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ERLC ‘cannot be quiet’ in fight for life, Leatherwood says

Ethics & Religious Liberty President Brent Leatherwood gives a report to messengers at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans June 14. Photo by Josselyn Guillen

NEW ORLEANS (BP) – Through tears, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Brent Leatherwood told SBC messengers in New Orleans about the worst day of his life.

On March 27, 2023, a shooter killed six people at Covenant Christian School in Nashville, where Leatherwood’s three children are students. His daily experience with “three little survivors,” he said, has strengthened his resolve to lead the ERLC in protecting the vulnerable.

“In the following weeks and months, the Lord – who has so graciously sustained our family through this nightmare – has worked on my heart and opened my eyes to the ways our culture of anger and animosity can so quickly be turned into one of annihilation,” Leatherwood said during the ERLC report June 14 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

The culture of anger pushes men and women toward abortion, attempted gender transitions and substance abuse, Leatherwood said. It also leads churches to vilify abuse survivors “because of some flimsy, pharisaical, political excuse.”

The ERLC is translating its passion for the vulnerable into combatting those evils, he said.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade abortion decision last June, the ERLC has helped Southern Baptists understand America’s “new chapter” in the battle to protect life, Leatherwood said. That has included placing ultrasound machines in crisis pregnancy centers through the Psalm 139 Project and helping believers across the nation review their states’ laws related to life.

“The commitment we have to protect life has guided our work at the state and national levels,” he said. “This spring in our first ever state-level public policy review in partnership with our state conventions, we brought a distinctively Baptist voice to matters important to our churches.”

In Tennessee, the ERLC requested “new safeguards to be put in place to protect children from harmful transgender surgeries and destructive interventions,” he said. In Iowa and Wisconsin, the commission stood against school administrators’ attempts “to insert themselves in the relationship between a parent and a child.” In Nevada, the ERLC stood with local Baptists “to successfully urge the governor to reject a bill to make that state a destination for assisted suicide.”

Nationally, the commission has “been a leading voice in opposition to the Biden administration’s efforts to curtail religious liberty and conscience protections,” Leatherwood said. Additionally, the ERLC has “worked to strengthen this nation’s resolve to oppose authoritarian regimes that assault human dignity [and] destroy religious freedom.”

Reflecting again on the Covenant School shooting, Leatherwood said he “cannot be quiet” or “stand idly by while our culture poisons people and tells them they need to tear each other apart. No. Life is precious, far too precious.”

During the period for messenger questions, Pastor Brian Gunter of First Baptist Church in Livingston, La., asked Leatherwood if mothers who abort their unborn children should be found guilty of a crime.

Leatherwood replied that “abortion is murder, and we will never waver from that” conviction. But the mother “has been preyed upon by a culture of death that was instituted with Roe v. Wade, a culture that’s all around us, that just sees life as disposable” and tells a woman “the only way she can thrive is to get rid of the child.”

“We should go after, with the full force of law, the people who actually take the life of that child: the abortionists, the abortion mills and the drug manufacturers who make the chemicals that take life,” Leatherwood said. But Southern Baptists must not help abortion advocates achieve “their goal of casting the pro-life movement and our churches, with our Gospel convictions, as anti-woman rather than saving babies and supporting mothers.”