ERLC elects new president more than a year after Russell Moore's departure

Brent Leatherwood, who in September 2022 was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaks in Washington D.C. in June 2022.
Brent Leatherwood, who in September 2022 was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaks in Washington D.C. in June 2022. | YouTube/ERLC

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has elected Brent Leatherwood to become its president over a year after the departure of former president Russell Moore.

Leatherwood, who began serving as acting ERLC president last September, was unanimously elected on Tuesday by the ERLC Board of Trustees during an annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. The ERLC is the public policy arm of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. 

According to an announcement, the 41-year-old has an extensive history with the commission, having previously served as chief of staff and the director of strategic partnerships. He is a member of The Church at Avenue South in Nashville and has served as a deacon since 2014. 

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Leatherwood has much experience in public policy. The former Capitol Hill staffer previously served as the executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party and director of communications and policy strategy in the Tennessee General Assembly. 

"True leadership begins as service," said Leatherwood. "That has been the heart I have brought each day to the ERLC these past 12 months. And it is that same heart I will continue to bring as this new chapter begins."

Leatherwood vowed that ERLC will continue to equip its churches, partner with state conventions and support other SBC entities. 

"Rooted in Scripture and guided by the Baptist Faith and Message, this team will remain fervently committed to carrying out our ministry assignment — faithfully serving our churches and growing our convictional presence in the public square on behalf of our convention," Leatherwood added.

"That means speaking with biblical clarity about the issues that matter to Baptists: the inherent value of life, religious liberty at home and abroad, human dignity and the flourishing of families."

Todd Howard, who chaired the ERLC trustee presidential search committee, said that Leatherwood was recommended by several sources and "became the top candidate by virtue of his leading well through the various challenges facing the commission during the interim season."

"He has intangible leadership qualities that we could not ignore," Howard said. "After a final round of interviews with Leatherwood, the committee, for the first time in this process, voted unanimously in favor of recommending him to the full board of trustees as the next president of the ERLC." 

His predecessor, Moore, served as ERLC president from 2013 until May 2021, when he announced his departure to join Christianity Today. Earlier this year, Moore was named the publication's editor-in-chief. 

Under Moore's leadership, ERCL advocated for religious freedom, dignity for the unborn and racial reconciliation, among other issues. The entity also worked to highlight the issue of sexual abuse in the church. 

Moore also garnered much controversy during his tenure as ERLC president. He was a prominent Evangelical critic of former President Donald Trump and some of his policy positions.

Under Moore, the ERLC received backlash from some in the denomination when the body publicly supported a lawsuit against New Jersey county over the government's refusal to allow the building of a mosque.

Moore had justified the ERLC's involvement in the case by claiming that allowing a county to ban a mosque would open the door for other counties to ban the building of SBC churches.

After Moore's departure, letters he wrote alleging that SBC leaders mishandled a "crisis of sexual abuse" were leaked to the media. Moore also alleged that his family had endured unfair treatment by denominational leaders.

Prominent Southern Baptist Pastor Mike Stone, who formerly served as chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, filed a defamation suit against Moore last October. However, he eventually withdrew the complaint that December.

ERLC Board of Trustees Chair Lori Bova said that the ERLC staff "has not missed a beat" under Leatherwood's leadership in providing "timely, quality resources for our churches."

"He is a tireless servant with a passion to serve Southern Baptists and to steward well the ministry assignment of the ERLC," Bova said. 

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