The public policy agency of the Southern Baptist Convention doubled down on their support for a so-called red flag law in Tennessee despite many pastors and church members affirming that they do not support the move.
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Brent Leatherwood sent a letter last week to state lawmakers in support of Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee’s proposed red flag statute, which would provide state officials additional powers to take firearms away from those deemed to be at risk to themselves or others. The proposal follows a transgender individual fatally shooting three children and three staff members at The Covenant School in Nashville, which three of Leatherwood’s own children attend.
The ERLC released an explainer on Friday insisting that the policy differs from a red flag law because only police can “file a petition before the court to have firearms confiscated” and because an individual can “only be dispossessed of the firearms” if he or she completes an entire court process. Neither clarification countered the fundamental objection to red flag laws which make the policies broadly unpopular among large majorities of Republicans and many independents: that government officials can abuse the authority granted by the statutes to deprive citizens of their means for self-defense, a concern which Second Amendment activists cited to The Daily Wire in multiple recent reports on the Tennessee red flag proposal.
The explainer from the ERLC cited resolutions passed by attendees of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, at annual meetings in 2018 and 2022. The former affirmed the solidarity of the denomination “with all those victimized by gun violence” while the latter asked lawmakers to “minimize the threat of gun violence throughout our society” with “concrete steps.” Neither calls for the enactment of any specific law or statute regarding gun violence, much less any proposal resembling a red flag law.
Advocacy from the ERLC in favor of the red flag law proposal continued even after Tennessee House Republicans implied on Wednesday that they would oppose such a statute. “Any red flag law is a non-starter for House Republicans,” a statement from the conference said. “Our caucus is focused on finding solutions that prevent dangerous individuals from harming the public and preserve the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. We have always been open to working with Governor Lee on measures that fit within that framework.”
Leatherwood invoked the two resolutions passed by Southern Baptist Convention attendees on social media as he doubled down on his support for the red flag law. Another report from The Daily Wire published earlier this week noted how Leatherwood told lawmakers that “Southern Baptists comprise over one-fifth of the population of Tennessee,” an apparent attempt to leverage the size of the denomination in favor of the red flag proposal.
Creekside Fellowship Lead Pastor Drew Byers, whose congregation gathers in Castalian Springs, Tennessee, affirmed in an interview with The Daily Wire that the ERLC does not speak for the majority of Southern Baptists with respect to their stance on firearm restrictions. He noted the entity’s comparative silence on transgenderism as “more concerning” and contended that “after a transgender person shoots children at a school, the ideology that needs to be condemned is not gun culture.”
“There are times when the ERLC does speak clearly on some issues,” he continued. “However, I think more often than not they advance the views of those in the organization rather than the views of those in the pew. No one from the ERLC has ever contacted me to ask my view on anything.”
Leatherwood and the ERLC appear to have remained silent when Lee recently approved bills which prohibit sex change procedures, hormone treatments, and puberty blockers for minors, as well as sexually explicit drag shows in public or near children. The Daily Wire has been unable to find public statements or court filings from the ERLC in favor of the laws and contacted the entity to confirm they did not publicly support the proposals.
ERLC Trustee Michael Guyer said via social media on Thursday that “the insinuation that ERLC is silent about the dangers of transgender ideology” is “simply false.” He likewise invoked the two Southern Baptist Convention resolutions as he addressed concern over the red flag proposal.
Southern Baptist denominational leaders have been repeatedly accused in recent years of supporting policy proposals which contradict the desires and beliefs of congregations. Former ERLC President Russell Moore asserted three years ago that ministers should prompt church members to accept vaccination and wear masks. Leatherwood endorsed a letter last year alongside several dozen pro-life activists which opposed a bill in Louisiana that would have criminalized abortion for all parties involved, even though Southern Baptists had previously passed a resolution affirming that “the murder of preborn children is a crime against humanity that must be punished equally under the law.”