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The New Focus for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

The Southern Baptist Convention does some amazing work, both at a nationwide and local level. But what some may not know is that their work extends to public policy via the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). This organization bridges the gap between Southern Baptist churches and policy issues such as the sanctity of human life, LGBTQ+ issues, religious liberty, and more.

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Brent Leatherwood, the new president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, to discuss what’s in store for the organization in the near future.

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Brent Leatherwood Headshot ERLC

Family Policy Matters
Transcript: The New Focus for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Southern Baptists represent the largest religious denomination in the state of North Carolina. And although they don’t have a ruling body in the way that other denominations do, Southern Baptists do get together for their annual meeting and offer resolutions on public policy issues among many other things, of course. Well, many of those resolutions are then fleshed out and communicated by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, or ERLC. I guess it’s important to point out that I am a member of the ERLC Board of Trustees. So if I sound enthusiastic about the work being done there, it’s because I am. Well, Brent Leatherwood is the new president of the ERLC, and he’s here with us today to talk about his focus moving forward. Brent was just installed as president, but he’s not new to the ERLC, and certainly not new to public policy. Brent Leatherwood, welcome to Family Policy Matters.

Traci, it’s so good to be with you. It’s good to hear your voice.

So start by giving us a quick overview for people who may not know what the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is, and why is it important to even those of us in our audience who are not Southern Baptists.

We are the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, we are the entity within the SBC that is in charge of taking the light of the gospel into the public square. And we communicate the broad views of our churches and Southern Baptists across the country. And generally, we do that in Washington, DC before Congress, before the administration, before the US Supreme Court, but we also increasingly find ourselves active at the state level, and doing that in partnership with churches and conventions at the local level. So that’s what we do. And generally, Southern Baptists, we communicate the views that have been closely held by Christians for any number of years. And we think that those views should matter to public policymakers, and that’s why it is a joy for us to carry out this mission that we’ve been called to.

Well, let’s talk specifically then about some of the priorities for the ERLC under your leadership that you envision in the years ahead.

ERLC speaks in four different broad categories. And those issues are the protection of human life, the defense of religious liberty, making sure that marriage and family are protected, and then obviously advocating for human dignity. And those four avenues, those have been the consistent areas that the ERLC has spoken into, and that’s not going to change. Now, some of the issues are slightly going to change as more and more matters are brought to the surface publicly out there that Christians need to wrestle with and contend with. And I would say, and I would submit that Scripture has an answer for. Some of those issues, obviously, are ongoing, life, right. So continuing to make sure that preborn lives are recognized in both federal and state law, that is certainly a prime emphasis for us, but also continuing to advance religious liberty. Then specifically the protection of our churches and the protection of Christians who want to live out their biblical convictions on a daily basis. And you know, that fits under, obviously, religious liberty, but then also from their conscience rights. We want people to be able to follow the dictates of their conscience. That’s a really new novel area that law and policymakers have not fully contended with. And we think it’s important that we spend a lot of our time, especially our research, I want us to be drilling down and provide robust research to policymakers about why this is so important to protect conscience rights. And bolstering family policy, absolutely. This is a critical point that we must get right in the wake of the Dobbs decision. The Dobbs Supreme Court decision last summer that overturned the heinous Roe versus Wade decision. It gave the ability to set policy about abortion back to the States, which had largely been silent or in many ways ineffective since Roe v. Wade. It doesn’t mean that there is not a federal course of action in terms of abortion. But it does mean that states now have a much stronger voice in setting that policy. And I think part of that is making sure that family policy is bolstered because ultimately, what we want to make sure is that young families, mothers, single mothers who find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy or other instances, we want to make sure that there is policy that wraps around them, partnerships that wrap around them, right, between the state and with churches and pregnancy resource clinics, we want to make sure that there is an all encompassing public policy, and private charitable church and religious organizations that are coming together to come around these families and come around these individuals so that they don’t view abortion as any sort of an alternative. As a matter of fact, we want that done away with completely, but we want to show them that they will have the support and the resources and the community that they need to raise a child. And so I think that’s why bolstering family policy is going to be critically important.

Also, immigration, we’ve all been reading the news over the last few weeks, our border, particularly our southern border, is at a crisis moment. We have got to make sure that our customs and border patrol, and the other multiple agencies that are active at the border, have the resources that they need to protect our border, and to make sure that as individuals are encountered at the border, that they are processed and dealt with in a dignified way that respects the fact that they are made in the image of God just like you and me, Traci. And so that is something that we’re definitely going to be weighing into and speaking in, because more and more we’re detecting, I was just on a phone call this morning, where federal policymakers, they’re attuned to this, and they would like to see something move forward. And so Southern Baptists, through the resolutions that are passed each year, we have called a number of times for robust immigration reforms to be put in place and to be done so alongside strengthened border security measures. Those two things, we don’t have to choose between them, they can go together, and we’re going to continue imploring our policymakers to do so.

Probably the last thing I would mention is mental health. This goes back again to what we were talking about in this era of disconnectedness and discontent and deaths of despair, we have got to figure out a way to set and create policy that intervenes so that individuals don’t take their own lives, or the lives of others. And so I think that’s something that we’re going to be spending a lot of time on. Now, most of what I’ve talked about is at the federal level. There is a whole world of state policy, and the great news there is our states and various regions have come together with our Baptist state conventions. And we love working with our Baptist state conventions to help craft and push forward good policy. A most recent example, that’s a great example, happened in your home state of North Carolina, where we came alongside the North Carolina Baptists to help push for the legislative override of your governor’s veto of a 12 week abortion ban. Look, we don’t want a world where abortion is at all a thing, but this is a significant step that will help save more lives in the interim. So I’m so grateful for Todd Unzicker, who leads the effort for North Carolina Baptist. That was a great example of how a state entity and a national entity can partner together to really make an impact on public policy.

I agree. And you may not be aware that there were the statewide organizations such as NC family that were also working all in conjunction. So it was a great partnership that brought that about, and of course, we still have more work to do. You know you sound so upbeat, you go through these issues that you’re going to be tackling and it apparently does not make your head explode. Of course you have a wonderful staff, we do know that, but talk a little bit about why you see hope. Why do you feel that it’s not discouraging when you look around and you see all the problems in our culture that seem to be spiraling out of control,

A) because this is nothing new. Things have spiraled out of control since Genesis three. And so what we see around us, has been with us from the earliest moments when sin entered the world, and this was not God’s design. And so in that sense, while the issues themselves and the way that they’re coming about may be somewhat new, the fact is, we’ve had brokenness for a long time now. And we are wanting to introduce people to true hope, and the hope that can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, because the rest of this is all falling away. And that’s what is important. And, look, if I didn’t personally know the Lord, I probably wouldn’t be so upbeat and optimistic. But I know the way the story ends, because He has told us it is so. And look, let me tell you other signs of hope, especially in younger generations. That’s where I’m, I’m looking actually, it’s both older generations and younger generations. Younger generations, I see a renewed enthusiasm and emphasis on biblical orthodoxy. Holding true and fast to those eternal things that have been with us since the beginning and wanting to make sure that our churches are operating consistently with that. That actually is something that buoys my hope. And then at the same time, older generations, who are continuing to be engaged right through the very end and trying to do their best to finish well. We just lost in recent days Pastor Tim Keller up in New York City, and what a magnificent gospel voice in the midst of New York City, which you know, a lot of people are, you know, when they think of New York, they probably don’t think of a gospel outpost, but that’s what Pastor Keller believed the Lord sent him there to do. And he did, and he did it faithfully for years. So seeing that sort of commitment to the gospel, that sort of boldness in the public square, and being able to offer people, people that may disagree with you about any number of issues, but being able to offer people a relationship with Jesus. I think that’s, that’s incredible. So those are some of the places where I’m finding hope.

Well, we’re just about out of time for this week. Before we go, Brent Leatherwood, you and your staff have prepared some very valuable resources available, of course, to anyone, not just Southern Baptists, what are those? How can we access them,

I would say first and foremost, go to There you will find a list of any number of resources and matter of fact, you can probably search through just about any topic that our organization has been engaged with in public policy, that is the number one place to go. There’s a number of books that we have, particularly on, most recently, a number of resources have been created about the Digital Public Square, and some of the issues online that people are facing, give a you know, recognize my colleague, Jason Thacker, who has been spearheading that through our Digital Public Square project. But there’s a number of other resources that you can find through our website that are on a number of other issues as well. And I would encourage people to go there and then always look us up on social media, we generally are either @ERLC, or @ERLCSBC. And that’s a great way to connect with us as well.

Brent Leatherwood, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, thanks so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.

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