ERLC collaborated with North Carolina Baptists to impose a 12-week abortion limit in North Carolina and with Nevada Baptists to prevent Nevada from becoming a destination for assisted suicide. We are committed to working with state conventions to protect life from conception to natural death.

Religious Liberty

The ERLC’s defense of religious liberty has been unwavering. In 2023 we championed this cause through significant legislative and Supreme Court victories. By upholding the Baptist principle of a “free church in a free state,” the ERLC has ensured that the proclamation of the gospel continues unimpeded by governmental constraints.

We’ve recently focused on responding to two significant Supreme Court decisions impacting religious liberty: Groff v. Dejoy and 303 Creative v. Elenis.

In the Groff case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the standard for religious accommodations in the workplace, set by a 1977 decision, had been misinterpreted. This unanimous ruling clarifies that employers face a higher burden before denying religious accommodations. As Southern Baptists, we firmly believe in the inseparability of our faith from our work. Reflecting this belief, we filed an amicus brief to support the expansion of religious accommodations.

The 303 Creative case was another crucial victory. The court sided with Lorie Smith, a web designer who chose not to create websites for same-sex marriages, against a Colorado law that had targeted others for their beliefs, like cake artist Jack Phillips. This ruling not only upheld free speech but also acknowledged the constitutional protection of creative expression. It’s a significant win for individuals wanting to express their faith publicly.

At the federal level, we’ve been actively countering efforts by Congress and the administration that threaten religious liberty. We’ve opposed the Respect for Marriage Act and the Equality Act, both of which we find detrimental to religious freedom. The administration’s push to expand regulations on sexual orientation, gender identity, and abortion access often undermines religious liberty. We’ve responded through public comments pushing back against these changes across various federal departments including Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, Justice, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, and USAID.

At the state level, our partnership has extended to various SBC groups. With the Arkansas Baptists, we encouraged the adoption of a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In Wisconsin, we joined the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptists in an amicus brief supporting a Catholic charity’s right to operate according to their religious convictions. Our advocacy always aims to protect the ability of religious organizations to function without undue government interference.

Marriage and Family

Upholding the God-ordained institutions of marriage and family remains a cornerstone of the ERLC’s advocacy. In 2023, we actively engaged in policy discussions, supporting legislation aligned with biblical values and opposing acts like the Equal Rights Amendment and the Respect for Marriage Act, which deviate from these principles.

We achieved a significant victory in the area of marriage and family with the defeat of the “transgender mandate.” This mandate, part of the Affordable Care Act and implemented through the HHS, would have compelled medical professionals to provide gender-transition care, conflicting with their religious beliefs and medical judgment. Since its inception, we have actively opposed this policy.

In early 2022, we reiterated our stance by submitting public comments to HHS, calling for the repeal of the mandate. Thankfully, two federal court cases challenged the mandate and successfully struck it down as unconstitutional. The Biden administration chose not to appeal these decisions, preserving religious liberty and conscience protections.

We believe that this gender ideology directly contradicts God’s design for family and human flourishing. Our commitment remains strong to oppose any future policies that would undermine these values or infringe upon religious and conscience protections.

Part of our advocacy includes supporting parents in their pivotal role within the family. We collaborated with the Iowa Baptists and Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptists to file amicus briefs in state-level cases. These briefs emphasized the critical role of parents and contested any efforts by schools to intervene in matters of gender and sexuality, which are sensitive and significant for a child’s upbringing.

In Congress, our advocacy continues to focus on policies that support and strengthen families. In the post-Dobbs environment, there’s a growing momentum to support vulnerable women and families. While there’s ongoing debate about the most effective policies, it’s heartening to see congressional recognition of family needs and the exploration of creative solutions. The ERLC is dedicated to endorsing policy changes that bolster family and marriage, enhance child welfare, respect the dignity of work, and responsibly manage financial resources.

Human Dignity

The ERLC’s commitment to human dignity is evident in its wide-ranging efforts. From criminal justice reform to the care of immigrants, the Commission has been a vocal advocate for policies that recognize the inherent value of every person because each individual is made in the image of God (imago Dei).

Our work in promoting human dignity faced challenges due to a divided Congress, hindering the passage of significant legislation in areas like immigration and criminal justice reform.

Regarding immigration, we actively advocated for improvements in border security and a permanent solution for “Dreamers.” Despite our efforts, a compromise was not reached in time. We also championed a secure legal status pathway for Afghan and Ukrainian evacuees in the U.S. under “humanitarian parole.” Although these individuals are essentially refugees, they lack formal pathways to permanent status. Disappointingly, the Afghan Adjustment Act, despite having broad bipartisan support, was not included in the final legislative package.

Our commitment to immigration issues led us to join other Southern Baptists on an educational trip to the border. This experience significantly informed our approach, especially in light of the anticipated end of Title 42. Working with SEND Relief, we prepared border states for this policy change and urged Congress to take the necessary actions.

In the realm of criminal justice, we hoped to see the passage of the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act in the fiscal year 2023 appropriations. This bill aimed to address sentencing disparities that disproportionately affect Black Americans. Despite its passage in the House and substantial bipartisan Senate support, it was not included in the final appropriations package.

Despite these setbacks, we remain committed to engaging in these critical issues. Our efforts extend to regulating predatory gambling and lending practices, supporting human rights and religious freedom globally, and fighting against human trafficking. Our dedication to these causes is unwavering, even in the face of slow progress, as we continue to advocate for policies that uphold human dignity and justice.

Shaping public policy for Southern Baptist interests

Throughout 2023, the ERLC diligently represented Southern Baptist interests in public policy while navigating complex legislative landscapes. Our work, particularly in defending pro-life and pro-religious liberty provisions in appropriations bills, underscores our influential role in shaping policies that resonate with Southern Baptist beliefs.

As we look to the future, the ERLC remains dedicated to guiding churches in addressing the pressing moral and social issues of our times, continuing our vital role in the service of truth and gospel proclamation.

Editor’s Note: Will you give this year so that the ERLC can do more to support Southern Baptists and represent your interests in 2024? Click here to help us bring hope to the public square.

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 22

Over the past several years, Southern Baptists state conventions and associations have been taking significant steps to prevent abuse within their churches and provide support for survivors. While the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has faced criticism for its handling of sexual abuse cases in the past, many state conventions are now prioritizing abuse prevention and survivor care.

The path to prevent abuse

Here is a sampling of the efforts made by various state groups to address this issue and protect the vulnerable within our congregations.

Alabama 

The Alabama Baptists are taking several steps to prevent abuse in churches. They have a webpage dedicated to helping churches be safer places, which includes resources to help churches create protection policies such as a screening form, permission for background and credit checks, and a covenant of ministerial ethics. They also offer tools to implement the plan such as a sexual harassment policy, social media policy, and computer and internet use policy. Additionally, Alabama Baptists State Board of Missions offers a discount for churches to provide training and resources to prevent sexual abuse in churches.

Alabama Baptists have also established a Sexual Abuse Task Force, which challenges church leaders to continue the work of preventing sexual abuse in churches. They have released a joint statement expressing their sadness and grief over reports of sexual abuse and how they were handled. Furthermore, Alabama law requires pastors, church staff, and volunteers to report suspicions of child abuse.

Florida

The Florida Baptist Convention has established an affiliate relationship with the Evangelical Council for Abuse Prevention (ECAP), a partnership that provides access to exclusive resources for child safety programs, training events from experts in the field, and discounted admission to ECAP events. The Florida Baptist Convention has committed $30,000 in financial resources to aid churches that desire to develop robust abuse prevention.

The Florida Baptist Convention has also adopted a special committee report regarding sexual abuse policies and procedures. The committee was authorized by the Florida Baptist State Convention to address abuse allegation reporting, survivor care, and prevention within the state convention. Additionally, the Florida Baptist Convention offers child protection training to raise awareness for abuse prevention and child protection. They also provide ministry leaders with resources to assist them in prevention and connect ECAP with area churches.

Georgia 

The Georgia Baptist Mission Board offers a program called “Reduce the Risk,” which is designed to help churches train pastors, staff members, and volunteer leaders every year with ease. This program is available through Ministry Grid, which is an online platform that provides training resources for churches.

Georgia Baptists also provide free access to a Sexual Abuse Awareness Training. This training is designed to help churches prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors.

Illinois

The Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA) encourages churches to study and establish effective policies for security and childcare, including check-in and check-out procedures. They also recommend background checking all workers, including fingerprinting checks of the FBI database and examination of the Sex Offender Registry maintained by the Illinois State Police.

IBSA provides SafeChurch, a program designed to help churches prevent abuse and protect their members. The program includes training on recognizing and responding to abuse, creating a safe environment for children and vulnerable adults, and developing policies and procedures to prevent abuse.

IBSA is also part of the Caring Well Initiative, which is a unified call to action for churches to confront the abuse crisis. 

Kentucky

The Kentucky Baptist Convention is offer training on sexual abuse prevention, response, and care to church staff and lay leaders. The training covers child sexual abuse in Christian environments, understanding offender behaviors and the grooming process, appropriate prevention and responding to allegations, as well as understanding a trauma-informed response and care for survivors.

The Kentucky Baptist Convention has also established a Sexual Abuse Task Force to help churches prevent and respond to sexual abuse. They have prepare a handbook to help churches prevent and respond to sexual abuse, with a particular emphasis on caring for survivors. Additionally, Kentucky Baptist leaders are responding to charges of sexual abuse in a number of Southern Baptist churches across the United States. 

Maryland and Delaware

The Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware (BCM/D) approved a constitutional change that requires churches to take steps toward preventing sexual abuse and caring for survivors. The BCM/D also provides initial and ongoing training for staff, volunteers, and church members that raises awareness and shares effective actions to prevent incidents. Pathways is a resource they use that provides churches with a clear and concise plan to prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors.

The BCM/D is part of the Caring Well Initiative. The convention is also able to leverage faith-based and community initiatives which support several programs in mental health services, substance abuse prevention, and addiction treatment at the national, state, and local levels.

North Carolina 

The N.C. Baptists have created a guide to help survivors of sexual abuse. The guide provides information on how to determine the classification of the information that is shared with you, how to report the information, how to listen and provide counsel, how to train the leaders within your women’s ministry, and how to refer to a counselor.

They also provide resources to help churches by providing training to help churches recognize and prevent abuse, as well as care for those who have been affected by abuse.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Baptists have made a priority of investing in training for church staff and volunteers in the areas of preventing sexual abuse and caring for abuse survivors. Over the last several years, regional events have been offered for churches and associations. In the last six months alone, approximately 3,700 online courses have been completed and funded by Oklahoma Baptists on the topic of sexual abuse awareness and peer-to-peer abuse awareness. More than 2,400 Oklahoma Baptists’ church staff and volunteers completed these courses without charge to the local church.

In the past year, Oklahoma Baptists’ Abuse Prevention Task Force created and distributed a comprehensive Abuse Prevention and Response Guide for churches in print and digital form. This resource, which includes research-based, biblically-informed recommendations and best practices, has been utilized by other states.

Oklahoma Baptists offers financial assistance for counseling for abuse victims, their families, and the local church when abuse occurs and has established a telephone hotline to which abuse concerns can be brought.

Pennsylvania and South Jersey

The Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania and South Jersey is focusing on creating awareness of abuse issues and vulnerabilities in churches, as well as providing information and resources for churches to be compliant and safe. Some of the specific actions they have taken include:

  • Making it a requirement for all affiliated churches to have protocols in place for the security of minors and vulnerable adults, as already required by state law.
  • Promoting local resources available to individuals and churches, such as Keep Kids Safe, Pennsylvania, which explains state laws and procedures governing child protection and the reporting of child abuse, and the Pa Family Support Alliance, which provides education, support, and training programs to make Pennsylvania safe for children.
  • Offering ministry and care for those affected by abuse, recognizing the seriousness of these issues.

In addition to these efforts, the Baptist Resource Network has also partnered with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to utilize resources such as the SBC’s guide on preventing abuse, which provides information on topics like preparing church leadership for disclosure by a sexual abuse victim, screening and training volunteers, and more. This collaboration with the SBC allows them to leverage the expertise and resources of a larger network in their efforts to prevent abuse in churches.

Tennessee 

The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB) provides resources to help churches prevent abuse and care for survivors. These resources include training and education on how to recognize and prevent abuse, as well as how to care for those who have been affected by abuse.

In 2019, TBMB developed a task force composed of Baptist physicians, therapists, student and children’s ministers, and pastors to develop increased resources for Tennessee Baptist Churches. The information gathered by the task force is provided on the TBMB website as a starting place for church leaders. In November 2022, the Tennessee Baptist Convention presented a sexual abuse report, urging the adoption of best practices to prevent abuse. The task force was asked to evaluate the process of how The Tennessee Baptist Convention responds to allegations of sexual abuse and to evaluate the best practices to prevent abuse.

Texas

The Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC) offers Sexual Abuse Awareness Training, which is a 1.5-hour online course designed to help churches prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors. The SBTC also provides training and resources to help churches prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors

The SBTC assists churches with awareness and education on the topic of sexual abuse prevention, specifically in ministry contexts. They offer resources and training to help churches prevent abuse and care for survivors.

Virginia 

SBC Virginia provides resources to help churches prevent abuse and care for survivors. These resources include training and education on how to recognize and prevent abuse, as well as how to care for those who have been affected by abuse. One of the programs offered is Safe Church Training, which is a comprehensive program designed to help churches prevent abuse and protect their members. The training covers topics such as recognizing and responding to abuse, creating a safe environment for children and vulnerable adults, and developing policies and procedures to prevent abuse.

SBC Virginia has also established a Sexual Abuse Task Force to help churches prevent and respond to sexual abuse. The task force provides resources and training to help churches create safe environments for their members.

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 / May 26

On this episode of the ERLC Podcast, Brent Leatherwood invites you to take our quick podcast survey as we prepare for a new ERLC Podcast. 

Take the survey here

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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 / 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. 

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 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