WASHINGTON (BP) — Providing books to all 535 congressional offices is about the Gospel and human dignity for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
The ERLC’s Washington office has been hand-delivering three books produced by its staff to all the members of Congress since Nov. 1. It will continue to do so until the books are in the offices of 100 senators and 435 representatives.
The goal is about more than winning a policy battle, said Brent Leatherwood, the ERLC’s director of strategic partnerships.
“We think that as people of the cross, we should be able to dialogue with people who disagree with us on policy issues without just automatically seeing them as enemies, and that’s the least that the Gospel expects of us,” Leatherwood told Baptist Press in a phone interview.
The books being placed in congressional offices are:
— “Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel” by ERLC President Russell Moore;
— “The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity” by Daniel Darling, the ERLC’s vice president for communications;
— “The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation,” a volume in the ERLC’s The Gospel for Life series edited by Moore and Andrew Walker, the entity’s director of research and senior fellow in Christian ethics. The book consists of chapters by Thabiti Anyabwile, Matthew Hall, Daniel Hays, D.A. Horton, Eric Mason and Trillia Newbell.
“The messages within these books lay the foundation for a healthier public square,” said Travis Wussow, vice president for public policy in the ERLC’s Washington office.
“One of the drivers of the brokenness in our national conversation is a belief that the people with whom we have political disagreements are actually people with bad motives trying to destroy the country rather than accepting that we simply have different visions of the good life,” Wussow told BP in written comments. “It is hard to hate your political opponent when you see them as an individual endowed with the inherent value of bearing God’s image.”
Leatherwood also pointed to the importance of viewing people on both sides of the political aisle as image bearers of God.
“At a basic level, [the project] allows us to see the dignity that is inherent in everyone who is active in the public space,” he told BP. “And if we can just accomplish that right there, that would have a dramatic effect on the type of dialogue that we’re seeing right now in the public space, which is in dire need of improvement. We hope that this is a first step towards getting us to that goal.”
Coarseness and cruelty seemingly have increasingly characterized public dialogue in recent years, especially in the election campaigns of 2016 and this year. The ERLC began to ask what it could do to help with the problem as the election neared.
“[T]he language that was being used in campaigns was, in many instances, just kind of dehumanizing or dignity robbing of people’s opponents,” Leatherwood said. The ERLC wondered if there might be a way to use its resources to “even offer them a different way of dialoguing in the public square.”
The ERLC partnered with B&H Publishing and The Good Book Co. to provide the books, along with a note from Moore, for congressional offices. B&H published “Onward” and “The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation,” while Good Book published “The Dignity Revolution.”
Congressional members and their staffs always were on the lookout for helpful resources during his time of working for a representative on Capitol Hill, Leatherwood said.
Resources that were “really well thought out” and had a “pretty strong argument … were not abundant,” he told BP. People in policy-making positions “are continually bombarded with complex issues and cultural events that are happening that drive the news cycle, and so to get some resources that equip you with ways to view those issues and how to process those events, those were always really helpful,” Leatherwood said.
By providing the books to every member of Congress regardless of their party or policies, “we wanted to engage all of them in the same way,” Leatherwood said. The books, he told BP, “show a way forward in that it gives [congressional members] a way to talk about these issues if they agree with our viewpoints on them. Or conversely, maybe they don’t exactly line up with where we are on the issue, but at least it gives them a sense of where we are coming from.”