New President of ERLC Elected
Brent Leatherwood, currently serving as the commission’s interim leader, has been elected president.
Leatherwood, who has worked for the ERLC for the past five years, served as chief of staff under former interim leader Daniel Patterson and as vice president of external affairs under former president Russell Moore, who resigned from his post and the SBC in 2021. (Moore has assumed the role of CT’s editor in chief.)
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which is made up of 48,000 autonomous but cooperative churches, has continued to debate the ERLC much as it did during Moore’s leadership. Issues like religious freedom and the sanctity of life are central to the ERLC’s lobbying and education initiatives, which are seen by some Southern Baptists as a crucial form of testimony and involvement. The ERLC and its leaders have been accused of taking positions that are at odds with the rest of the denomination.
A motion to defund the ERLC was again defeated at the annual meeting in June. “I cannot imagine a more devastating moment for the Southern Baptist Convention to defund the ERLC,” Richard Land, a former president of the ERLC, said at the convention.
The minority of abolitionists who wished to criminalize abortion disagreed with Leatherwood’s vision for pro-life activities in the “post-Roe” age, and they made their disagreements known. You won’t hear him saying, “I want to throw mothers behind prison,” from the podium.
The ERLC has also worked on the SBC’s reaction to abuse, which has become the organization’s most publicized problem in recent years. In 2018, the ERLC launched the Caring Well Initiative and conference to educate congregations on how to better serve people who have experienced trauma.
An independent inquiry of the SBC’s Executive Committee (EC) disclosed in May a 288-page report detailing the EC’s leaders’ conflicts with the ERLC over abuse, including the censorship of ERLC materials that portrayed a sexual abuse “crisis” in the SBC.
“It’s crucial that we fight off the impulse to react defensively or out of a concern for ourselves or our institutions rather than as priceless human beings created in God’s image. We need to create a space where survivors feel safe sharing their experiences and getting help,” Leatherwood wrote in May.
It is crucial to respond to the experiences of survivors with the same compassion that Jesus showed to the outcasts and the weak.
Independent of the EC probe, the ERLC started a “audit and assessment of sexual abuse within the SBC” last year.
Leatherwood’s resume includes stints in Republican politics in Tennessee and on Capitol Hill.”I’ve come to recognize that politics comes downstream from culture,” he stated when he made the transition from politics to the ERLC. Upstream action is necessary if I am to have any real impact.In the past few weeks, under Leatherwood’s leadership, the ERLC has spoken out against the oppression of Uyghurs in China, praised new abortion limits in Tennessee, and sided with Yeshiva University’s religious liberty rights in an amicus brief.Leatherwood expressed his gratitude and humility at being elected president.
“True leadership begins as service,” he stated.
That’s the attitude I’ve brought to my work at the ERLC for the past year. As this new chapter begins, I bring with me the same kind of heart I’ve always had.
He also talked about how important it was for the ERLC to work with churches, state conventions, and other groups.During the pandemic, Southern Baptists have seen their giving go up, which has helped their mission work. However, membership and baptisms have gone down every year for more than a decade, and they have lost more than a million members in just three years, according to SBC reports.