The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) issued a statement Sept. 23 regarding an appearance by a recently departed senior staffer on an online panel sponsored by the Joe Biden campaign.
The panel Evangelicals for Biden National Call to Action, held Wednesday evening, featured Steven Harris, who served as a policy director in the ERLC’s Washington, D.C., office before leaving the ERLC in August. Harris joined the commission in 2015 as its director of advocacy and was promoted to policy director in 2017.
Harris, who worked directly for Travis Wussow, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy, was described by Wussow as “a brilliant, faithful Christian who worked with conviction to advance the issues Southern Baptists care about.”
In promoting the online panel, the Biden campaign highlighted the participation of “former Southern Baptist Convention ERLC staffer Steven Harris.” A social media post Tuesday by conservative writer Rod Dreher linked to the campaign’s promotion and described Harris as working for the campaign, sparking intense debate among Southern Baptists and other evangelicals. The ERLC statement clarified that Harris is not employed by the campaign.
In a statement, ERLC president Russell Moore said, “Just like in most local churches, those serving with us do not endorse or campaign for any candidates for office, of whatever party or ideology, though everyone is encouraged to be good citizens. Just as in most local churches, various people who have served with us in the past sometimes express their respective views about their preferred candidates for various offices, consistent with their own consciences, after they have moved on to other places of service.
“I am grateful that throughout the years God has given and continues to give us top-quality staff members who are, like the churches themselves, united in orthodox doctrine and practice and diverse on many other things short of that,” Moore continued. “I am also grateful that every staff member, without exception, while serving here, has kept their focus on our mission, on issues, and not on supporting candidates for any office. In a time when many are exhausted by the round-the-clock partisanship of virtually everything in American culture, that’s a blessing indeed.”
According to the ERLC, Harris had transitioned to a part-time role in the last two years as he pursued his Ph.D. While at the ERLC, he worked on a range of issues of concern to Southern Baptists, including pro-life and religious liberty legislation, along with other issues such as criminal justice reform and predatory payday lending.
“I had the privilege of working with Steven for five years,” Wussow said in the statement. “… While he no longer represents the organization, we feel nothing but gratitude for the passion and faithfulness with which he worked to serve the SBC and our churches’ most fundamental public priorities during his time at the ERLC.”
The Evangelicals for Biden panel also featured Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, author and activist Lisa Sharon Harper, Jerushah Duford, a granddaughter of Billy Graham, and several others.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – George Schroeder is associate vice president for convention news and Jonathan Howe is vice president for communications at the SBC Executive Committee.)