New ERLC head narrows legislative agenda

Abortion, gay marriage and religious-liberty concerns about Obamacare top the 2014 legislative agenda of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

By Bob Allen

Russell Moore’s legislative agenda for the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission parallels those of his predecessor Richard Land but leaves out concerns embraced by Land, viewed as a leader in the Religious Right.

Like Land, Moore’s legislative agenda for 2014 prioritizes abortion, gay marriage, religious-liberty concerns about Obamacare and immigration reform. But Moore, who says younger Baptists are turned off by partisan politics that energized groups like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the 1980s, doesn’t include items on Land’s agenda in 2012 like welfare cuts, “administrative overreach” by the Obama White House and skepticism about the science of climate change.

“The second session of the 113th Congress is likely going to be a very difficult period legislatively,” Moore said in an article on the ERLC website. “Between election year jockeying and the ongoing political rancor it will be hard to find a path forward for many of the bills we want to see become law. Nevertheless, government is part of God’s design for ordering human relationships so we must work to help it fulfill its divine purpose (Romans 13:1-7).”

russell moore2Topping the list is abortion. “Of all the areas of interest to the ERLC, the sanctity of human life is our chief concern,” Moore said. “Psalm 139 reminds us that God is intimately involved in the development of every person. He is also concerned about how people treat each other. Jesus said that we are to act in love toward each other (Luke 10:25-37). The first act of love we can show toward fellow humans is to seek to protect them in their most vulnerable stage — in the womb.”

Moore said the agency supports pro-life legislation including The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act — a bill prohibiting the use of federal funds for any health benefits that include coverage of abortion and amending the tax code so that individuals cannot deduct medical expenses related to abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life — and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which prohibits abortions at 20 weeks or longer gestation except to save the life of the mother.

Also on Moore’s list is marriage.

“God also ordained the family,” he wrote. “The book of Genesis tells us that God determined it was not good for man to be alone. He instituted marriage as exclusively the union of one man and one woman, and he intended children to be conceived and raised in that environment (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-25).”

“Our culture may be moving away from that ideal, but that does not change God’s design,” Moore said, pledging, “The ERLC will do all it can to protect God’s design for marriage and speak to the needs of families in 2014.”

Moore voiced support for the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014, which would require federal agencies to consider a person's legal residence when deciding whether to recognize a gay marriage under federal law. If state law recognizes two people as married, federal law would recognize them as married. If state law does not recognize them as married, neither would federal law.

Under the heading of “religious freedom,” the ERLC supports legislation including the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, which would prevent lawsuits like one filed by Southern Baptist owners of Hobby Lobby challenging required coverage of contraceptives in the Affordable Care Act by allowing any employer with a conscientious objection to forms of birth control they believe cause an abortion to opt out of the requirement.

The agency also supports the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, prohibiting the federal government from taking “adverse action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person acts in accordance with a religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

Supporters including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops say the law is needed because of cases like a bill introduced in California to strip the Boy Scouts of their state tax exemption because they don’t allow adult leaders who are gay, and a court ruling in New Mexico requiring a husband and wife who own a photography studio to take pictures of a same-sex wedding in violation of their religious beliefs.

Detractors call it a “license to discriminate” that “guarantees that businesses and even government employees can refuse to recognize a same-sex marriage and discriminate against anybody who engages in premarital sex.”

Moore said his agency will continue to oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal to fire someone because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Moore said the act, which exempts some overtly religious organizations, “does not take into consideration all faith-based organizations or the faith-informed convictions of for-profit business owners” and “threatens the ability of people of faith to share their faith-informed convictions about sexuality without fear of retaliation.”

In addition to lobbying in Washington, Moore is working at the grassroots level with a new Leadership Network of pastors and lay people “who desire to join the ERLC’s efforts to apply the gospel of the Kingdom to the major cultural issues of our day.”

It includes a Leadership Network Council of pastors and denominational workers who serve as an advisory council for the network in consultation with ERLC staff. The group is planning its first Leadership Summit April 21-23 in Nashville, Tenn., addressing the topic of human sexuality.

Moore said the legislative list is not exhaustive, and the agency will likely be involved in policies such as sex-trafficking, pornography, poverty, hunger, homosexuality, gambling and payday lending.

“While the environment is very toxic politically, we know God has an agenda of his own,” he wrote. “We will seek to understand his will as we bring Southern Baptist biblical convictions to bear on the great public policy questions of our day. We ask that every concerned Christian join us in prayer and action in this Kingdom effort to be instruments of God’s will on earth.”