Brett Leatherwood, newly elected president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, fielded questions and shared initial plans for the Southern Baptist entity during an online press conference on Thursday (Sept. 15) with more than a dozen Baptist media representatives.
During the 30-minute Zoom call, Leatherwood answered a variety of questions that ranged from how he can help “bridge” the divide between many Southern Baptists to what the first few days of his presidency will look like. One of Leatherwood’s “first priorities” will involve what he described as a “listening tour” to help gauge how the ERLC can better connect and serve Southern Baptist pastors, leaders and others “in the pews.”
“I’m going to be speaking to pastors across the SBC,” Leatherwood noted, “to listen to them, to hear from them and maybe to tap into a bit of their pastoral wisdom, to understand what they need from us.”
He later added, “This isn’t an organization that I have ownership of. I have stewardship of it, and that is on behalf of our pastors, and that’s what I need to make sure I get right first.
“I want to make sure that not only are we communicating with them but that we’re actually equipping them on the issues that they’re wrestling with in their congregations.”
‘Issues that matter to Baptists’
As Leatherwood connects with Southern Baptist pastors and leaders, he said, the ERLC plans “to continually speak into the public square on the issues that matter to Baptists.”
“Whether it is talking about human dignity and the preciousness of human life — from conception to natural death — continuing to make sure we are talking about marriage as it’s meant to be talked about — between one man and one woman in a covenant union for life — to making sure we are talking about religious liberty as our essential liberty in America, and a whole host of issues that are important to Southern Baptists.”
Leatherwood was unanimously elected Tuesday (Sept. 13) by ERLC trustees and has served as the organization’s acting president since September 2021.
Before stepping into the role of acting president, Leatherwood served as vice president of external affairs and chief of staff at ERLC.
Leatherwood follows Daniel Patterson, who served as acting president before departing in August 2021 to serve as executive pastor of Central Baptist Church in College Station, Texas. Patterson was named acting president following Russell Moore’s resignation in May 2021.
Before joining the ERLC in 2017 as director of strategic partnerships, Leatherwood served as the executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party from 2012 to December 2016. Leatherwood, the ERLC noted on their website, also worked as a senior legislative aide to former Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla.
‘Leadership begins as service’
Following his election earlier this week, Leatherwood shared some other thoughts on his new role.
“True leadership begins as service. That has been the heart I have brought each day to the ERLC these past 12 months. And it is that same heart I will continue to bring as this new chapter begins. I am honored and humbled to be given the opportunity to serve this historic institution as its next president.
“Rooted in Scripture and guided by the Baptist Faith and Message, this team will remain fervently committed to carrying out our ministry assignment — faithfully serving our churches and growing our convictional presence in the public square on behalf of our convention,” he noted. “That means speaking with biblical clarity about the issues that matter to Baptists: the inherent value of life, religious liberty at home and abroad, human dignity and the flourishing of families.
“We have made it a priority to come alongside and equip our churches, partner with our state conventions, and support our sister SBC entities. This Commission will continue to do so in this new season because we know the Southern Baptist Convention is stronger when we are cooperating on mission together.”
Brent and his wife, Meredith, have three children and are members of The Church at Avenue South in Nashville, where Brent serves as a deacon.