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Brent Leatherwood, new ERLC president, says he will not inform Christians how you can vote

(RNS) — The brand new chief ethicist for the Southern Baptist Conference hopes his fellow Southern Baptists will vote within the upcoming mid-term elections in methods “that shield life, that shield non secular liberty, that shield marriage.”

However in the long run, he mentioned, it’s as much as every individual to vote the way in which they see finest.

“I’ll say it’s not my function to bind anybody’s conscience by way of how you can vote,” mentioned Brent Leatherwood, newly elected president of the SBC’s Ethics and Non secular Liberty Fee, in a video press convention Thursday (Sept. 15).

Leatherwood, who was named interim president of the ERLC final fall, succeeds Russell Moore, who resigned in 2021 to hitch the employees of Christianity Immediately journal. A former govt director of the Tennessee Republican Social gathering, Leatherwood, 41, first started working on the ERLC in 2017.

His remarks about voting contrasted with these of a fellow SBC chief, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who instructed individuals who vote the fallacious means will not be good Christians. Talking at this week’s Pray, Vote, Stand Summit, a conservative Christian occasion in Atlanta, Mohler mentioned Christians wanted to know the significance of voting as an indication of faithfulness to God.

“They should perceive that insofar as they don’t vote or they vote wrongly, they’re untrue,” said Mohler in a video clip shared broadly on social media. Together with serving as a seminary president, Mohler is editor of World Opinions, a conservative Christian political opinion website.

Leatherwood — who declined to handle Mohler’s remarks — particularly steps into a task that has lengthy been a lightning rod. Moore’s tenure in workplace, from 2013–2021, was riven with controversy, particularly resulting from his lengthy criticism of Donald Trump and his advocacy for racial justice and look after victims of sexual abuse. Richard Land, who led the ERLC from 1988–2013, retired after scandals involving plagiarism and insensitive remarks made concerning the loss of life of Trayvon Martin.

But Southern Baptists stay supportive of the ERLC. An try to dismantle the ERLC failed on the SBC’s annual assembly in June by an amazing majority. A vote to defund the company failed in 2018 as nicely.

Headquartered in Nashville, the ERLC additionally maintains an workplace within the nation’s capital that works on public coverage.

Leatherwood plans to spend the primary few months assembly with SBC pastors and leaders, listening to their issues and connecting with them. He mentioned his function is to return alongside church buildings — after which to talk into the general public sq..

He confused the necessity to have a detailed tie to church buildings and acknowledged that the function has been controversial previously.

“I’ve a imaginative and prescient for what I feel the ERLC must appear to be,” he mentioned. “However I have to step again and understand this isn’t a fee that I personal. I’ve been given stewardship over it.”  

RELATED: As Roe’s potential fall nears, abortion abolitionists turn on ‘pro-life elites’

Creator and speaker Dan Darling, a former colleague of the brand new ERLC chief, known as Leatherwood a pure chief, with each the political information and private abilities to do the job nicely. Darling additionally mentioned that Leatherwood brings a layperson’s perspective to the job — quite than a pastor’s.

“Folks love working with him,” he mentioned. “I actually assume the ERLC is in a superb place to succeed.”

Brent Leatherwood speaks throughout the Southern Baptist Conference annual assembly in Anaheim, California, on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. RNS photograph by Justin L. Stewart

Leatherwood, an outspoken opponent of abortion, has clashed previously with so-called abortionists who search to go laws ending abortion with no exceptions and who search felony penalties, together with homicide expenses, in opposition to ladies who’ve abortions. That movement has discovered help amongst Southern Baptists in Oklahoma and amongst leaders like Mohler who has mentioned he would support felony expenses for girls who’ve abortions.

A bunch of Christian teams that oppose abortion wrote to state legislators earlier this yr opposing such penalties, drawing the ire of abolitionists.

“We state unequivocally that we don’t help any measure looking for to criminalize or punish ladies and we stand firmly against together with such penalties in laws,” the letter learn.

That led abolitionists like Florida pastor and failed SBC presidential candidate Tom Ascol and Oklahoma pastor Dusty Deevers to criticize the ERLC and Leatherwood’s management.

In 2021, Southern Baptists handed a decision calling for the whole abolition of abortion, over the objections of the resolutions committee. However a proposed decision that included requires felony penalties failed to achieve the ground of the annual assembly in 2022.

“We merely need abortion abolished by establishing equal safety each for all our preborn neighbors from conception, and for girls who’re tragically coerced into abortion so they won’t be seen the identical as those that willfully homicide their preborn youngsters,” mentioned Deevers, an Oklahoma Baptist pastor and outspoken abolitionist. 

In a web based press convention Thursday (Sept. 15), Leatherwood additionally mentioned that the ERLC would proceed plans for a denomination-wide evaluation of the SBC on the difficulty of sexual abuse. He mentioned that the company would work alongside a newly appointed SBC activity drive charged with implementing abuse reform handed on the 2022 annual assembly.

Each Moore and Land praised Leatherwood’s election, with Moore calling him “sensible, godly, courageous, and Christlike.” Different leaders, just like the Rev. Frank Williams, head of the SBC’s Nationwide African American Fellowship, additionally provided compliments.

“His dedication to Gospel-centered public coverage is seasoned by his sensitivity to the nuanced lived experiences of our numerous Southern Baptist (SBC) household,” mentioned Williams in an announcement.

Leatherwood mentioned that Southern Baptists are recognized for his or her robust opinions and disagreement, which isn’t a foul factor. And whereas every SBC church is autonomous, he added, additionally they usually cooperate.

“It’s a Baptist energy that we’re cooperative in our work,” he mentioned. “We’re not simply impartial. We are literally interdependent. And once we come collectively and understand we depend on each other, it helps us to undertaking a voice into the general public sq. that’s wanted now as a lot as ever.”

RELATED: Southern Baptists overwhelmingly approve abuse reforms amid contentious first day of meetings 

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