By / May 12

On May 3, the North Carolina legislature passed the “Care for Women, Children, and Families Act” (Senate Bill 20), legislation that reduces the state’s elective abortion limit from 20 weeks down to 12 and includes an exception for rape and incest through 20 weeks. It also establishes an exception for fetal life-limiting anomalies through 24 weeks (there is no limit if a doctor determines the life of the mother is in danger).

Additionally, the bill includes several financial measures to support women and families, including millions in federal matching funds to reduce infant and maternal mortality and almost $59 million for foster care, kinship care, and children’s homes. 

Several criminal penalties are also in the bill, including making it a Class D felony and a $250,000 fine for any physician that fails to aid babies born alive following a botched procedure, raising penalties for assault on pregnant women, including lifetime GPS monitoring for certain domestic violence offenders. 

However, within hours of the bill passing, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued a video statement on Twitter accompanied by text that said he would veto the bill and that the “fine print” will “shut down clinics” and make abortion “completely unavailable to many women.” 

Baptist leaders call for action

The North Carolina Baptists (Baptist State Convention of North Carolina) and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) wrote a letter urging North Carolina lawmakers to take action on the bill. Acknowledging the political considerations that come into play, the Baptist leaders made a heartfelt plea to legislators to override the veto. 

They argue that the right to life is evident from several perspectives and implored lawmakers to take decisive action to save as many preborn lives as possible. The letter states, “we believe a right to life from conception is self-evident both from a theological perspective (see Psalm 139:13-16), a scientific perspective and a political perspective (see the Declaration of Independence).” 

In the letter, Baptist leaders also emphasize the importance of human dignity and the need to address the concerning rise of abortion rates in the state. The N.C. Baptists, with 4,300 cooperating churches and over one million members, recognize the infinite value and worth of every person, both born and preborn, in the eyes of their Creator. It is this fundamental truth that underpins their plea for legislators to consider the implications for public policy.

The letter also highlights how N.C. Baptists are dedicated to caring for preborn children, supporting vulnerable mothers, and ensuring families have the necessary resources to flourish. Their extensive work through pregnancy support clinics and various ministries demonstrates their deep commitment to protecting life from conception to natural death. Now, they are urging the state to join them in this important cause.

North Carolina lawmakers must take a stand for human dignity

In the face of a significant increase in abortion rates since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, North Carolina has become known as an abortion destination. In the letter to North Carolina lawmakers, Todd Unzicker, the executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and Brent Leatherwood, the president of the ERLC, passionately advocate for the protection of life from conception. They urge legislators to override the veto of Senate Bill 20, emphasizing the importance of human dignity and the need to reverse the rising tide of abortions in the state. 

By overriding the governor’s impending veto of Senate Bill 20, North Carolina lawmakers have an extraordinary opportunity to save countless preborn lives. By taking this action, North Carolina can establish itself as a place where life is cherished, protected, and given the opportunity to thrive.  

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

Freedom to live according to one’s deeply held religious convictions is a tenant of Baptist faith. But why is that so? Below is a resource for Southern Baptists on religious liberty that explains how the Bible, Church history, and the Baptist Faith & Message informs this foundational position.

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. 

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 nonconformists 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.

Resources

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 / Oct 27

Throughout October and November, SBC state conventions will be gathering for their annual meetings. However, many Southern Baptists might be unfamiliar with their state conventions or only have a limited knowledge of what they do. Seth Brown, the director of convention relations at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, answer questions below about these entities and shines a light on the value of cooperation throughout the SBC. 

Lindsay Nicolet: What is the role of state conventions within the Southern Baptist Convention? 

Seth Brown: The 41 state and regional conventions across the United States have a primary purpose, and that is to serve local congregations. We connect churches to the relationships, resources, and services they need. A key part of that effort is participation with our national family of churches and entities through our unified giving channel, the Cooperative Program.

LN: How does your state convention specifically carry out its mission? 

SB: N.C. Baptists are a movement of churches on mission together. We are fueled by local churches and focused on local churches. Everything we do is geared toward serving congregations with an emphasis on helping them work together to make disciples of all nations.

We have staff deployed from the mountains to the coast to ensure churches are getting what they need when they need it. Other staff members serve in specialist roles to assist churches when they have specific needs. Our camps and conference centers provide beautiful spaces for rest and renewal. Plus, we have the privilege of training the next generation of faithful pastors, ministers, and missionaries through Fruitland Baptist Bible College.

LN: How can churches best utilize and partner with their state convention? 

SB: We have around 2,800 churches actively engaged with us, but there are many churches that miss out on what their state convention offers. We find that some church leaders are simply not aware of all the resources and services available to them. The best first step for a church to receive more value from their state convention is to ask about all the cooperative ministries they operate and resources they provide. Our N.C. Baptist staff is eager to help churches find what they need to support their local ministries.

In addition, I highly encourage more people to get involved with their state convention. Attend the annual meeting. Sign up for events. Recommend someone or make yourself available to serve on boards and committees. Ask lots of questions.

LN: How do state conventions relate to the national entities (NAMB, IMB, ERLC, seminaries, etc.)?

SB: We consider the national entities of the Southern Baptist Convention to be close partners in ministry. Each of our organizations is self-governing (or autonomous), so we don’t answer to them, and they don’t answer to us. But our relationship is one of support, trust, and a common vision to help churches take the gospel to the nations. 

N.C. Baptists deeply value our SBC partners and pray for those relationships to continue deepening through the years. 

We couldn’t be more proud of the many N.C. Baptist missionaries serving with the International Mission Board. In 2023, we’re launching a new prayer emphasis called “Praying for the Nations” that will highlight missionaries from our state. N.C. Baptists recently launched a groundbreaking church planting partnership with the North American Mission Board called “SendNC.” We are grateful for our six mission-focused and doctrinally faithful seminaries across the nation, including our beloved Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. And, last but not least, we stand for life alongside the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission through a partnership with Psalm 139, an effort that has allowed us to help place ultrasound machines in strategic pregnancy centers.

Our partnerships run deep, and we believe that springs from the spirit of cooperation and unity embraced by our congregations.

LN: What are some particular opportunities and challenges unique to state conventions related to the SBC? 

SB: Baptists at every level are facing opportunities and challenges that represent two sides of the same coin: unity and division. Our society has been marked by polarization and fracturing for some time now. Christians have a plethora of wonderful opportunities to display the kind of gospel unity that transcends social, ethnic, and political boundaries. 

Like all generations, we have the opportunity to speak the gospel anew to a rapidly changing world. I pray that state conventions can do our part to equip and assist Baptists along the way.

LN: How can state conventions be effective in shaping the public square within their region?

SB: As statewide or regional networks of churches, conventions can help bring a great deal of unity around cultural issues and public policy. In addition, they normally have close relationships with local associations as well, so they are well-suited to understand cultural issues from the ground level all the way up to state capitols. Ideally state conventions are able to work alongside both churches and associations to engage the public square with uniquely Christian character and values. 

By / Oct 3

Southern Baptists have a long history of following in the footsteps of the faith and serving those in need. When Jesus was on Earth, he did not bypass physical needs but met them and used them as a way to share how he was meeting the greatest need of all—the salvation of our souls. Likewise, Send Relief, a collaboration between NAMB and the IMB, seeks to address needs that arise from various circumstances while also sharing the hope of Jesus. One focus of the work at Send Relief is foster care and adoption, which is all the more important in a country without Roe. Josh Benton, vice president of North American ministry at Send Relief, answered a few of our questions about this aspect of their ministry and how churches can be involved. 

Lindsay Nicolet: How does foster care and adoption ministry fit within the mission of Send Relief? 

Josh Benton: Send Relief is the Southern Baptist compassion ministry which seeks to meet physical and spiritual needs in Jesus’ name. Working alongside churches, we care for the vulnerable and strengthen communities around the world. Caring for families and children is one of our five ministry focus areas. Our work in this area includes developing and supporting ministries focused on crisis pregnancy, serving at-risk families, and helping churches develop or support ministries to vulnerable families within their communities. 

LN: What projects is Send Relief involved in as you seek to engage in the foster care and adoption space? 

JB: Send Relief engages foster care and adoption in two specific ways. First, is through our ministry centers. We have 20 Send Relief ministry centers across North America. Two of them, Valdosta, Georgia, and Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, are child placement agencies for foster care and adoption. In addition to child placement, these locations provide training for foster and adoptive families. We also work with churches to help support vulnerable families in their communities with resources, counseling, and respite care, along with providing an opportunity for churches to go on mission trips to learn more about and get hands-on experience with foster care and adoption ministry.  

Second, Send Relief helps churches start a Family Advocacy Ministry, which we call a FAM. FAM is a step-by-step ministry strategy that helps churches serve and advocate for vulnerable children and families as well as those called to foster and adopt. Send Relief helps churches implement FAMs so they can have a gospel-centered impact on the lives of vulnerable children and families.

LN: How does God’s Word drive your work in this key area? 

JB: Scripture is clear about the call to care for vulnerable families. Genesis 1:26-27 establishes that all people are created and designed by God, in the image of God, and are therefore valued by God. Genesis 2 describes God’s intentional design for the family. Then, Genesis 3-4 shows the damaging impact of sin on all creation but, specifically, how sin creates brokenness in families. 

From Deuteronomy 10 to James 1 and several references in between, God not only calls his people to remain committed to his design for the family but to also care for the those without stable, intact families. Romans 8 also beautifully portrays adoption as a picture of our redemption through Christ.

With this in mind, we can sum up how Scripture provides the truths that cultivate Send Relief’s perspective on serving in foster care and adoption ministry with a few statements:

  • Every person is created in the image of God, therefore, all people have value.
  • God designed the family and desires all to be in a family.
  • Christ calls us to reflect his compassion and care for the vulnerable.
  • Foster care and adoption portray how God redeems through a personal faith in Christ. 

LN: What challenges arise with serving children in need and families in today’s culture? And how have/will these change in a post-Roe era?

JB: The challenges for serving vulnerable children and families are significant. Here are a few key statistics from Adoptuskids.org and the Administration for Children and Families

  • Each year more than 250,000 children enter the foster care system in the United States.
  • At any given time, there are on average over 400,000 children in the foster care system.
  • Each year more than 23,000 children age out of the foster care system when they turn 18 or 21, depending on a state’s laws.
  • Currently, more than 115,000 children in foster care are waiting to be adopted.
  • The average age of a child in foster care is 8 years old.
  • Troubling statistics for children who age out of the system:
    • Likely to experience job loss and homelessness
    • 70% of human trafficking victims spent time in foster care
    • 71% of women who age out experience pregnancy within one year 
    • 65% of individuals who are incarcerated aged out of the foster care system

These challenges will likely intensify in our post-Roe world. These are all harrowing statistics, but one of the most significant issues is that there are more children in need provides an opportunity for churches to fill the gap. With more than 115,000 children in the foster care system who are waiting to be adopted each year, churches can play a role by recruiting families to foster and adopt, mentoring vulnerable families, and providing communities of care for those who are fostering and/or adopting.

LN: How can pastors and ministry leaders create a culture of equipping families to care for children?

JB: No matter what community, city, or state you are in, vulnerable families are present. This isn’t a ministry opportunity that is somewhere else; it’s everywhere. Pastors and church leaders have an important role of recognizing the need that exists, articulating the biblical call to meet the need, and blessing those in their congregation who are led to pursue the ministry opportunity. Send Relief has resources on our FAM page to help pastors and churches pursue ministry to vulnerable families and children.

LN: What are some practical things that local churches can do to come alongside this mission to serve families and those involved in foster care and adoption?

JB: There are several ways churches join Send Relief to serve vulnerable families. One of the most important things is to recognize that there are many ways to serve. There is a great need for families to foster and adopt. Encourage those who are called but also understand not everyone feels that call, and there are multiple ways to serve outside of adopting and fostering. Here are specific ways churches can serve:

  • Praying diligently and consistently for vulnerable children and families
  • Developing a relationship with a local child welfare office
  • Raising awareness about the needs of vulnerable children and families
  • Recruiting families to consider adopting or fostering
  • Providing resources, as well as emotional and spiritual support, to biological families experiencing crisis
  • Helping to meet physical and financial needs of foster and adoptive families
  • Mentoring single mothers
  • Supporting and encouraging local child welfare workers
  • Providing meals or respite care to foster and adoptive families
  • Going on a mission trip at a Send Relief ministry center that serves vulnerable families

For more information on the Dobbs decision and its effects, visit erlc.com/dobbs

By / Sep 13

Brent Leatherwood has been elected to fill the role as the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission by the organization’s trustees. 

The ERLC board of trustees voted unanimously to appoint Leatherwood during its first session on Sept. 13. Leatherwood, 41, has served as the organization’s acting president since September 2021, following the departure of Russell Moore. The vote occurred during the trustee’s annual meeting, Sept. 12-14, in Nashville, Tenn. 

“It has been both my joy and privilege as the current chair of the ERLC board of trustees to work directly with Brent Leatherwood in his interim capacity as acting president,” said Lori Bova, of Hobbs, N.M. “Under his leadership, the staff has not missed a beat in producing timely, quality resources for our churches. He is a tireless servant with a passion to serve Southern Baptists and to steward well the ministry assignment of the ERLC.”

Prior to serving as acting president, Leatherwood held the role of chief of staff at the ERLC, as well as the entity’s director of strategic partnerships. Leatherwood has an extensive background in public service and electoral politics, serving as the executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party and as director of communications and policy strategy in the Tennessee General Assembly. He also previously served on Capitol Hill as a senior staffer for a member of Congress.

The ERLC trustee presidential search committee, chaired by Todd Howard of Pine Bluff, Ark., recommended Leatherwood to the full board after a 14-month search process.

Howard likened the ERLC search committee process to 1 Samuel 16. “Initially, the committee had a great pool of candidates and thought the next president of the ERLC could be among them. However, as the committee began the process of interviews, doors started closing. We found ourselves asking, ‘Are these all your sons?’ 

“Leatherwood was recommended to us from a variety of sources and became the top candidate by virtue of his leading well through the various challenges facing the commission during the interim season. He has intangible leadership qualities that we could not ignore. After a final round of interviews with Leatherwood, the committee, for the first time in this process, voted unanimously in favor of recommending him to the full board of trustees as the next president of the ERLC.” 

Leatherwood is a dedicated member of The Church of Avenue South in Nashville, Tenn., where he has served as a deacon since 2014. He is married to Meredith, and they have three children. 

“True leadership begins as service,” said Leatherwood. “That has been the heart I have brought each day to the ERLC these past 12 months. And it is that same heart I will continue to bring as this new chapter begins. I am honored and humbled to be given the opportunity to serve this historic institution as its next president. 

“Rooted in Scripture and guided by the Baptist Faith and Message, this team will remain fervently committed to carrying out our ministry assignment—faithfully serving our churches and growing our convictional presence in the public square on behalf of our convention. That means speaking with biblical clarity about the issues that matter to Baptists: the inherent value of life, religious liberty at home and abroad, human dignity and the flourishing of families. 

“We have made it a priority to come alongside and equip our churches, partner with our state conventions, and support our sister SBC entities. This Commission will continue to do so in this new season because we know the Southern Baptist Convention is stronger when we are cooperating on mission together.”

Prior to Leatherwood’s appointment as ERLC president, Russell Moore served as president from 2013-2021 and Richard Land served from 1988-2013. All three men were appointed to the presidency at age 41.

__________

Brent Leatherwood was endorsed by a variety of SBC and state leaders. Their statements are below. 

“I believe Brent Leatherwood will serve Southern Baptists well in this strategic position. He is a gifted and godly man with firm biblical and baptistic convictions.” 

Daniel Akin 
President 
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

“It is my privilege to recommend Brent Leatherwood to you as the next president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). Brent has the spiritual grounding, experience, and skill set necessary to lead the ERLC at this unique time in our Convention’s and nation’s history. As I have observed, Brent has a strong faith, knowledge of Scripture, and an unbounding love for Jesus. These are critical tenets for anyone who leads one of our Southern Baptist entities.” 

Kevin Ezell 
President 
North American Mission Board 

“Brent Leatherwood strikes me as the sort of man who loves Southern Baptists—who we have been, are, and hope to become. Such a man as that can rise as a statesman to speak for Southern Baptists. Such a man can also come alongside Southern Baptists and gently speak to us as a brother.” 

Bart Barber 
Pastor, FBC Farmersville, TX 
President, Southern Baptist Convention

“I consider it a privilege and an honor to endorse Brent Leatherwood’s nomination as president of the ERLC. Brent has led wisely and courageously as the interim president during what can only be described as a tumultuous and strident period in our nation and our convention. Southern Baptists and America both desperately need the information, inspiration, and guidance the ERLC can provide under Brent Leatherwood’s leadership.” 

Richard Land 
President Emeritus 
ERLC

“The National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention (NAAF) wishes to express our strong support of Mr. Brent Leatherwood’s candidacy for President of the ERLC. Brent is a proven leader and trusted partner. His commitment to Gospel-centered public policy is seasoned by his sensitivity to the nuanced lived experiences of our diverse Southern Baptist (SBC) family.” 

Rev. Frank Williams
President
National African American Fellowship, SBC 
and
Rev. Dennis Mitchell
Executive Director,
National African American Fellowship, SBC

“Tennessee has a long history of faithful men and women who love their neighbors through service in the political arena. Believers must view engagement in government as the opportunity that it is. I can think of no one better than Brent Leatherwood to be the next President of the ERLC, leading Southern Baptists as they strive to represent Jesus through faithful and humble engagement in the public square.” 

Bill Lee
50th Governor of Tennessee

__________

To request an interview with Brent Leatherwood, contact Elizabeth Bristow by email at [email protected] or call 202-547-0209.

By / Sep 13

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Sept. 13, 2022—Brent Leatherwood has been elected to fill the role as the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission by the organization’s trustees. 

The ERLC board of trustees voted unanimously to appoint Leatherwood during its first session on Sept. 13. Leatherwood, 41, has served as the organization’s acting president since September 2021, following the departure of Russell Moore. The vote occurred during the trustee’s annual meeting, Sept. 12-14, in Nashville, Tenn. 

“It has been both my joy and privilege as the current chair of the ERLC board of trustees to work directly with Brent Leatherwood in his interim capacity as acting president,” said Lori Bova, of Hobbs, N.M. “Under his leadership, the staff has not missed a beat in producing timely, quality resources for our churches. He is a tireless servant with a passion to serve Southern Baptists and to steward well the ministry assignment of the ERLC.”

Prior to serving as acting president, Leatherwood held the role of chief of staff at the ERLC, as well as the entity’s director of strategic partnerships. Leatherwood has an extensive background in public service and electoral politics, serving as the executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party and as director of communications and policy strategy in the Tennessee General Assembly. He also previously served on Capitol Hill as a senior staffer for a member of Congress.

The ERLC trustee presidential search committee, chaired by Todd Howard of Pine Bluff, Ark., recommended Leatherwood to the full board after a 14-month search process.

Howard likened the ERLC search committee process to 1 Samuel 16. “Initially, the committee had a great pool of candidates and thought the next president of the ERLC could be among them. However, as the committee began the process of interviews, doors started closing. We found ourselves asking, ‘Are these all your sons?’ 

“Leatherwood was recommended to us from a variety of sources and became the top candidate by virtue of his leading well through the various challenges facing the commission during the interim season. He has intangible leadership qualities that we could not ignore. After a final round of interviews with Leatherwood, the committee, for the first time in this process, voted unanimously in favor of recommending him to the full board of trustees as the next president of the ERLC.” 

Leatherwood is a dedicated member of The Church of Avenue South in Nashville, Tenn., where he has served as a deacon since 2014. He is married to Meredith, and they have three children. 

“True leadership begins as service,” said Leatherwood. “That has been the heart I have brought each day to the ERLC these past 12 months. And it is that same heart I will continue to bring as this new chapter begins. I am honored and humbled to be given the opportunity to serve this historic institution as its next president. 

“Rooted in Scripture and guided by the Baptist Faith and Message, this team will remain fervently committed to carrying out our ministry assignment—faithfully serving our churches and growing our convictional presence in the public square on behalf of our convention. That means speaking with biblical clarity about the issues that matter to Baptists: the inherent value of life, religious liberty at home and abroad, human dignity and the flourishing of families. 

“We have made it a priority to come alongside and equip our churches, partner with our state conventions, and support our sister SBC entities. This Commission will continue to do so in this new season because we know the Southern Baptist Convention is stronger when we are cooperating on mission together.”

Prior to Leatherwood’s appointment as ERLC president, Russell Moore served as president from 2013-2021 and Richard Land served from 1988-2013. All three men were appointed to the presidency at age 41.

__________

Brent Leatherwood was endorsed by a variety of SBC and state leaders. Their statements are below. 

“I believe Brent Leatherwood will serve Southern Baptists well in this strategic position. He is a gifted and godly man with firm biblical and baptistic convictions.” 

Daniel Akin 
President 
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

“It is my privilege to recommend Brent Leatherwood to you as the next president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). Brent has the spiritual grounding, experience, and skill set necessary to lead the ERLC at this unique time in our Convention’s and nation’s history. As I have observed, Brent has a strong faith, knowledge of Scripture, and an unbounding love for Jesus. These are critical tenets for anyone who leads one of our Southern Baptist entities.” 

Kevin Ezell 
President 
North American Mission Board 

“Brent Leatherwood strikes me as the sort of man who loves Southern Baptists—who we have been, are, and hope to become. Such a man as that can rise as a statesman to speak for Southern Baptists. Such a man can also come alongside Southern Baptists and gently speak to us as a brother.” 

Bart Barber 
Pastor, FBC Farmersville, TX 
President, Southern Baptist Convention

“I consider it a privilege and an honor to endorse Brent Leatherwood’s nomination as president of the ERLC. Brent has led wisely and courageously as the interim president during what can only be described as a tumultuous and strident period in our nation and our convention. Southern Baptists and America both desperately need the information, inspiration, and guidance the ERLC can provide under Brent Leatherwood’s leadership.” 

Richard Land 
President Emeritus 
ERLC

“The National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention (NAAF) wishes to express our strong support of Mr. Brent Leatherwood’s candidacy for President of the ERLC. Brent is a proven leader and trusted partner. His commitment to Gospel-centered public policy is seasoned by his sensitivity to the nuanced lived experiences of our diverse Southern Baptist (SBC) family.” 

Rev. Frank Williams
President
National African American Fellowship, SBC 
and
Rev. Dennis Mitchell
Executive Director,
National African American Fellowship, SBC

“Tennessee has a long history of faithful men and women who love their neighbors through service in the political arena. Believers must view engagement in government as the opportunity that it is. I can think of no one better than Brent Leatherwood to be the next President of the ERLC, leading Southern Baptists as they strive to represent Jesus through faithful and humble engagement in the public square.” 

Bill Lee
50th Governor of Tennessee

__________

To request an interview with Brent Leatherwood, contact Elizabeth Bristow by email at [email protected] or call 202-547-0209.

By / Aug 24

The last few years have witnessed world-changing events that have disrupted supply chains and limited access to food for many people. Southern Baptists will, on Aug. 28, recognize Global Hunger Sunday to raise support for those in need.

A 2021 report released by agencies associated with the United Nations stated that 2.3 billion people faced moderate to severe challenges to obtaining enough food to eat, with the total population facing severe insecurity climbing to an estimated 924 million.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen world events impact food supplies. First, it was the COVID pandemic, then the war in Ukraine hindered access to their wheat harvest,” said Bryant Wright, president of Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of Southern Baptists.

According to a report from NPR, Ukraine and Russia, together, account for a third of the world’s wheat and barley exports while Russia and Belarus are numbers two and three on the world’s list of producers of a key ingredient for fertilizer.

“A drought in the midwestern United States harmed the wheat harvest here. We expect the need to be so great that many will face starvation, especially in impoverished areas,” said Wright. “Let’s show the love of Jesus by meeting needs physically and spiritually with the Gospel.”

As of July 2022, an estimated 345 million people are near the point of starvation, a 25% increase from the beginning of the year before Russia invaded Ukraine. Conflict, displacement, and global destabilization have led the malnourished population to grow for the sixth consecutive year.

What is Global Hunger Relief? 

For 44 years, Southern Baptists have been raising funds to combat hunger around the globe. Originally started in 1978 as the World Hunger Fund, Global Hunger Relief is dedicated to the fight to minimize world hunger and to sharing the gospel of Christ.

Global Hunger Sunday is a great opportunity for churches to promote an offering to support Global Hunger Relief. Send Relief helps to promote and distribute the offering each year.

“Southern Baptist Christians have been concerned about global hunger needs for several decades now,” said Wright. “That concern has driven them to start soup kitchens and food pantries in their local communities. It has also driven them to give to funds like Global Hunger Relief, which Send Relief helps to administer to meet hunger needs around the world.”

Send Relief focuses on five key areas: strengthen communities, care for refugees, protect children and families, fight human trafficking, and respond to crisis. The ministry sets up specific funds for these focus areas, creates funds for specific projects, and receives general donations to support compassion ministry efforts around the world.

Generosity toward Global Hunger Relief helps respond to crisis by meeting hunger-related needs in various ways. When famine or natural disaster strikes, gifts to Global Hunger Relief provide resources for missionaries and other ministry partners to give food during those times of crisis.

Efforts also include projects that have a longer-term focus that offer sustainable solutions designed to strengthen communities by easing chronic hunger. Missionaries and ministry partners will provide job skills training, livestock and seed distribution, clean water, home reconstruction, as well as medical care.

In 2021, Southern Baptists gave $3.5 million through Global Hunger Relief, and 100% of those gifts go toward meeting hunger needs with 20% going to needs in North America and 80 going toward international hunger needs.

While Southern Baptists will officially recognize Global Hunger Sunday this coming weekend, Southern Baptist ministry partners are welcome to collect and submit the offering throughout the year.

To learn more about Global Hunger Relief, visit globalhungerrelief.org, and for resources designed to help churches recognize Global Hunger Sunday, visit here.

By / Jun 14

Baptists have, historically, partnered for the sake of mission and the Great Commission. They do so out of a zeal to see people reached for the gospel, recognizing that local churches can do more by cooperating together than any one church can do on its own. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) is the fruit of a generations-long commitment on the part of Southern Baptists to reach North America with the gospel of Jesus Christ. As currently comprised, NAMB centers everything it does around the gospel through three primary strategic emphases: church planting, compassion ministry, and evangelism.

Send Network serves Southern Baptist churches by assisting them in the process of planting healthy, multiplying churches everywhere for everyone. Send Relief provides resources and creates mission opportunities for churches to meet tangible needs and see lives changed through the power of the gospel. Then, NAMB resources and provides evangelism training for churches and leaders as they share the gospel in their communities. As the endorsing agency for Southern Baptist chaplains, NAMB also trains, equips, and encourages chaplains who serve members of the Armed Services, in correctional facilities, and in other institutions.

Roots of NAMB

NAMB traces its historic roots back to 1845 and the creation of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) after Baptists in the South sought to organize their own convention following disagreements with Northern Baptists over issues related to slavery. When Southern Baptists met in Augusta, Georgia, in 1845 to constitute the SBC, one of their first decisions was to establish two missions agencies: the Foreign Mission Board and the Board of Domestic Missions.

In its earliest days from its headquarters in Marion, Alabama, the new board struggled to craft a compelling vision and develop an effective strategy that encouraged Southern Baptists to fund and engage with the new board. Most preferred working through already established local associations and state conventions.

A lack of consistent, tenured leadership was initially a major hurdle before Russell Holman, the first pastor of First Baptist Church New Orleans, took the reins and focused the Board’s strategy. Leading up to the Civil War, the Board began directing most of its efforts to areas of ministry where Southern Baptists were weakest, serving Native American populations and ministering in cities and in newly settled regions on the continent. The strategy allowed the Board to become more financially and missionally stable.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, however, Southern Baptist mission efforts were severely disrupted with the conflict making it practically impossible to raise funds since attention had turned to the war. By the close of the war in 1865, the Domestic Mission Board was destitute.

Under the direction of Martin T. Sumner, who led the organization for 13 years, the Board continuously expanded and contracted its missionary force as it navigated the financial balancing act of funding missionaries and avoiding significant debt.

The Board adopted a new name in 1874, the Home Mission Board (HMB), which it retained for more than a century. By 1882, the SBC decided to move the HMB to a more well-known city, Atlanta, Georgia, in attempt to reenergize support for the entity. The move, along with the election of influential Southern Baptist Isaac Tichenor, generated significant momentum for the HMB. The number of missionaries increased rapidly over the course of the next decade.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a significant lay missionary movement spurred Southern Baptists’ missionary efforts. The Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), led by Annie Armstrong, rallied churches to support mission work and collected the first offering for home missions in 1895. A similar men’s movement sought to galvanize more men into supporting and participating in missions work as well.

By the 1900s, cooperation within the Southern Baptist Convention hit new levels of confidence, and the SBC initiated a significant fundraising campaign in 1919—the 75 Million Campaign—and several SBC entities drafted grand plans based on the incredible response from Southern Baptists. The HMB, authorized by the SBC to increase its programs, incurred debt in anticipation of the fundraising campaign.

Growth after the Depression 

But the funding boon was short-lived. Economic hardship in the South followed by the onset of the Great Depression forced the HMB to shift much of its focus toward paying off debt. Southern Baptists continued their support, however, and the HMB weathered the financial storm in large part due to the development of the SBC’s Cooperative Program in 1925 and the WMU’s collection of the home missions offering, which was named in honor of Annie Armstrong in 1934.

As the nation transitioned in the 1940s from a depressed economy to a booming one, Southern Baptists began to see rapidly increasing growth, and the HMB expanded its ministry efforts. While the predominant majority of Southern Baptists remained in the South, the SBC developed a nationwide presence, engaging in church planting, (what is now called) compassion ministry and chaplaincy. The HMB played a key role in each of those efforts.

The SBC also created new agencies over the next decade, launching the Radio Commission as an official entity of the SBC in 1946, and the men’s missionary movement became an official entity of the SBC, becoming the Brotherhood Commission of the SBC in 1950 with headquarters in Memphis, Tenn.

In 1953, the first Canadian church affiliated with Southern Baptists, and the seeds were sown for what eventually became the Canadian National Baptist Convention as Baptists in Canada strove to share the gospel across their nation.

Over the next several decades, Southern Baptist mission work persisted as the HMB worked with various ethnic and other language groups, expanding its missionary force and enlarging its evangelism efforts. In the late 1960s, a grassroots effort fueled the creation of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, which grew into a national cooperative effort by the 1980s.

As the 20th century concluded, Southern Baptists determined to restructure and consolidate several existing entities by adopting the Covenant for a New Century in 1995. The move included bringing together the HMB, Brotherhood Commission and the Radio and Television Commission into a single Southern Baptist entity: the North American Mission Board. The transition was finalized in 1997.

Thirteen years later, messengers to the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Florida, asked NAMB to focus more of its efforts on church planting as one aspect of the Great Commission Resurgence, which was approved by a wide margin of messengers. That same year, trustees elected current president, Kevin Ezell.

Under Ezell’s leadership, NAMB developed its church planting arm, Send Network, and launched Send Relief, its compassion ministry arm in 2016. In 2020, NAMB joined the SBC’s International Mission Board to cooperate under the banner of Send Relief to provide a single organization for Southern Baptists to work through in their compassion ministry efforts both in North America and around the world.

The United States and Canada have, in recent decades, been undergoing significant demographic shifts, and the future of missions in North America requires Great Commission intentionality on the part of Southern Baptist churches. NAMB’s vision is to boost the efforts of local churches as they reach those who desperately need to hear the gospel of Jesus.

Sources:

Arthur B. Rutledge and William G. Tanner. Mission to America: A History of Southern Baptist Home Missions. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1983.

Implementation Task Force: Covenant for a New Century. Baptist Press.

SBC messengers adopt GCR report by wide margin.” Baptist Press.

Big Changes for NAMB and State Conventions Under GCR Proposal.” Baptist Press.
Canadian National Baptist Convention TimeLine.” Canadian National Baptist Convention.

By / Jun 1

In 1792, British Baptist William Carey published An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen. In the short tract, Carey set forth the thesis—controversial at the time—that most of the known world was without Christ and that it was the scriptural duty of ordinary Christians to reach them with the gospel. Carey and his friends, sympathetic ministers like Andrew Fuller, John Sutcliffe, Samuel Pearce, and John Ryland Jr., understood that the task before them would require organization and strenuous effort, and they responded to Carey’s plea by forming the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS).

The Baptist Missionary Society and funding

Upon organizing the BMS, Carey and his friends faced many challenges, but their most persistent struggle came from their efforts to secure funding for the mission. Carey’s Inquiry already anticipated the difficulty of raising funds for such an endeavor. In the tract he encouraged congregations to set aside even one penny per week for the propagation of the gospel. He noted how many British families had boycotted sugar from West India over “the iniquitous manner in which it is obtained,” and recommended that they devote the savings from this boycott to missions. No cause was greater than that of the promotion of Christ’s kingdom, Carey argued, as he pleaded with readers to invest in eternal reward.

Carey is appropriately known today as the “father of modern missions.” His missional vision and plodding work ethic helped launch a movement that reverberates to this day. But Carey did not labor alone; he depended on his friends and financial contributions from local churches. As Fuller later recollected, “Carey, as it were, said, ‘Well, I will go down if you will hold the rope.’ But before he went down, he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us at the mouth of the pit to this effect, that while we lived we should never let go of the rope. You understand me. There was great responsibility attached to us who began the business.” 

A large part of Fuller’s “rope-holding” involved a lifetime commitment to raising money to fund Carey and the other missionaries sent out by the BMS. This task took extraordinary effort, for the need for funding never relented. Fuller worked so hard in his fundraising and other administrative duties for the BMS that his widow believed it led to his death at the age of 61.

Mission endeavors like the BMS—the kind of works that require partnership across local congregations—have long struggled with fundraising. In the free church tradition where each congregation operates autonomously, larger cooperative ministries have often been overlooked, sometimes by necessity, as local congregations struggle to sustain their own ministries.

The SBC and the Cooperative Program 

Nearly a century after the formation of the BMS, Lottie Moon, an American missionary to China who had been sent out by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, was still laboring to secure funding for missions. In 1887, she lamented the shortage of financial contributions for the vital work to which Christ had called his church, writing, “Why this strange indifference to missions? Why these scant contributions? Why does money fail to be forthcoming when approved men and women are asking to be sent to proclaim the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ’ to the heathen?”

Moon, like so many others, sought creative ways to raise money for missions and eventually suggested the Christmas season when Christians celebrated the greatest gift ever given as a natural time to consecrate money for the cause. The first Lottie Moon-inspired Christmas offering was taken in 1888, and that offering has raised over $5 billion for world missions to date.

The 1920s were a difficult decade in America. World War I had just ended, the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920 had killed 675,000 Americans, and the “forgotten depression” of 1920-1921 hit farmers and other working-class Americans especially hard. As a result, the Southern Baptist Convention, which was made up mostly of rural churches, was having trouble funding its various ministries. In 1924, facing a debt of nearly $1 million, the Foreign Mission Board was forced to turn down the applications of 95 prospective missionaries.

In addition to the difficulty of financial shortfall, constant fundraising efforts were disrupting local church ministry. The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention were committed to funding home missions, foreign missions, and multiple seminaries, to name just a few, and the prevailing fundraising method prior to 1925 was for each of these entities to send representatives to local churches to plead for help. A representative would show up at a local church on a Sunday morning, preach a message about the need, and take up an offering to fund their ministry. The continual appeals for money exhausted local churches and kept local pastors out of their pulpits multiple weeks per year. The Southern Baptist Convention needed an alternative solution.

At the 1924 annual convention in Atlanta, Louisiana pastor M.E. Dodd, chairman of the Committee on Future Program, recommended a revolutionary solution to the funding dilemma. Dodd’s plan—known today as the “Cooperative Program”—asked the individual churches of the convention to commit a percentage of their total receipts each year to their state conventions. The state conventions would then designate a portion of the money to state-level ministries before forwarding the remainder to the SBC. Dodd’s plan was adopted at the 1925 convention in Memphis and continues to fund the cooperative gospel efforts of the SBC to this day. Last week was the anniversary of this adoption. 

How successful has the Cooperative Program been? Many of its benefits will never be measured. Dodd’s plan has freed countless gospel laborers from the tedious and time-consuming work of raising money and has kept pastors in their own pulpits on Sunday mornings. Missionaries have been freed to continue their labor on the field uninterrupted, freed from the heavy burden of fundraising. The Cooperative Program today funds six top-level seminaries that provide theological education for more than 13,500 students annually—more than any other denomination in the United States. Additionally, through the CP, Southern Baptists support over 3,500 on-the-field international missionaries through the International Mission Board and over 4,400 church plants through the North American Mission Board. This money also funds Lifeway Resources, the SBC’s publishing entity, Guidestone, which helps ministers with financial planning, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which advocates for religious liberty and Christian ethics in the broader cultural arena.

Churches are not required to give, but that has rarely been a problem. To date, Southern Baptist churches have given over $20 billion. The SBC’s annual budget is nearing $200 million. While these numbers are impressive, there’s no way to adequately assess the impact of M.E. Dodd’s idea. Spiritual fruit cannot be measured with data charts and pie graphs. Only God knows the full impact of the last century of Southern Baptists’ cumulative financial sacrifices. Here’s to many more years of faithful giving to the Cooperative Program.