Southern Baptists to keep promoting ‘life, religious liberty, marriage’ protections via policy arm

Brent Leatherwood, the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public affairs arm, said Thursday the group’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission will continue to advocate for policies “that protect life, that protect religious liberty [and] that protect marriage.”

He also promised an evangelistic approach to projecting that message.

“We are going to say and defend truth,” Mr. Leatherwood told an online news conference. “But we’re going to do it in a way that invites people to know our Lord and Savior at a better and deeper level.”

On the subject of sexual abuse, in which church leaders revealed earlier this year that reports of abuse had been suppressed by top church officials for two decades, Mr. Leatherwood said the ERLC would work with the current task force to “have a number of individuals and leaders who can help push this forward,” expanding on steps already taken, including the allotment of $3 million as an initial figure to provide counseling and support for victims.

He said a “more significant update” on how the denomination is handling the abuse issue should come “in the next few months.”

The leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention said last month that the church was under investigation by the Justice Department in the matter and that it would “fully and completely cooperate.”

The ERLC, a public face of the 13.7-million-member denomination, has come through a rocky 16 months since the departure of previous head Russell Moore, who left the post after eight years in office and also quit the Baptist church.

Mr. Moore’s departure from the denomination was seen by many as a voice against those Southern Baptists who still support former President Donald Trump, even after the Jan. 6, 2021 protests at the U.S. Capitol.

“It’s not my role to bind anyone’s conscience in terms of how to vote,” Mr. Leatherwood said.

Other Baptist leaders were more direct about voting priorities. Speaking this week at a “Pray Vote Stand” summit organized by the Family Research Council, the Rev. Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared Christians who “do not vote or they vote wrongly, they are unfaithful because the vote is a powerful stewardship.”

Mr. Leatherwood said he hadn’t heard Mr. Mohler’s remarks and wouldn’t comment until he had.

Asked how he would bridge fissures between those who believe the ERLC either has gone too far or not far enough, Mr. Leatherwood said the commission’s work is more positively viewed than social media posts might suggest.

“If you just look on social media, you will see that there are folks with varying degrees of opinions about just anything that we do with the ERLC,” he said. “We’re the one entity whose work is largely done in the public sphere and in the public eye.”

He said that stepping away from social media, “my sense of things out there right now [is] there is a renewed sense of Baptist cooperation and Baptist unity that is growing.”

Mr. Leatherwood addressed other current issues during the news conference, saying the transporting of illegal immigrants to places such as Martha’s Vineyard and outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ official residence “seem to be more about public relations.”

He said Southern Baptists, who “are adamant in our views on human dignity” instead “want to try and …  get individuals together from either of the political parties and say there are solutions that can be found.”

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