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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.

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.


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.


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.


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 / Jun 22

Ten years ago, I was visiting Shelter Yetu, an orphanage in Naivasha, Kenya. A young boy stood alone at the chalkboard, wiping away the day’s lessons with an old rag. The child—an orphan, I was told—sang quietly as he worked. I watched him from the doorway for a few minutes before greeting him in Swahili.

After some small talk about the day’s activities, I asked Boniface how long he had been at the orphanage. “One year,” he told me. Quietly, I asked him the last time he saw his family. I didn’t know—perhaps both his parents had passed away. “Last weekend,” he said with a smile. Boniface proceeded to tell me that his mother worked at a nearby farm and often came to visit him and his brother on the weekends.

So why was Boniface, who was obviously not an orphan, at an orphanage? I learned later that Boniface is the sixth of eight children. His family was displaced during Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence. They spent two years living in an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp before his father left. Eventually, Boniface’s mother found work at a local farm but couldn’t afford to send all of her children to school. So she found help the only way she could—she placed them in orphanages.

I wish I could say Boniface’s story is uncommon. But as many as 80% of children living in orphanages around the world have at least one living parent, and the vast majority have other family members who could be able to care for them if given the support to do so. The underlying reason children end up in orphanages is not because they are orphans—it is poverty. When a family is unable to meet the needs of their children, like education in Boniface’s case, an orphanage is considered a possible solution. 

Setting orphans in families

Does your church support an orphanage? Have you ever taken a short-term mission trip to serve at an orphanage? Does your family sponsor an orphan? If not, have you ever wondered how you or your church could help orphans? 

There is a clear biblical mandate for churches and believers to care for widows and orphans. James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” However, our generous and sacrificial efforts to support children through orphanages and children’s homes is not producing the kind of results we have hoped for.

A growing body of research shows that orphanages are not the best place for children. 

  • Research shows orphanages harm children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.
  • Institutionalization of very young children has a similar impact on early brain development to severe malnutrition or maternal drug use during pregnancy.
  • Young adults raised in institutions are 10 times more likely to fall into sex work than their peers and 500 times more likely to take their own lives.
  • Placing a child in an orphanage quadruples the risk of sexual violence.

Families are vital for the development of children. They need the connection, belonging, and identity of a family to thrive into adulthood. Research shows significant improved outcomes for children who are cared for in their families, foster families, or adoptive families, compared to orphanages and children’s homes.

For these reasons, many countries and organizations are moving away from traditional institutional care (orphanages) to family and community-based care.  Organizations are working to strengthen families so they never need to consider an orphanage as a solution to their challenges. When a child is unable to be cared for in their own families, a foster or adoptive family allows children the opportunity stay in the community and receive the individualized support of a family.

Psalm 68 tells us that “God sets the lonely in families.” Orphans don’t just need food, shelter and education. Orphans need a safe, loving family. 

Today, Boniface and his brother are at home with their family, and Shelter Yetu is no longer an orphanage. Instead, it serves as a rescue center, helping children living on the streets, providing them with rehabilitation services reuniting them with safe, loving families and then working to empower their families. Shelter Yetu is also helping other orphanages transition to a family-based care model, resulting in more children going home. 

As part of my work as the International Orphan Care Consultant for Send Relief, one of my primary objectives is to help advise local churches in the United States on how to best care for orphans and vulnerable children based on biblical principles and emerging research in the field. We want to provide Southern Baptist churches with the tools, training, and advice needed to help you care for orphans in their affliction. Together, we can labor to see more orphans and vulnerable children know Christ’s love through placement in safe, loving families.

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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  • 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 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
  • 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 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
By / Feb 10

At the annual convention in 2015, the SBC adopted a resolution on racial reconciliation that, in part, urged “churches to demonstrate their heart for racial reconciliation by seeking to increase racial and ethnic diversity in church staff roles, leadership positions, and church membership.”

Increasing racial diversity is not the end goal, of course, and will not automatically lead to reconciliation. Yet it can be a useful metric to determine whether reconciliation is being attempted within our churches and throughout the denomination. Ideally, individual SBC churches that are living out the gospel would be attractive to people of all races and ethnicities. If a lopsided racial imbalance is occuring, it might signal that there is a divide along other lines, such as cultural or political, that should not ​​separate the people of God. 

How is the SBC faring in its goal to be more racially diverse?

To find the answer we can look to the Great Commission Relations and Mobilization (​​GCRM) Ethnic Research Network, which tracks the state of ethnicity and race in the SBC. The network is a research initiative and a shared data collaboration of Southern Baptist Research Fellowship (SBRF) and SBC entities, such as the ERLC. Through statistical and analytical research, GCRM Ethnic Research Network “tells the story of SBC diversity as well as our collaborative and cooperative effort of sharing the Gospel in every city, town, neighborhood, and community in fulfilling the Great Commission.”

Diversity by the numbers

Currently, the SBC Annual Church Profile documents that there are 50,696 congregations and 14,089,947 people in the SBC. The network tracks the state of ethnicity and race within those congregations.

As of 2020, there are 39,408 congregations that are predominantly White Anglo, 3,895 that are African American, 3,361 that are predominantly Hispanic, 1,501 predominantly other ethnicities, and 422 that are predominantly Native American. Since 2010, there has been a 33.2% increase among congregations of other ethnicities, a 20.7% increase among Asian American congregations, 10.2% increase among African American congregations. During that time there was a 3.3% decrease among White Anglo congregations and a 3.0% decrease among Native American congregations. 

  • The states with the most African American congregations are Texas (1,168), California (455), and Georgia (239). 
  • The states with the most Asian American congregations are California (445), Texas (313), North Carolina (125), and Georgia (119). 
  • The states with the most Hispanic congregations are Texas (1,353), California (376), and Florida (317). 
  • The states with the most Native American congregations are Oklahoma (185), North Carolina (78), and Arizona (26). 
  • The states with the most other ethnic congregations are Florida (465), Texas (250), California (105), and North Carolina (98). 
  • The states with the most White Anglo congregations are Texas (4,685), North Carolina (3,739), Alabama (3,090), and Georgia (3,019). 

Within those congregations, 12,642,060 individuals are White Anglo, 880,108 are African American, 223,351 are Hispanic, 173,773 are Asian American, 136,750 are other ethnicities, and 33,590 are Native American. Since 2010, there has been a 23.8% increase among other ethnicities, a 12.1% ​​increase among Asian Americans, and an 8.6% increase among Hispanics. During that time there was a 16.1% decrease among Native Americans, a 14.1% decrease among White Anglos, and a 2.1% decrease among African Americans. 

Encouraging signs of growth

Almost 1-in-4 (22.3%) Southern Baptist congregations are non-Anglo or ethnic minority congregations. In contrast, in 1990 only 8.4% of SBC congregations were non-Anglo or ethnic minority congregations. African American congregations saw the largest growth of 289.3% from 1990- 2018, while the Anglo group saw the smallest growth of 11.4%. From 1995-2000, the African American group grew by 482 congregations, and, from 2000-2005, this group grew by an additional 833 congregations.

As for church membership, from 1990-2019 ethnic minority groups increased by over one million (1,021,658). From 2000-2010, the most growth experienced among SBC membership

was among African American, Asian American, and Hispanics, with Asian American membership growing by 270.7%.

With 22.3% of our Southern Baptist congregations being non-Anglo and many worshiping in multiple languages across America, the Southern Baptist Convention may be the most multiethnic and multilingual denomination in the United States. While the SBC still has a long way to go in its pursuit of racial reconciliation, we are moving in the right direction toward ​​the first step of having a diverse convention of believers unified around a common goal to fulfill the Great Commission.

By / Jan 12

Many people recognize the importance of racial unity, but don’t know how to achieve it.

The Unify Project is a gospel-centered, ethnically diverse, racial reconciliation ministry designed to mobilize Southern Baptist pastors and leaders in unifying their communities. 

Co-chaired by two former presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Ed Litton and Dr. Fred Luter, the Unify Project provides simple, practical, and effective resources to aid pastors in this work. Below, Missie Branch, a member of the Unify Project’s steering committee, talks about the project and its goals.* 

Jill Waggoner: What is the Unify Project, and how did you become involved?

Missie Branch: The Unify Project is beautiful. Dr. Litton and Dr. Luter had been doing work in this space, created this steering committee, and invited me to be a part of it. For the first several meetings, I just listened.

The goal of the Unify Project is to create resources for pastors and church leaders to be able to approach the conversation of biblically-based, gospel-centered racial reconciliation in their homes, in their communities, but particularly, in their churches. 

JW: How would you define the term, racial unity? 

MB: Unity, at its basic level, is oneness or harmony around one thing. When we talk about racial unity, it’s really the heart behind seeing all of humanity operate as one. As Christians, we know this was God’s plan for humanity—to be operating around one mission—and that mission is God’s glory and for him to be known all over the earth.

The things that divide us because of the fall—like race, for example—were not God’s plan. It was not God’s plan that looking different and having different ethnicities would be used to divide us. Actually, [these] should bring us together. So, when we’re pursuing racial unity, what we’re saying is that we would like to see God’s plan for oneness amongst his people [the Church]. 

JW: Why do you think it’s important for pastors and church leaders to prioritize racial unity? We both know how busy pastors are and how many things come across their desk. But why would you say this deserves their time and attention?

MB: Because it’s a priority of the Lord’s. He was very intentional when he made all of us different. We believe in God’s intentional plan with male and female, and even God’s intentional plan with how we grow from children and into adults.

When God decided that people were going to be born all over the world, have a bunch of different experiences, look differently, and approach life differently, I think there was intentionality in that. If God makes something intentionally, then it’s something to be celebrated and honored.

Because that was God’s intentional plan, I think as pastors, church leaders, and Christians in the pew, we need to say, “What am I doing to [advance] God’s intentional plan?” 

JW: Can you describe the types of resources that a pastor can find at the Unify website

MB: Pastors and church leaders can find videos, resources, and downloadable information. We’re working on a curriculum, as well. Things are still being built, but the goal is to be able to come to that one location and grab all those things quickly.

JW: When you think about this project and its future impact, what do you hope to see in the way that it shapes the SBC? 

MB: This is going to sound cliche, but whenever I think of what it will look like to be around the throne with the Lord, I really don’t see us separated off into groups. I see us excited to see our brothers and sisters who we spent time with and excited to see people that we’ve heard about but never got to meet. I don’t think that we’re going to be with the King of kings and Lord of lords fighting over the color of our skin and whether or not this person is more valuable or needs to be spent time with. 

It’s my dream that the SBC really models for the world, and especially for broader Christianity, this idea of coming together as brothers and sisters who reflect the love of God. 

When my kids were little, one of the main verses I made them remember was John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” They will witness us loving one another and they’ll say, “Oh man, those people belong to Jesus!” That’s what I’m hoping for the SBC—that people will look at us and say, “Man, I know they’re Christians by the way they are loving each other.”

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

By / Dec 26

I have been a Southern Baptist, specifically an Alabama Baptist, since my parents first brought me to church as an infant. Yet, I admit that I never actually knew what it meant to be a Baptist. Until college, I never even considered it, and I imagine others haven’t either. When I started seminary, the first class I took was about the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Program. I learned about Baptist commitments such as religious liberty, church autonomy, and the inerrancy of Scripture, among others. And while all of these are vital and foundational to Baptist life, there is one more ingredient that makes the Southern Baptist Convention special: cooperation. 

Cooperation among the different levels of Baptists

I recently had the opportunity to go to Birmingham, Alabama, for an ultrasound dedication. The ERLC’s initiative, the Psalm 139 Project, seeks to raise awareness about the incredible influence that ultrasound machines can have in a mother’s decision to choose life for her baby. The project works to raise the resources necessary to place ultrasound machines in pregnancy centers across the country.  

Sav-A-Life, the PRC that received an ultrasound in Birmingham, is located in the same building as its partner, the Birmingham Metro Baptist Association. This new location needed an ultrasound machine in the clinic. Seeing a need, Baptists were able to do what they do best: come together in cooperation in order to meet physical and spiritual needs. 

The ERLC worked alongside the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, the Birmingham Metro Baptist Association, and the North American Mission Board to make sure that an ultrasound machine was placed in this Sav-A-Life clinic so that mothers and their preborn babies would be cared for and supported. 

The imagery and symbolism of this level of cooperation is astounding. In this case, there were Baptist ministries from the local level to the national level partnering to ensure that the implications of the gospel were being lived out in an undeniable way. There are very few places in which multiple ministries or organizations work together like this.

Cooperation due to the faithfulness of Baptists

All of this happens because of the Cooperative Program—which is how the Southern Baptist Convention is able to financially support the work that it does. This is how the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and the various seminaries and boards are able to faithfully carry out their gospel work for the glory of God. 

Without this funding, it would be more difficult for the IMB to send out missionaries to unreached people groups. It would be less effective for NAMB to deploy church planters all throughout North America, and it would be hard for the ERLC to be missionaries of sorts to the public square. The Cooperative Program is what makes the work of the Southern Baptist Convention possible. And all of this begins with the local church and the faithfulness of SBC members. 

As I discovered on my recent trip, the ultrasound donated to Sav-A-Life was a tangible picture of the faithfulness of Alabama Baptists. And I realized that an Alabama Baptist like me can be a part of future work like this for the sake of the gospel. Giving to my church allows me to play a role in the sending of IMB missionaries, the support of NAMB church planters, the convictional work of the ERLC in the public square, and the ministry of other entities. What a remarkable privilege. Cooperation that enables us to take the gospel to our various areas of influence and ministry is why I am a Southern Baptist.

By / Dec 6

Government is ordained by God and exists to promote justice and order the civil sphere.

Government is ordained by God for the promotion of civil order and justice in society. From the Noahic covenant, which served to set limits on how individuals interacted with one another after the Fall—requiring life for those who took a life—to Paul’s reminder to church at Rome about submission to government, government exists to punish evil doers and restrain injustice (Gen. 9:1-7; Rom. 13:1-7). 

Practically, this can mean everything from the building of roads and setting of safety standards as well as the just enforcement of laws and physical defense of citizens. As an institution of God, it is good for its own sake, not just as a result of the Fall and sin’s entrance into the world. Christians should desire the government to further justice and human flourishing as its proper end. 

God alone is Lord of the conscience. 

In the same passage where Jesus reminds his disciples to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, he also says that there are things which belong rightly to God, not Caesar (Matt. 22:15-22). This is a reminder that God alone is Lord of the conscience, and the government should not interfere with the sincere religious convictions of individuals. In the words of John Leland, Baptist preacher and religious liberty advocate, if the government won’t answer for a person before the judgment seat of Christ, it should not interfere with an individual’s religion in the present. 

Baptists have historically held that though the conscience is not infallible, recognizing that it can be malformed because of sin’s effects, it should be inviolable. When rightly normed by Scripture, individuals should live in accordance with conscience rather than do what they think to be sin (Rom. 14:1-12).  

Christians owe obedience to the state as a divine institution of God. 

As a divine institution of God, Christians are to give obedience to government when it exercises its power justly within its sphere of authority. The command to give obedience to government is not a blessing of all the uses of government’s power, but a submission to the authority established by God (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:14). Christians should resist commands from the government that call them to sin or reject the teachings of Christ. 

However, in other instances, Christians should willingly submit to the authority instituted by God, availing themselves of all the rights of citizens for protest and redress of grievances. They should do so while also praying for all authorities and leaders to further promote justice and justly govern society (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

The Church and state should not be united. 

As the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 declares, “A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal…” Baptists have consistently held that the church and state are to remain distinct from one another, not to promote a secular state, but rather to prevent the unjust use of power by the state inside the church. As early American Baptist Roger Williams described it, the hedge of protection exists to protect the garden of the church from the wilderness of the state. A state which can interfere with the church’s governance is one that will seek to corrupt and control the church based on cultural norms. 

As Baptists, we affirm that entrance into the church is not coterminous with entrance into the state, and reject any nationalized churches. Rather, Baptists have historically held that the church and state are distinct, even as they have called for Christians to seek the promotion of justice and virtue in the public square.

Religious liberty is the canary in the coal mine of societal health. A government which can attempt to control your devotion and worship is a government which seeks to control the most basic part of who you are. 

Religious liberty in Baptist history

This is why the Baptist Faith & Message (2000) states unequivocally that “A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal.” That is a truth that has been preserved and defended by Baptists for over 400 years from Thomas Helwys in England to Roger Williams, John Leland, and Isaac Backus in early America, and modern examples such as George Truett. When persecuted, especially under the hand of state or establishment churches, they reminded the state of the limits of its authority. Their advocacy was not limited only to self-interest, but a recognition that all have the right to worship God (or not) in accordance with their conscience because only the individual will stand before God and give an account for their soul. 

Thomas Helwys, one of the earliest English Baptists, issued what is likely the first call for universal religious liberty in the English language when he said, “Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.” This call would cost him his life because in doing so he would denounce the power of the king to jail and punish heretics with the power of the sword. 

Today’s challenges from within to religious liberty

Today, there are some who would have Christians believe that our current cultural situation’s antipathy toward Christian morality and biblical truth is too dire for us to uphold such principles as religious liberty and its relation to the liberal democratic order with an emphasis on individual rights and basic freedoms. They assert that the environment of classical liberalism is toxic to faith and has led to an increasingly secular square and the rise of an individualism unmired from notions of the common good. Instead, these critics call for a state project that will provide a moral framework supporting the church–though they are conspicuously quiet about which denomination should be preferred. As one author stated recently, the greater problem to be faced is the sexual revolution and gender confusion of our age, not the fear that one religious group will force another to conform.

The sexual revolution is deeply concerning, and Christians should oppose it and limitations on religious liberty at the same time. Baptists can do both without any problem or need to look to other traditions. A commitment to religious liberty is not just a practical outgrowth of Baptist persecution, but a result of Baptists’ commitment to reading and interpreting the scriptures. Those are the same scriptures that tell us that gender and sexuality is part of God’s good design. Those who think that Baptists are incapable of meeting the challenges of the day without changing their tactics should remember that our weapons have always been spiritual, not simply temporal. 

Just as we oppose gender ideology that seeks to conform the body to a mistaken understanding of self, Christians should oppose any attempt to coerce the soul and force outward conformity. Those who call for such coercion are saying either that these heretics are misguided and in need of correction which the state can provide or that outward religious action is more important than true religious conviction. Thus, they would use the state to make hypocrites, choosing outward conformity over sincerity of belief.

A lesson from the Reformation 

Again, a perspective of church history can help us to understand that the ability to conform our outer worship to our inner understanding of what God requires has been a hard fought battle. In England, after the break from Rome, there were intense periods where the established church fought over whether certain outer liturgies were essential to the faith or adiaphora (things left to conscience and personal preference). At various points, certain forms of dress and use of particular prayer books were the established practice, and nonconformists were persecuted and stripped of their rights and titles and positions in the church. 

The established church often told this small group that these were matters which did not cause any damage to the soul. You can still preach the gospel, just do so in a miter (a headdress worn by bishops). You can still offer the sacraments, just make sure that you are using the liturgy from the official prayer book. But the non-conformists boldly refused, saying that they intended to carry the reformation to its fullest extent and that these actions were not just adiaphora. The response of the church was to jail, persecute, and in some instances execute these nonconformists. For the state church, the threat of heterodox belief and practice was reason enough to warrant persecution, and when they controlled the levers of state power they were all too keen to enact it.

As Baptists, we know how this story plays out. What begins with compulsion on non-believers ultimately ends up as compulsion on believers of a different tradition, with the circle growing ever smaller and smaller. But it is not out of practical self-interest that Baptists push against trends of illiberalism and state-sanctioned coercion. It is a recognition that we live not in the inaugurated reign of Christ, but rather in the time between Christ’s ascension and return, the already-not yet. In this time of contestation, we recognize that religious liberty (and the value of principled pluralism) are the framework in which we operate. The state cannot coerce belief, but the church can persuade individuals. 

Those, who would flee to the government for state support, such as theonomists who seek to enshrine Old Testament laws in American civil law, betray their own fear of the weakness of their positions. In the words of John Leland, another Baptist defender of religious liberty, “Truth disdains the aid of the law for its own defence…it is error, and error alone, that needs human support; and whenever men fly to the law or sword to protect their system of religion and force it upon others, it is evident that they have something in their system that will not bear the light, and stand upon the basis of truth.” 

A commitment to blessings and principles of religious liberty is a recognition that neither the state, or any state-sponsored church, will answer for our souls on Judgment Day. We will stand there alone, answering for our own actions. Thus, it is a recognition of the limits of government power to bring about the kingdom. We must not buy the lie that the canary is a lamentable, but necessary sacrifice in the fight against secularism. Because an environment too toxic for religious liberty is an environment that seeks to trade the power of God for the power of the state. And that is a bargain no Christian should make.


Andrew Walker, Liberty for All

Robert Louis Wilken, Liberty in the Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom

Baptist writings on religious liberty:

  • Thomas Helwys, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity
  • Roger Williams, The Bloody Tenent & The Bloody Tenent Yet More Bloody
  • John Leland, “The Rights of Conscience Inalienable”
  • George Truett, “Baptists and Religious Liberty”

Jonathan Leeman, “Christian Nationalism Misrepresents Jesus, So We Should Reject It” (9Marks)

Paul Miller, The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism

Trevin Wax’s 3 part series on Christian political activity: 12, 3 (TGC)

Baptist Faith & Message (2000): Article XVII. Religious Liberty

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

Genesis 1:27; 2:7; Matthew 6:6-7,24; 16:26; 22:21; John 8:36; Acts 4:19-20; Romans 6:1-2; 13:1-7; Galatians 5:1,13; Philippians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; James 4:12; 1 Peter 2:12-17; 3:11-17; 4:12-19.

By / Dec 2

Within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), resolutions have traditionally been defined as an expression of opinion or concern, as compared to a motion, which calls for action. A resolution is not used to direct an entity of the denomination to specific action other than to communicate the opinion or concern expressed. Each year, resolutions are passed during the annual meetings of the state conventions.

Highlighted below are some examples of resolutions on ERLC related issues from the 2022 conventions:

Alabama Baptist Convention

Resolution No. 1: On Appreciation for the Overturning of Roe v. Wade

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Alabama Baptist State Convention meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, November 15-16, 2022, offer thanks and praise to God for turning hearts on the issue of protecting innocent human life.

Resolution No. 3: On Calling for Repeal of Legalization of Medical Marijuana in Alabama

RESOLVED, That each city and county in the state of Alabama refuse to pass resolutions permitting the opening of medical cannabis dispensaries within their jurisdictions and to otherwise close such dispensaries that may have been opened while the Act is in effect.

Resolution No. 4: In Support of the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act

RESOLVED, That appropriate and wise medical, psychological, and spiritual counsel be determined to protect minors from improper and unnecessary life-changing medical procedures and to provide support for them, their parents, and their families.

Resolution No. 5: On Reaffirmation of Christian Parenting for All Children

RESOLVED, That Alabama Baptist churches teach sound Biblical values as God’s pattern for family life, marriage, and parenting; and that each church provide a spiritually-nourishing environment for every family and diligently commit to equipping parents to support and empower their children to fulfill their God-given potential.

Resolution No. 6: On Appreciation to the Sexual Abuse Task Force

RESOLVED, That we commend Alabama Baptist entities and local churches as they protect the vulnerable by making sure their facilities are safe spaces for all as we seek to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Arkansas Baptist State Convention

Resolution No. 3: On Opposing the Potential Harmful Effects of Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

Resolved, that we the messengers to the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, meeting at First Baptist Church, Hot Springs, Arkansas, October 25-26, 2022, implore Arkansas voters to cast their votes against Issue 4, the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment.

Resolution No. 4: On Supporting the Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment

Resolved, that we implore all Arkansans to support Issue 3, the Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment, and, if able, cast their votes for its passage, sensing that it is the right thing to do and now is the time to do it. 

Missouri Baptist Convention

Resolution No. 4: On the Overturning of Roe V. Wade

RESOLVED, that we commend the recent decision of the Supreme Court and the work of Missouri lawmakers regarding abortion, and we thank God for granting them wisdom;

Resolution No. 5: On Puberty Suppression and the Gift of Gender

RESOLVED, that the messengers of the Missouri Baptist Convention meeting in St. Charles, Missouri, October 25, 2022 oppose the use of puberty blockers for children experiencing childhood gender nonconformity;

Resolution No. 6: On Gambling

RESOLVED, that we encourage the churches and associations cooperating with the Missouri Baptist Convention to engage in vigorous programs of education for adults, teenagers, and children about the moral tragedies wrought by legalized gambling; 

Resolution No. 7: On Recreational Marijuana and Missouri Amendment 3

RESOLVED, that we oppose any activity that would render our neighbors and ourselves enslaved to any chemical dependency, contrary to the healing and renewing will of the Creator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ (I Cor. 6:12);

Resolution No. 8: On Proclaiming Biblical Morality 

RESOLVED, that we, the messengers to the Missouri Baptist Convention meeting in St. Charles, Missouri, October 25, 2022, call upon our Pastors to raise the standard of Godly morality lived out in their personal lives to serve as an example;

Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma

Resolution No. 4: On Religious Liberty, Forced Conversion, and the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report

We lament the degradation and dehumanization, which included forced removal of children from their families, forced child labor, removal of their tribal identity, confinement, flogging, withholding food, whipping, slapping, and cuffing, as well as discouraging or preventing the use of Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian languages, religions, and cultural practices. We declare the atrocities done against these people in the name of religious “conversions” as reprehensible, betraying the Great Commission.

Resolution No. 5:  Against Recreational Marijuana

We believe that states should protect their people from the proliferation of recreational marijuana. Legalizing addictive drugs for recreational use leaves neighborhoods, families, and schools vulnerable for exploitation. We pray that Oklahoma will maintain legal barriers between these substances and the communities they devastate, and that the church will work with Christ-centered ministries to reach people who are impacted by addiction.

Resolution No. 6: On the Overturn of Roe v. Wade and Supporting Pregnancy Resource Centers

We remain fully committed to this shared effort, to honor the image of God in the preborn, their mothers and fathers, and the uniquely challenging circumstances they face. We pledge to support this gospel ministry with prayer, volunteer work, and financial resources.

South Carolina Baptist Convention

On the Use of Preferred Gender Pronouns 

RESOLVED, that we encourage all South Carolina Baptists to resist speaking falsely and giving credence to the philosophies of the LGBTQ+ movement by adopting preferred pronouns that do not refer to a person’s created sex and biological makeup;

Encouraging the South Carolina Legislature to Pass a Law Protecting Minors by Prohibiting Transgender Surgery, Puberty Blockers, and Cross-Hormone Therapies

RESOLVED, we strongly encourage the South Carolina Legislature to draft and pass a law that will prohibit children under the age of 18 from obtaining transgender surgery, receiving puberty-blocking medication, or being subjected to cross-hormone treatment;

Exhorting Affiliated South Carolina Baptist Convention Churches to Develop Biblical Definitions and Policies to Confront Sexual Abuse

RESOLVED, that we, the messengers to the South Carolina Baptist Convention meeting in Irmo, South Carolina, on November 14–15, 2022, exhort churches and their leaders to recognize the potential effect sexual abuse can have on individuals and their congregations; to develop biblical definitions of sexual abuse; and to develop and/or strengthen policies and procedures to acknowledge, prevent, report, and facilitate healing from the effects of sexual abuse in their congregations consistent with Holy Scripture and applicable law.

Strengthening And Clarifying Laws Concerning Pastors And Churches Regarding Sexual Abuse

RESOLVED, we encourage South Carolina lawmakers to remove barriers to the free flow of information between churches and other entities about employees and volunteers and, in so doing, empower churches to prevent sexual abuse;  

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC)

Resolution 3: On Gambling

RESOLVED, that we, the messengers to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, meeting November 14–15, 2022, in Corpus Christi, Texas, declare our opposition to any further legalization, government facilitation, or expansion of any type of gambling including land-based casinos, riverboat casinos, sports betting, daily fantasy sports, instant racing, electronic versions of raffles, bingo, lottery scratch tickets, Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs), expanded lotteries and Keno; phone and computer-based wagering; and the expanded use of gambling technologies in Texas; 

Resolution 4: On Biblical Gender & Sexuality

RESOLVED, that we, the messengers to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention exhort our members and leaders to not accept any type of false doctrine or deceptive application related to gender identity and sexuality rather than what is stated clearly in Genesis 1:27 (“God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”), affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 Article IV, “The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation,” and demonstrate this truth by teaching our children to honor God with their bodies; 

Resolution 5: On Celebration of the Overturning of Roe v. Wade

RESOLVED, we encourage all Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches to take up the responsibility of both the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel by teaching the grace, forgiveness, and hope of Christ and by continuing steadfast in our commitment to pursue pure and undefiled religion prayerfully, financially, and practically in prenatal and postnatal care through pregnancy resource centers, counseling, fostering, adoption, and other available means.

By / Nov 21

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of traveling to multiple state conventions as they hosted their annual meetings. To say it was a joy to be with our SBC pastors and leaders in person is an understatement. There is something to be said about being in the same room with these brothers and sisters with whom we’ve linked arms for the purpose of the Great Commission. 

Two months ago, the trustees of our entity turned over the reins to me as president of the ERLC. Since that time, I have been busy calling and connecting with pastors from all across the country to––first and foremost––listen to their ideas, challenges, and experiences. In doing so, I believe this foundational work ensures that the ERLC will be able to keep speaking from our churches, just as it has since its inception. The ERLC is an institution that dates back over a century, and it belongs to Baptists––the pastor, the minister, and the individual in the pew who faithfully and sacrificially gives to the Cooperative Program. 

But this heart isn’t unique to me. It comes directly from our mission statement. The ERLC exists to speak with and assist our churches in understanding the moral demands of the gospel and, at the same time, to speak from our churches about the pressing policy issues that we all face in the public square. This includes issues such as the dignity of life, religious freedom, protection of conscience rights, the sanctity of marriage as God has defined it, and the defense of human dignity. This ensures that, even as we work alongside a number of partners and peers in our work, we’ll continue speaking with a thoroughly Baptist voice about the issues important to the SBC.

What matters most

As we reconstitute and rebuild this team, I know that if my vision for the ERLC is not aligned with what our churches actually need right now, it won’t work. So as new staff members are brought aboard, new initiatives are designed, and new resources are created, know that each of these steps are undertaken so our entity is fashioned in such a way as to address the feedback we are receiving from our churches.

One thing that will not change is our ministry assignment; one that we are privileged to carry out. This specific task has been given to us by our convention, so that means where our churches have spoken, this Commission will also speak without wavering. This is vital because a deep, abiding, and consistent voice of moral clarity is needed in the confusing times we find ourselves in. That’s what will set us apart. While there are other organizations in this space with competing motivations, this ministry will be firmly rooted in Scripture and guided by our Baptist Faith and Message.

What’s next

It’s natural to wonder: What will this new version of the ERLC look like, and what comes next? There will be many updates to come on that front. I’m eager to tell our churches more in the weeks and months ahead. The best way to stay informed is by joining us at 

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 advocacy in our nation’s capital, exciting new partnerships with our state conventions, and the ways we are working across the SBC with our sister entities.

As we move forward in this next chapter, know that our churches are first in our hearts and at the top of our minds. We are taking each next step with a Mark 10:44 mindset: to be a servant of all. I cannot wait to hear from you and be alongside you as we take the gospel to a chaotic public square that is in desperate need of the hope and peace that can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.