The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is known for its advocacy work among the nation’s lawmakers on behalf of Southern Baptists, but its efforts do not stop there. ERLC staff members also advocate alongside Southern Baptists by equipping them to understand public policy and petition legislators independently.
ERLC photo by Karen McCutcheon
Panelists address breakout session attendees at the 2019 Evangelicals for Life conference on the topic “How to engage your elected official.” Pictured left to right: Michael Wear, former White House staffer and founder of Public Square Strategies; D.J. Jordan, director of The Pinkston Group and current candidate for a seat in Virginia's House of Delegates; Kevin Theriot, senior counsel and vice president of the Center for Life with Alliance Defending Freedom; and Daryl Crouch, pastor of Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tenn. Chelsea Sobolik, ERLC policy director, moderated the panel discussion.
Attendees of the 2019 Evangelicals for Life (EFL) conference, held Jan. 16-18 at McLean Bible Church near Washington, D.C., had an opportunity to participate in two breakout sessions that discussed how to engage and what to expect in meetings with government leaders. Team members from the ERLC’s Washington, D.C. office also coordinated meetings for each participant with his or her state’s congressional staff.
Chelsea Sobolik, policy director for the ERLC, told the Biblical Recorder that many Christians are intimidated at the thought of meeting with elected officials, but she wants to empower Southern Baptists to engage their representatives on important issues.
Brittany Salmon, a doctoral student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and member of The Well Church in Abilene, Texas, said the breakout sessions “gave us the tools” to build relationships and partner with government officials.
“It’s one thing to say that we’re pro-life,” Salmon continued, “it’s another thing to be equipped to go and advocate for these issues.”
While describing the EFL advocacy training, Sobolik referred to the adage about giving someone a fish versus teaching them to fish.
“Governments are supposed to be for the people,” she said. “Legislators work for their constituents – at least they should. While they will listen to [ERLC staff], because we have relationships on [Capitol] Hill, they will definitely listen to their constituents.”
Sobolik previously worked on a congressional staff for three years, an experience she said helps her understand how other staffers think.
She emphasized to EFL participants that “a posture of service” was both appropriate for Christians and an effective way to advocate.
Another ERLC policy director, Steven Harris, briefed participants on the theological framework for the ERLC’s advocacy efforts.
“We are under no illusion here that anything we do replaces the work of the local church,” he said. “The local church is God’s ‘Plan A’.”
Harris also pushed back against the idea that Christians should stay out of politics.
“While Caesar’s image is on the coin, it’s God’s image that is on Caesar,” he said, referring to Matthew 22:15-22, a well-known passage in which some believe Jesus speaks against political involvement.
“It is appropriate and right for the Christian in a democratic republic to make sure the witness of righteousness is appropriately realized and spoken in these arenas that are deciding how we are going to govern ourselves,” said Harris.
Lauren Konkol, ERLC team coordinator, and Jeff Pickering, associate policy communications director, outlined practical considerations for meeting with congressional staff, such as appropriate attire, punctuality, flexibility and how to initiate advocacy conversations.
“When we enter a congressional office – bearing the name of Christ, our church, our community – we want to do that in a way that is respectful,” Konkol said. “We, as the ERLC, advocate on behalf of Southern Baptists. We bear that responsibility with great pride.”
Joseph Thigpen, discipleship pastor at City Church in Tallahassee, Fla., attended meetings Jan. 19 with staff from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s office.
“It was clear to me that the ERLC’s D.C. team has taken the work of advocacy for Southern Baptists seriously,” said Thigpen. “We were able to see firsthand the fruit of their relationships in our nation’s Capitol. They have built key relationships which allow Southern Baptists to be a respected voice on life issues.”