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:
- 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.
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.
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.
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.