Roe reversal, election of leader highlight ERLC’s year

NASHVILLE (BP)—The long-sought-for reversal of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion and the election of its new president highlighted 2022 for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The commission celebrated the overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and continued to promote protections for preborn children and their mothers as a vital part of its work this year. The ERLC’s pro-life ministry included the most successful year yet of ultrasound machine placements at pregnancy resource centers through the Psalm 139 Project.

In other features of 2022, the Supreme Court issued multiple opinions requested by the ERLC in support of religious liberty, and the commission advocated for human dignity and freedom in the United States and overseas in countries such as China and Ukraine.

The ERLC gained a new president when its trustees elected Brent Leatherwood unanimously to the post in September.

Leatherwood told Baptist Press as the year neared its end, “I suspect it will be many years before we fully understand all the ramifications stemming from the events of 2022. From the high of Roe being struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court to the low of the immoral invasion of Ukraine by [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s forces playing out before our eyes, this year was buffeted by dramatic cultural moments.

“Through it all, this commission has sought to be a steady voice of conviction bringing a John 8:12 ‘light of life’ to the public square on behalf of our churches,” he said in written comments for Baptist Press. “Through the numerous resources and various assets our team has developed, we conclude another year having served and assisted our pastors, ministers and fellow Southern Baptists who are navigating these complex times.”

Here are 10 key news items involving the ERLC in 2022, with links to reports by BP:

Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade decision

The Supreme Court overruled in June the Roe opinion that struck down all state abortion bans and legalized the procedure throughout the country. The decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization upheld a 15-week ban in Mississippi and brought to an end a nationwide abortion regime that resulted in the deaths of more than 60 million preborn children. The ERLC signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief that urged the high court to overturn Roe. Since the Dobbs ruling, the ERLC has continued to work to safeguard pro-life policies, including through its opposition to the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), a bill that would expand abortion rights beyond Roe. While the U.S. House of Representatives approved the WHPA in July, the U.S. Senate had previously refused to consider it.

Leatherwood elected ERLC’s ninth president

After a year as acting president, Leatherwood gained the unanimous endorsement of the commission’s trustees at their annual meeting in September. Todd Howard, chair of the presidential search committee, told the trustees the months of Leatherwood’s “solid leadership through the turbulent waters of the current Southern Baptist Convention” proved compelling for the committee. Leatherwood joined the ERLC staff in 2017 after nearly 14 years of service primarily in the public policy and political arenas.

Psalm 139 Project expands ultrasound placements

The Psalm 139 Project — the ERLC’s ministry to provide ultrasound technology to pregnancy centers and train staff members in its use – placed, or committed to be placed, 27 machines in nine states in 2022, surpassing the previous annual high of 25 in 2021. The total of 52 exceeded the goal of 50 placements established leading to January 2023, which would have been the 50th anniversary of the Roe decision had it not been overruled. The ERLC partnered with Baptist state conventions in Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia in making placements, as well as former pro football player Benjamin Watson and his wife Kirsten, the North American Mission Board and the Tennessee state government.

High court supports religious liberty in 3 rulings

In three opinions during the year, the Supreme Court delivered victories for religious freedom requested in friend-of-the-court briefs signed onto by the ERLC. In an 8-1 opinion, the high court ruled in favor of a condemned Texas inmate’s request to have his Southern Baptist pastor lay hands on and pray aloud for him when he is executed. The justices decided in a 6-3 opinion Maine violated the free exercise of religion by barring faith-based schools from participation in a tuition-assistance program. In another 6-3 decision, the court ruled the post-game, midfield prayer of a high school football coach did not violate the ban on government establishment of religion.

Digital Public Square completes first year

The Digital Public Square, a project of the ERLC, provided multiple resources intended to help churches, as well as government and business leaders, to respond to technological challenges in ways that support religious freedom and free expression. The project’s production in its inaugural year included a book, as well as a weekly podcast and newsletter, with more books and other resources on the way.

ERLC comments on administration policies

The commission provided public comments in opposition to Biden administration policies. The ERLC called for the retraction of a rule proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services that would require doctors and hospitals to perform and insurance companies to cover procedures to which they object, including gender transitions and abortions. It also expressed opposition to an interim final rule by the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide abortions in certain cases for military veterans and family members.

Commission maintains advocacy for Uyghurs

The ERLC continued to call for action countering China’s genocidal campaign against the Uyghur people, a primarily Muslim group. The effort included a letter and a webinar urging NBC to report on the human rights abuses in its coverage of the Winter Olympics and letters calling for presidential and congressional actions in support of the Uyghurs.

Webinars sponsored on variety of topics

The ERLC hosted various online events during the year, including conversations on racial reconciliation, refugees and sexual ethics, as well as a prayer gathering in advance of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs abortion case.

ERLC advocates for Ukrainian people

The commission promoted policies in support of Ukraine after Russia’s invasion, joining other evangelical organizations in thanking the Biden administration for granting protected status to Ukrainians in this country and commenting on reports of war crimes and of attacks on religious sites.

Same-sex marriage becomes law

The Respect for Marriage Act — which requires federal and state recognition of any same-sex marriage considered legal in the location where it took place – became law over the opposition of the ERLC and other defenders of religious freedom and the biblical view of the institution.

Washington bureau chief
Tom Strode
Baptist Press
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