NASHVILLE (BP)—Human dignity and religious freedom received much of the attention of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission during a year of transition.
As part of its work in 2021, the ERLC vastly expanded its placement of ultrasound machines at pregnancy resource centers, called for the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse its nearly half-century-old decision that legalized abortion, supported religious liberty in a variety of court cases and advocated for oppressed people groups overseas.
The ERLC’s presidential post became vacant June 1, when Russell Moore departed for a new role. Moore, who served eight years as the entity’s president, became public theologian for Christianity Today and leader of the evangelical magazine’s new Public Theology Project.
Brent Leatherwood, the commission’s acting president, told Baptist Press that 2021 “was a year of challenges and triumphs for the ERLC.”
“And while much changed for us this year, much remained the same — including our commitment to carrying out the ministry assignment Southern Baptists have given us,” he said in written comments. “Throughout the year, the commission sought to serve pastors, equip believers and engage the public square.
“Whether it was speaking up for preborn lives, advancing religious freedom, defending the dignity of the oppressed across the globe or bringing a consistent kingdom voice to a fallen culture, we believe our work has made a difference. Our team considers it a mighty privilege and incredible joy to serve our convention of churches.”
Here are 10 highlights of the ERLC’s work in 2021 as reported by BP:
Psalm 139 Project multiplies ultrasound placements
The Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC’s ministry to help provide ultrasound technology to pregnancy centers and train staff members in its use, dramatically increased its number of placements in 2021. The ERLC placed 25 ultrasound machines, including its first international donation in Northern Ireland. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee spoke at the dedication of one of seven machines placed as a result of a grant from the state government. Psalm 139 reached the halfway point in its goal of 50 placements between December 2020 and January 2023, the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion throughout the United States.
ERLC joins call for the high court to overturn Roe ruling
The ERLC signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief with other pro-life organizations and joined Mississippi in urging the U.S. Supreme Court not only to uphold the state’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks gestation but to reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion. The high court heard oral arguments in December in the case, which appears to provide the justices with the most promising opportunity to overrule Roe in nearly three decades.
Chinese genocide of Uyghurs prompts SBC resolution, import ban
Messengers to the SBC meeting in June adopted a resolution that condemned the Chinese Communist Party’s oppression primarily of Uyghur Muslims in a western region of the world’s most populous country. It also called for the U.S. government to take “concrete actions” to end the genocide. The SBC reportedly became the first Christian denomination to denounce China’s campaign against the Uyghurs as genocide. With the urging of the ERLC and other organizations, Congress and President Biden enacted into law in December a ban on the importation of goods made by forced labor in China.
Briefs urge high court to protect religious freedom
The ERLC filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court in multiple cases involving religious freedom. In opinions in two of the cases, the high court delivered victories for a college student in Georgia and a Catholic foster care and adoption agency in Philadelphia. The justices have yet to announce decisions in cases involving a Texas death row inmate who wants a Southern Baptist pastor to pray and lay hands on him during his execution by lethal injection and a Maine tuition-assistance program that excludes faith-based schools.
ERLC presses Congress to retain Hyde Amendment
The commission urged Congress in multiple letters during 2021 to continue to include the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life riders in spending bills. The Hyde Amendment has prohibited federal funds in Medicaid and other programs from paying for abortions in every year since 1976. Messengers to the SBC’s 2021 meeting approved a resolution that denounced any attempt to rescind the Hyde Amendment.
Technology, pro-life initiatives unveiled by the commission
ERLC staff outlined to entity trustees at their yearly meeting in September plans for cutting-edge work in technology ethics and pro-life issues. The Digital Public Square is designed to provide resources for churches to address the ethical challenges of developing technology. The ERLC also will lead in a campaign to help churches be engaged on the abortion issue.
ERLC maintains work regarding COVID-19
The ERLC continued its engagement regarding the COVID-19 pandemic – providing guidance for Christians about the ethics of vaccines, commenting on court rulings about religious freedom and abortion, and urging lawmakers to include pro-life protections in a relief bill. Biden ultimately signed the American Rescue Plan into law in March without it applying Hyde Amendment language to healthcare funding.
Commission asks president to aid Afghans, other refugees
The ERLC joined other organizations in urging the Biden administration to protect and resettle Afghansthreatened when the Taliban took over their country in August. The commission and its allies also asked the president to establish a special refugee category for members of religious minorities in Afghanistan who are at risk at the hands of the Taliban and other terrorist groups. The ERLC also urged Biden in October to follow through on his commitment to increase refugee admissions dramatically following a record low year.
Caring Well initiative on sexual abuse continues
Caring Well — a collaborative effort by the ERLC and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group to prevent sex abuse and care for its survivors — continued three years after it began through consultations and a variety of resources. In response to a motion at the SBC’s June meeting, the ERLC’s trustees voted in September to commit the entity to engage an outside organization for a three-year assessment of sex abuse in the convention. They also set aside $250,000 as an initial commitment for the audit.
ERLC hosts sixth Evangelicals for Life conference
The ERLC hosted Evangelicals for Life for the sixth consecutive year in January, this time by live streaming because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The commission announced plans for “The Road to Roe50,” a collaborative initiative to unify the pro-life movement, train a new generation of leaders and prepare for the future. It will culminate in a Washington, D.C., event in January 2023 on the occasion of Roe v. Wade’s 50th anniversary.