The senior ethicist for the Southern Baptist Convention threw the weight of the denomination behind a so-called red flag law in Tennessee, even as rank-and-file ministers and congregants increasingly see denominational leadership’s values as contradictory to their own.
Brent Leatherwood, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, recently wrote a letter to state lawmakers in support of Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee’s proposed red flag laws, which would enable the state government to take firearms away from those who are found to be at risk to themselves or others. The forthcoming legislation follows a self-described transgender individual fatally shooting three children and three staff members at The Covenant School in Nashville, which three of Leatherwood’s own children attend.
“What he outlined is a thoughtful approach to ensure we respect the constitutional rights of citizens while also helping to protect potential victims from dangerous individuals,” Leatherwood wrote in support of the proposal from Lee. “Allowing law enforcement to work with families in order to initiate action that involves full due process in the judicial system will ensure individuals who could cause great harm are temporarily kept from accessing weapons.”
Leatherwood invoked the command from Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself” in his letter, cited biblical commands for civil government to oppose the “bad conduct” of wrongdoers, and noted that “Southern Baptists comprise over one-fifth of the population of Tennessee.”
Red flag laws nevertheless remain broadly unpopular among large majorities of Republicans and many independents, who fear that government officials can abuse the authority granted to them under the statutes. Opponents of red flag laws assert that they pose a threat to Second Amendment liberties and due process while failing to prevent criminal acts. The National Rifle Association and other advocacy organizations have publicly opposed the Lee proposal.
“Red flag gun confiscation would not have stopped the shooter. However, it will disarm perfectly sane, law-abiding people, resulting in more terrible deaths, not fewer,” Zach Lautenschlager, the former vice president of the National Association for Gun Rights, told The Daily Wire. “Tennessee already has laws which allow guns to be seized from people who are adjudicated a danger to themselves and to others. Red flag just removes due process, pure and simple.”
Lautenschlager, who was instrumental in enacting constitutional carry legislation across the country, noted that residents of other states have fallen victim to “a disgruntled neighbor or former coworker” submitting an anonymous tip to law enforcement, which results in the loss of their right to self-defense “without their knowledge and without any kind of hearing in which they can participate.”
Members of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also known as the ERLC, have been accused in recent years of supporting policy proposals which contradict the desires of Southern Baptist congregations. Russell Moore, the former president of the ERLC, said three years ago that ministers should persuade church members to accept COVID 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 passed a resolution affirming that “the murder of preborn children is a crime against humanity that must be punished equally under the law” the previous summer.
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“As an SBC pastor for the past nearly 16 years, I have never been contacted by anyone at the ERLC to share my thoughts on any of the issues they cover or agendas they push,” Scott Packett, the pastor of North Athens Baptist Church in Athens, Tennessee, told The Daily Wire. “For Mr. Leatherwood to assume that he speaks for all SBC pastors and churches is quite presumptuous.”
Packett added that he does not believe red flag laws will “stop these acts of terror” even though he sympathizes with Leatherwood and his family after the massacre at The Covenant School. “Guns do not kill people. Depraved human beings kill people,” he continued. “Giving the government power to limit our Second Amendment rights is not the answer. Look at other major cities and states where these laws are enforced: murderers will do whatever it takes to kill. Therefore, limiting access to guns for regular law-abiding citizens is never the solution.”
Leatherwood wrote in his letter to Tennessee lawmakers that “every life, without exception, is created with infinite worth in the eyes of our Lord because each one is made in His image.” Packett sees the claim as inconsistent with Leatherwood’s opposition to the bill in Louisiana, after which the ERLC told “churches like mine they want abortion to be unthinkable.”
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 was 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.