WASHINGTON – The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will address four categories of priorities in what it acknowledged will be a challenging year for legislating and governing, the Southern Baptist entity announced Monday (Jan. 30).
The ERLC issued its 2023 Public Policy Agenda, which is divided into four general sections: Religious liberty; sanctity of human life; family and marriage; and human dignity.
The federal government and the commission are each entering “a new season,” ERLC President Brent Leatherwood and Policy Manager Hannah Daniel wrote in the 16-page document.
Congress is divided following the 2022 elections. The Republican Party took back control of the House of Representatives by a slight majority, while the Democratic Party narrowly maintained control of the Senate. The parties disagree over such issues as abortion and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
It will be the first full year for Leatherwood to be president of the ERLC after his unanimous election by trustees in September.
After “a season of transition,” the ERLC will continue to seek “to build consensus on the issues listed in this document and others in our portfolio with officials across our federal government,” Leatherwood and Daniel wrote.
“[B]road bipartisan support” may exist on such issues as reforming the criminal justice system and adopting a long-term solution for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, they wrote. Leatherwood and Daniel said such proposals as enacting safeguards for preborn children and their mothers and enhancing religious liberty protections will probably find “much less consensus.”
Leatherwood and Daniel referred to 2022 as “a history-making year for the cause of life” because of the Supreme Court’s June overruling of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide. They described Roe’s reversal, which returned abortion regulation to the states, as “the culmination of 50 years of dedicated work by Southern Baptists and other pro-life advocates.”
The Supreme Court ruling was, “in many ways, the beginning of a new chapter,” they wrote. “In an ever-changing landscape, we must continue to advocate for life both at the federal and state levels while also taking on new frontiers such as ‘abortion tourism’” and “the increasing accessibility of the abortion pill.”
In addition to its support for pro-life legislation and regulations, the ERLC will focus its work through the Psalm 139 Project on states considered to be “abortion destinations” in post-Roe America, according to the agenda. Psalm 139 is the commission’s ministry to provide ultrasound technology to pregnancy centers and train staff members in its use.
In addition to its work at the federal level, the ERLC “will continue to work in partnership with [Baptist] state conventions and state advocacy groups on issues of missional priority that are of national importance,” Leatherwood and Daniel wrote.
In an ERLC release, Leatherwood quoted from The Baptist Faith and Message, the SBC’s statement of faith: “Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love.”
“This statement guides us in our task as we engage in a chaotic public square,” Leatherwood said. “In advocating for these policy goals, we are ever mindful that our ultimate responsibility is to be messengers of the gospel. I hope Southern Baptists will join me in praying that we will represent our Savior well as we interact with public policy leaders” regarding issues in 2023.
Daniel said in the release, “This year holds both new opportunities and challenges for our work as we begin a period of divided government, enter the first legislative session in a post-Roe world, and face deepening divides among our citizenry.”
Each of the ERLC agenda’s four categories begins with an excerpt from The Baptist Faith and Message. Among the 39 items in the 2023 agenda are:
- Opposition to the Equality Act, legislation that would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the classifications protected in federal civil rights law. The legislation “represents the most significant threat to religious liberty ever considered” by Congress, Leatherwood and Daniel wrote. It would “ultimately steamroll the consciences of millions of Americans,” they said.
- Protection of the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life riders in spending bills. Congress must pass Hyde, which has barred Medicaid funding of abortion since 1976, and similar prohibitions each year.
- Promotion of policies designed to encourage adoption and foster care and to protect faith-based, child-welfare agencies from government discrimination. The ERLC is partnering with the State Department and like-minded organizations “to ensure that intercountry adoption remains a viable option for families and vulnerable children around the world,” Leatherwood and Daniel wrote.
- Resistance to the transgender mandate. The Biden administration has sought to revive an Obama-era rule that required doctors and hospitals to perform gender-transition procedures and abortions over their objections. Two federal courts of appeals blocked enforcement of the mandate in 2022. The commission “will continue to monitor developments and oppose any new attempts to implement this harmful rule,” according to the agenda.
- Defense of religious freedom in China, which has increased its persecution of Christians and members of other minority faiths in recent years. The SBC and ERLC have championed the cause of the Uyghur people, primarily Muslims who have been victims of a genocidal campaign by the government in western China. The commission “will continue to be a voice for the persecuted in China,” Leatherwood and Daniel wrote.
- Advocacy for rebuilding a strong refugee resettlement program to aid people fleeing religious persecution or other repression in their countries.
- Opposition to the spread of the “harmful, predatory” gambling industry.
The ERLC also has provided a summary of the policy items by category in the agenda here.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)