BRENTWOOD, Tenn. – Brent Leatherwood pledged Monday that the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission stands ready to represent Southern Baptists well in an America beleaguered by darkness and division.
“We will build and reconstitute this team to meet the demands of the times we find ourselves in, fulfill the assignment given to us by our churches over a century ago, and do all we can to bring honor and glory to the name and saving grace of Jesus Christ,” Leatherwood said at an installation service hosted by Brentwood Baptist Church.
Leatherwood, elected unanimously in September as president of the ERLC, was challenged in the service to stand firmly on biblical principles as he leads the organization that speaks on behalf of 14.5 million Southern Baptists.
The man he replaced, Russell Moore, described Leatherwood as the “perfect person” to lead the ERLC.
“I could not be more overjoyed that someone of such character and giftedness as you is in this seat,” Moore said in a video recorded specifically for the installation service. “You, Brent, are the perfect person to serve as ERLC president, because you’re Brent Leatherwood, and you have demonstrated the kind of integrity and character and giftedness that we all know. I really would have no more advice for you than to be Brent Leatherwood under the lordship of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Leatherwood, former executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, had served as the ERLC’s acting president for a year before being voted into the permanent role. He had previously served as the ERLC’s director of strategic partnerships and as chief of staff.
He has also served as director of communications and policy strategy in the Tennessee General Assembly and as a senior congressional staffer on Capitol Hill.
Brentwood Baptist Church Pastor Mike Glenn said that while the people gathered at his church wanted the installation service to “momentous, deep, and sacred,” they were also mindful that it was a time of “great joy and optimism.”
Glenn prayed that God would grant Leatherwood discernment, wisdom and courage in his new role.
“We feel You leading, as a church body, to set aside Brent Leatherwood to be the thoughtful conscience of our convention, to help us understand the issues, and respond to them most graciously and biblically,” Glenn prayed.
Former ERLC President Richard Land said there’s never been a more important time to have a strong and effective ERLC.
“If you do your job right,” Land told Leatherwood in a video address, “sooner or later you’re going to make everybody unhappy.”
That, he said, is the nature of the job.
“I can assure you that whatever the challenges are, being president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is a tremendous privilege, and it brings with it some remarkable opportunities,” Land said.
Lori Bova, who served on the search committee that recommended Leatherwood as president, said his love for and loyalty to the ERLC is inspiring to all who know him.
Bova challenged Leatherwood to “remain tightly tethered to Jesus” so that he can receive “the fruit that comes from abiding with Him.”
SBC First Vice President Victor Chayasirisobhon reminded Leatherwood who he is ultimately serving.
“You are serving the living God,” he said. “You are serving the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. And always remember who you are to Him, his child. So, serve him. I charge you to serve Him well.”
Leatherwood said the country seems to be besieged by a mixture of extreme individualism, loneliness and despair.
“In Baptist life, cooperation is being strained,” he said. “Each day seems to bring new events, new legal challenges, and moments that seem to be conspiring against us.”
In some instances, he said, something “devious” is occurring.
“Figures and voices have emerged that are seeking to gain attention, followers, and influence,” he said. “They would do this even at the expense of cooperation on the essentials that have long been a hallmark of our churches.”
Leatherwood talked of “a dark public square, a distressed convention, and division all around us.”
“But as a Christ follower,” he said, “I’m never without hope.”