By / Apr 1

On Nov. 7, 2023, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of United States v. Rahimi. The central issue in this case is whether a federal law that prohibits individuals with a standing domestic violence restraining order from owning firearms violates the Second Amendment. This case could have significant implications for the intersection of Second Amendment rights, domestic violence, and the protection of vulnerable lives. 

Why does United States v. Rahimi matter for Southern Baptists?

The ERLC did not file an amicus brief in the Rahimi case. However, there are two SBC resolutions that are relevant to the arguments and outcome of the case.

1. In 1979, the SBC passed a resolution on domestic violence, recognizing it as “one of the serious moral issues of our time.” Additionally, the resolution encourages the “establishment of clear and responsible public policy related to domestic violence, which policy should be effective at the local, state, and national levels.” 

2. In 2018, the SBC also passed a resolution on gun violence. As the resolution notes, “gun violence perpetrated against innocent persons is incompatible with the character of Jesus Christ.” The resolution affirms that gun ownership carries with it a great responsibility and calls on federal, state, and local authorities to implement preventative measures that would reduce gun violence and mass shootings while operating in accordance with the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. 

What is the case about?

The Supreme Court’s ruling will determine whether it is constitutional to prohibit individuals who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms.

The law at the center of the case is 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), which prohibits the possession of firearms by individuals who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders. Here’s what happened:

  • Zackey Rahimi was convicted of possessing a gun while subject to a domestic violence protective order, which was issued after he violently assaulted his domestic partner in a parking lot and shot a gun when he noticed that others had witnessed his abuse. 
  • Rahimi challenged the law as a violation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
  • Until the 2022 Supreme Court ruling in New York Rifle and Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, the constitutionality of this statute was consistently affirmed. 
  • However, this decision in Bruen has cast doubt on the stability of established firearm regulations by altering the judicial approach to Second Amendment scrutiny. 
  • The decision in Bruen established a “historical tradition” test for evaluating firearm regulations, which examines whether a regulation is consistent with longstanding principles, not whether it has a direct historical analogue.
  • Following this Bruen precedent, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, reversed the standing federal law within these states in the Rahimi case.

What are the arguments that §922(g)(8) should be considered unconstitutional?

Some of the arguments made by those who support the 5th Circuit’s determination that the law is unconstitutional are: 

  • Second Amendment: Some argue that the possession prong of §922(g)(8) prohibits and severely punishes conduct protected by the plain text of the Second Amendment, specifically the “right of the people” to “keep and bear arms” that “shall not be infringed.”
  • Due Process: Critics claim that the section does not require notice of the statute and the consequences of violating it, which they argue violates the Due Process Clause.
  • Equal Protection Clause: It has been argued that §922(g)(8)(C)(ii) is unconstitutional as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, as it treats individuals differently based on their status as prohibited persons.
  • Lack of historical support: It has been argued that the government’s efforts to defend §922(g)(8) are incompatible with the Second Amendment and the Constitution as a whole, as they lack support from precedent, rejected constitutional proposals, and the original intent of the Founders.
  • Ineffective and unnecessary: Some have argued that §922(g)(8) is a blunt instrument that does not effectively address the problem it targets, and that there are alternative means of addressing the issue of domestic violence without infringing on the Second Amendment

What are the arguments that §922(g)(8) should be considered constitutional?

  • Public safety: Proponents of the law argue that it is necessary to protect domestic violence survivors and prevent further acts of violence by prohibiting individuals with domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms
  • Constitutional interpretation: Supporters of the law believe that it is a reasonable restriction on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, as it is narrowly tailored to address a specific and compelling government interest. They say the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen established a “historical tradition” test for evaluating firearm regulations, which examines whether a regulation is consistent with longstanding principles, not whether it has a direct historical analogue.
  • Necessary for the common good: Basic principles reflected in U.S. tradition include the government’s role in promoting the common good by protecting human life and dignity, showing special concern for the vulnerable, and respecting family autonomy while intervening when necessary to prevent domestic violence. They claim this law only bans the possession of guns by individuals who are truly dangerous.
  • Consistent with historical regulation: The tradition of firearm regulation in the U.S. allows disarming dangerous individuals to protect the innocent. Laws dating back to the founding era restricted access to firearms by those deemed a threat.
  • Adheres to traditional principles: Some proponents claim that §922(g)(8), which prohibits firearm possession by persons subject to domestic violence restraining orders, adheres to these traditional principles by disarming only those who have shown a willingness to commit violence. They claim the Fifth Circuit erred by requiring an exact historical match for the law and by questioning assumptions about restraining orders, and that the analysis should have focused on identifying relevant traditional principles and evaluating consistency.

What happens next in United States v. Rahimi?

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in this case in November, and a decision is anticipated in May or June. 

During oral arguments, the U.S. solicitor general made a compelling argument that upholding this law is in line with Justice Scalia’s opinion in the 2008 Heller decision, which maintained the application of Second Amendment rights to “law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”

Though we will not know the final ruling until an opinion is released, a majority of the court seemed poised to rule in the government’s favor.

By / Feb 27

Southern Baptists gather each February for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee meeting. Recently, it struck me that it usually seems to occur around some pivotal moment––either in the life of the wider SBC or in our culture.

Five years ago, just before everyone came to Nashville, Tennessee for this meeting, the results of a major investigation by the Houston Chronicle surfaced, detailing hundreds of instances of abuse in churches.

Four years ago, a few weeks after the meeting, a pandemic would overtake the globe. 

Two years ago, it was announced at the meeting that Russian forces under the direction of Vladimir Putin had initiated their illegal invasion of Ukraine. Thousands of innocent and vulnerable lives have been murdered since that day.

And just last year, merely a few weeks after the meeting concluded, a personal nightmare occurred for me: My three children would endure the worst mass shooting in Tennessee history at their private Christian school.

I recount these moments to provide some perspective that moments matter. Since the last meeting, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has been diligently working to carry out the ministry assignment given to us by our churches. And, while doing so, reimagining the ways we can best serve our churches, equip our pastors, and work in our four priority areas: 

  • life, 
  • religious liberty, 
  • marriage & family, 
  • and human dignity.

In all of this, our aim remains the same: to be alongside our churches in service, helping them understand and navigate the challenges of the moment and, from that service, speak into the public square with a distinctively Baptist voice. We cannot effectively speak from our churches into culture if we are not first rooted in our work for the churches. Here are some of the significant ways we have done this over the last several months: 

Evangelical Statement in Support of Israel 

We all witnessed the horror of Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas. This unprovoked terrorist attack killed thousands and was the worst of its kind in the history of the country. Millions were outraged, including many of our fellow Southern Baptists. It was clear pastors and so many throughout the SBC wanted to say something and show their support. So we acted.

In a great example of Baptist cooperation, my dear friend and faculty member at Southwestern Seminary, Dan Darling, created an Evangelical Statement in Support of Israel. Within hours after its release, over 2,500 signatures joined the document. After a few days, we shared a version with Capitol Hill, the White House, and the United Nations. The message was clear: Southern Baptists are committed to not only Israel’s right to defend itself, but its very right to exist, and we are urgently praying for the vulnerable lives in the midst of the warfare.

Public Policy Agenda

Turning our attention to Washington, D.C., we have once again produced a robust federal Public Policy Agenda. This document sets forth our policy priorities for the federal government, including proposals we are spotlighting before Congress, the White House, and the courts.

It also lists areas of concern and harmful policies we are monitoring in order to register our opposition to in official channels. To that end, the last year has seen a noteworthy uptick in one area in particular: administrative rule-making. In a typical year, we file one or two public comments about proposed rules from the Executive Branch. In 2023, the ERLC filed 19 official comments registering our deep opposition to actions the Biden administration is contemplating. These run the gamut from taxpayer funding for abortion travel and tourism to sexual orientation and gender ideology (SOGI) policies within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

But, not everything is negative in Washington. In just the last few weeks, the ERLC has provided its endorsement of two policies at critical junctures in the House of Representatives. The reauthorization of the Child Tax Credit, a proposal Speaker Mike Johnson, a fellow Southern Baptist, called a needed “pro-family policy” that helps mothers and families access the support they need to choose life.

And just last week, our support helped with the passage of the Uyghur Policy Act, a bill that will prioritize combatting the genocide of the Uyghur people by the Chinese Communist Party in official United States policy. Both of these steps were informed by significant resolutions passed by our messengers at recent annual meetings that show where Southern Baptists stand on important matters of public policy.

Baptist Cooperation

Not all of our work is federal. We partnered with Iowa and Minnesota-Wisconsin to challenge school districts that have sought to come between parent and child and enable the spread of harmful transgender ideologies.

We worked with the North Carolina Baptists to override their governor’s veto of a 12-week abortion ban. Because of this Baptist cooperation, more lives are able to be saved now in North Carolina than was previously the case. NC Baptists have been a crucial partner, like so many of our state conventions, in the success of our Psalm 139 Project. Baptist cooperation here helped with the placement of 12 additional life-saving ultrasound machines around the country. This fall, as we had a presence at 32 state annual meetings, we were able to recognize these partnerships with six different states as we gave them our first “partner for life” awards

Most recently, an exciting new partnership developed with us, the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), New Mexico Baptists, and a local SBC church in Hobbs, New Mexico. For instance, the Texas Baptists funded the placement of a machine in a neighboring state that has, tragically for now, become an abortion destination. Planned Parenthood has made these locations a priority to prey on mothers, and we believe we need to meet that challenge by taking our ministry to those same places.

Equipping Churches

All that I’ve mentioned thus far has been outward looking. The other side of our mandate calls us to equip and inform our churches. Our most recent edition of Light magazine is titled “Gender Chaos: Christian Answers in a Sexually Confused Culture.” It’s topic is one of the biggest points of feedback from a survey we conducted at the annual meeting where we asked Southern Baptists what they are wrestling with in their churches. In this edition, you will find all sorts of articles to help churches understand the moment.

Another large project is the release of “God’s Good Design: A Practical Guide for Answering Gender Confusion,” our gender and sexuality resource for churches and small groups. It will provide a theological underpinning based on the biblical definitions of marriage and sexuality as well as practical applications and examples that can be used by our churches.

Additionally, we have just released our Baptist political theology resource titled “The Nations Belong to God: A Christian Guide for Political Engagement,” written by my former colleague and current Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor, Andrew T. Walker. Again, it was developed in response to our survey from the annual meeting and is created in the helpful style of a Q-and-A catechism. Because we do not view it as our responsibility to tell people who to vote for, we aimed to provide a framework for thinking well about political matters based on Scripture and Baptist beliefs. Downloaded more than 1,500 times in the first few days, we think this will be a helpful tool in this chaotic election year and in many years to come. 

Abuse Reform 

Finally, we have continued to play a supporting role for the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF). As we have said many times, sexual abuse is a scourge upon our churches. Doing everything possible to ensure predators cannot prey on vulnerable lives in our congregations must continue to be a top priority. Messengers have repeatedly and overwhelmingly said they support this task force and expect reforms to be implemented. So, we have provided analysis and counsel to the task force based on our experience creating the Caring Well initiative. We are eager for the next steps that will emerge.

In all of these matters, I believe Baptist cooperation is key to equipping our churches and meeting the challenges of the day. And I believe that underpins the very nature of SBC meetings. They are an opportunity to showcase why Baptist cooperation matters and to wisely meet the moments in which God has placed us.

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 / 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 / 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 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 / 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.