When conservatives gained control of the Southern Baptist Convention and its agencies and seminaries in the late 20th century, a top priority was to convert the Christian Life Commission into an anti-abortion advocacy group.
That came true with the first conservative appointed executive director of the old CLC, Richard Land, but gained more steam when a blue-ribbon committee recommended an overhaul of SBC entities that renamed the CLC the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. That name indicated a dramatic change in mission, not just related to abortion but also with the added assignment of promoting a specific definition of religious liberty — since the first entity to get the axe from conservatives had been the Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, known today as BJC.
Conservatives maligned both the CLC and BJC for not taking a strong stand against abortion and for embracing a broad view of religious liberty that did not favor Christians over other religions.
Three decades later, that conservative wish list is on display in the ERLC’s 2024 “Public Policy Agenda,” published online last week. A preface to the document lists the agency’s priorities as “protecting life, safeguarding religious liberty, bolstering marriage and families, and upholding human dignity.”
A preface to the document lists the agency’s priorities as “protecting life, safeguarding religious liberty, bolstering marriage and families, and upholding human dignity.”
The 24-page document begins with a discourse on abortion.
“The ERLC will always advocate for preborn lives to be protected,” it reads. “Following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in 2022, we’ve seen both monumental gains for life in many states and new challenges emerge, such as rising availability of chemical abortion drugs and ‘abortion tourism.’ We must persuade our lawmakers that the federal government still has an important role to play in protecting life and combatting this evil in all forms. In our advocacy with the federal government and the courts, we will seek to both protect previous gains in these areas and to persuade others to consider the dignity of human lives too often counted as invisible or disposable.”
Among the specific priorities listed is to fight to end so-called “medication abortions,” which are induced in early term pregnancies by specific pills that may be taken at home. Another priority is maintaining the Hyde Amendment in Congressional appropriations to prevent the federal government from funding abortions or — as the ERLC states it — “prevent government-funded violence against preborn children and to protect citizens from being coerced into violating their consciences by using their tax dollars to support abortion.”
The SBC’s official voice on ethics and legislation also pledges to “advocate for the complete end of abortion” in America.
The document says nothing about opposing capital punishment in America — considered a “pro-life” issue by many Catholics and other evangelicals.
The ERLC’s priorities mention “the Biden administration” 11 times, typically in the context of opposing something, such as “the Biden administration’s pro-abortion regulatory agenda.”
On the issue of marriage and family, the ERLC quotes the Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement, as amended by conservatives in 2000, to emphasize husbands are to lead their wives who are to “submit … graciously” to their husbands.
The ERLC document also recapitulates the SBC’s opposition to same-sex marriage and transgender identity.
“In recent years we have seen alarming increases in the number of individuals, many of whom are minors, undergo physically damaging ‘gender transition surgeries and procedures,’” the document states. “In addition to going against God’s good design for sex and gender, these surgeries and procedures flaunt sound medical practice and do lasting harm to their victims. … The ERLC is advocating for these procedures on minors to be outlawed.”
This has been a favorite priority for Republican-controlled state legislatures, despite repeated testimony from medical professionals and parents that minors are generally not offered surgeries for gender transition.
Yet the ERLC document makes repeated reference to funding “gender transition” surgeries.
In conjunction with this, the ERLC also intends to advocate for “parent rights” in “education, online access and matters of gender and sexuality.”
“This bill represents the most significant threat to religious liberty ever considered in Congress.”
Elsewhere in the document, the ERLC pledges to oppose the federal Equality Act that would ensure equal protection under law for LGBTQ people the same as all people. Not only that, the ERLC says it believes “this bill represents the most significant threat to religious liberty ever considered in Congress.”
Another family priority will be advocating for adoption and foster care.
Also as part of its “family” agenda, the ERLC will oppose legalizing marijuana, the document explains.
The 2024 priorities outline a broader view of religious liberty than many conservative evangelicals would embrace: “Religious freedom for all people, not just for those who share our beliefs.”
Among other priorities listed:
- Supporting a two-year Universal Charitable Deduction to encourage giving to charities.
- Combating global antisemitism.
- Supporting protections for the Uyghur people in China.
- Advocating for elimination of blasphemy and apostasy laws worldwide.
- Urging the State Department to designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern.
- Supporting a permanent solution for Dreamers.
- Rebuilding the refugee resettlement program dismantled by the Trump administration.
- Supporting “border security enhancements and asylum reforms.”
- Combating “the epidemic of mass shootings and gun violence,” although there is no mention of advocating for gun control. “In many instances, commonsense steps can be taken to increase opportunities for intervention that would prevent those who are struggling from hurting themselves or others,” the document says.
- Supporting payday lending regulations.
- Opposing expansion of legalized gambling.
- Supporting “efforts to shape artificial intelligence and technology that emphasize human dignity.”