“Life is precious.”
Brent Leatherwood, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, began his report in at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans with an oft-spoken phrase rooted in Scripture.
“We know this gift of life, given to each of us by God from the moment of conception, is sacred, and worthy of our fervent prayers, our strongest advocacy and our sincerest acts of service,” Leatherwood said. “That is why this Commission has sought to help culture understand not just the meaning of, but the responsibilities that spring forth from, the phrase, ‘life is precious.’ ”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade started a new chapter for the pro-life movement, Leatherwood said. He noted ERLC has continued its work to protect life, while also partnering with Southern Baptists through practical ministries like the Psalm 139 Project, which places ultrasound machines in pregnancy centers across the country.
ERLC also has brought a distinctively Baptist voice to matters important to Southern Baptist churches, Leatherwood reported, by working on policy matters in several states:
- In Tennessee, ERLC requested new safeguards to protect children from transgender surgeries and interventions.
- In Iowa and Wisconsin, it pushed back against school administrators’ attempts to insert themselves in the relationship between parents and children.
- In Nevada, it stood with Southern Baptists in the state to oppose a bill that would have made Nevada a destination for assisted suicide.
Nationally, Leatherwood said, ERLC has continued to oppose the Biden administration’s efforts to curtail religious liberty and conscience protections through the federal rule-making process. Globally, it has worked to strengthen U.S. resolve to oppose authoritarian regimes and to help people fleeing persecution.
‘I cannot stand idly by’
For him, the events of March 27 gave new meaning to the phrase, “life is precious,” Leatherwood said. On that day, a shooter entered his children’s school in Nashville, Tennessee, and killed six people in the deadliest school shooting in state history. Every child there was rendered vulnerable “by a person in deep emotional and psychological distress who was in desperate need of help and intervention,” he said.
“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, emotion audible in his voice.
He listed several ways a “culture of death” affects the people living in it, resulting in abortion, gender confusion, addiction and the refusal to care well for survivors of sexual abuse. There are too many more examples that highlight all the ways our lives are vulnerable, he added.
“The Lord is revealing to me all the ways He wants this Commission — and our SBC churches — to be a voice for the voiceless, to speak up for the marginalized, to truly be a servant for the widow, the orphan and the vulnerable,” Leatherwood said.
“Because each day when I see the three little survivors of the Covenant School shooting in my own home, I know that I cannot be quiet, and I cannot stand idly by while our culture forces people and tells people they need to tear each other apart.”
Question on abortion
Following his report, Leatherwood answered a question from Brian Gunter, a messenger from First Baptist Church, Livingston, Louisiana, about the criminalization of women who have abortions.
“We have said all along that abortion is murder, and we will never waver from that. Scripture mandates it,” Leatherwood said. “At the same time, I hope that you took something away from the words I just shared, because in that dynamic there is a preborn child that’s vulnerable, and there’s a mother that is vulnerable too. She has been preyed upon by a culture of death that was instituted by Roe v. Wade, and a culture all around us that just sees life as disposable. And as I said, it tells her the lie that the only way she can thrive is to get rid of the child. I think it’s incumbent upon us to be there with her, to offer her refuge.
“The ERLC continues to speak with the same conviction that the SBC and the larger pro-life movement has for over 40 years. We’re working to abolish abortion, save preborn lives, support mothers and punish abortion providers. We should go after, with the full force of law, the people who actually take the life of that child — the abortionist, the abortion mills and the drug manufacturers who make the chemicals that take life. I’m right there with you. That is how we will bring an end to abortion.”