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Leatherwood, ERLC leaders meet with Biden’s staff, congressional members

U.S. Capitol (BP file photo)


WASHINGTON (BP)—Brent Leatherwood’s first trip to Washington, D.C., as head of the Southern Baptists’ public policy entity impressed upon him a recognition of the appreciation government leaders have for the churches of the convention.  

As president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Leatherwood traveled from Nashville to the capital “to discuss some of the pressing issues our convention of churches cares about,” he said in a Nov. 16 Twitter thread.

On Twitter, Leatherwood summarized some observations regarding those meetings Nov. 15-16 with lawmakers and executive branch officials.

“Throughout all these conversations, it was apparent our nation’s leaders deeply appreciate the SBC’s commitment to life, religious liberty, and marriage and family,” Leatherwood tweeted. “While we may not always agree with these individuals, I’m thankful for their willingness to serve and listen.”

And, he said on Twitter, it “makes me even more appreciative that our SBC churches cooperate to ensure our entity may do this sort of crucial public advocacy and, more importantly, bring the Gospel into the public square.”

After serving as acting president for a year, Leatherwood received in September the unanimous approval of the commission’s trustees as the ERLC’s ninth president.

Two months later, he spent time with officials of the executive branch and Congress on behalf of Southern Baptists. ERLC Policy Manager Hannah Daniel joined Leatherwood in addressing a variety of issues of concern to the country’s largest evangelical Christian convention or denomination.

In meetings with members of Congress, they continued to make clear the ERLC’s priorities in the current lame-duck session, which began Nov. 14.

These included objections to the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA), which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and require federal and state recognition of same-sex marriages considered legal in the jurisdiction where they took place. The ERLC opposes the bill because it contradicts God’s design for marriage and threatens religious freedom.

In a Nov. 16 roll call, the Senate voted 62-37 to bring the bill to the floor for a vote on passage. The Senate must still vote to pass the proposal, and the House of Representatives, which approved a different version earlier, must endorse the Senate-amended bill, but the enactment of the measure into law appears certain.

The ERLC’s requests for the lame-duck session continue to be that the Senate and House “should instead focus on pro-life protections in the budget & a solution for our neighbors known as Dreamers,” Leatherwood tweeted.

Democratic leaders in Congress again are seeking to eliminate the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life “riders,” which must be approved each year in spending bills, from the new budget. The Hyde Amendment has barred federal funds in Medicaid and other programs from paying for abortions in every year since 1976. It has saved the lives of an estimated 2½ million preborn children.

Messengers to the SBC’s 2021 meeting approved a resolution that denounced any attempt to rescind the Hyde Amendment and urged the retention of all pro-life “riders.”

The ERLC has long called for a legislative solution for Dreamers, a label for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

In 2011 and 2018, SBC messengers adopted resolutions on immigration reform that called for securing the border and establishing “a just and compassionate path to legal status,” with restitutionary measures, for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.

Daniel and Leatherwood reported “an encouraging visit” with State Department staff, including Rashad Hussain, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Leatherwood tweeted.

They urged the Biden administration “to continue doing all it can to morally oppose China and bring attention to the Uyghur genocide,” he said on Twitter. “And we discussed other areas around the globe where religious freedom is threatened.”

The State Department under both President Trump and President Biden declared the atrocities committed by China against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in a western region of the country as genocide. In 2021, SBC messengers passed a resolution that made the convention the first Christian denomination to denounce China’s campaign against the Uyghurs as genocide.

Also on Twitter, Hussain said Thursday (Nov. 17) he enjoyed meeting with Leatherwood and Daniel and “hearing their leadership vision.” He tweeted, “I look forward to future collaboration w/ the Southern Baptists to help protect religious freedom for all.”

They also met with White House officials and “discussed the important role of faith in our nation’s life, protecting churches, and ways the Admin can advance the cause of human dignity in the weeks and months ahead,” Leatherwood tweeted.