Just two days after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee called on state lawmakers to pass an unconstitutional gun-control bill in the wake of a deadly Christian school shooting, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission went to bat for the red-flag proposal, insisting there are no red flags in it.
In a video posted to Twitter, the ERLC praised the proposal for “upholding constitutional rights,” swore it achieves due process, and lectured viewers that Lee’s idea isn’t a red-flag law because reasons.
These reasons include claims that the proposal is merely an extension of existing “order of protection” rules, not a new law; that court petitions for firearm confiscation can be made only by law enforcement; and that the individuals in question must be notified of resulting court hearings so they can protest before their rights are stripped away. Some other states’ red-flag laws include emergency ex parte, meaning guns can be taken away before a court hearing, the ERLC states, but Lee’s proposal doesn’t include this option. Ergo, because Lee’s red-flag proposal differs a bit from other red-flag proposals, you can’t call it “red-flag.”
You don’t have to be a legislative guru, however, to see through the nonsense to the blatant partisanship. The biggest red flag of all is that President Joe Biden, who has made a habit of declaring war on the Second Amendment, personally endorsed Lee’s efforts — and called it a “red-flag law.”
The commission’s “explainer” wasn’t its only lobbying effort. ERLC President Brent Leatherwood also wrote a letter urging legislators to pass Lee’s proposal, using the emotional appeal of being a Covenant School parent but acting in his official capacity and thus at the expense of Southern Baptist tithers.
Red Flags All Around
This is shameful for a multitude of reasons — most fundamentally because Lee’s proposal, as Federalist Senior Editor David Harsanyi outlines, is an “unconstitutional travesty.” Contra the media and ERLC’s depiction, Harsanyi writes:
Lee supports a law that forces people accused of a precrime to sit down with state-appointed psychiatrists and lawyers and prove their innocence before the government decides if they can keep their guns. If that person says the wrong things, cops can show up at his home, search it, demand the accused hand over his property — not just any property, but property explicitly protected by the Constitution — without offering any evidence that he’s committed, or ever planned to commit, a crime.
And that’s just the half of it. As Harsanyi explains, Lee also promotes guns being confiscated from people accused of having a “psychiatric disorder, alcohol dependence, or drug dependence” — none of which implicate someone as a would-be mass murderer. Individuals relieved of their lawful gun ownership then get only one appeal hearing for each suspension, while Tennessee can keep requesting extensions world without end.
The plain language of Lee’s bill shatters the notion that dispossessing an American of his constitutionally protected right to self-defense requires a high burden of proof. It doesn’t.
A Bigger Problem
The biggest problem with the ERLC’s diligent lobbying for gun control isn’t actually the specifics of the bill, however. It’s that the ERLC, which purportedly exists to “engag[e] the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ and speak to issues in the public square for the protection of religious liberty and human flourishing,” is doing precisely none of those things by pushing for Lee’s gun-grab. His bill is not compelled by the gospel, does nothing to protect religious liberty in the short term and might even threaten it in the long term, and stunts human flourishing by condemning Americans for the non-crime of owning firearms before they’ve done anything unlawful and depriving them of a means to defend their lives.
Even worse is the fact that the ERLC is funded by churches through the SBC’s Cooperative Program. As part of this program, Southern Baptist churches commit a percentage of their members’ financial contributions to the commission.
In other words, the ERLC is using the tithe money of faithful Christians, on behalf of the commission’s friends in the governor’s office, to lobby for Biden-endorsed gun-control schemes that have nothing to do with its stated mission and could conceivably be used to deprive even church members of their God-given rights.
Believers have watched as the nation’s premier law enforcement agency sought to covertly investigate faithful Catholics. There’s no reason to believe that just because a proposal vests power in law enforcement alone, it won’t be used to deny due process, skirt justice, or even undermine religious liberty. That a tithe-financed “religious liberty” entity would abuse its own funders in this way is shameful.
Of course, the ERLC’s head honchos would point to 2018 and 2022 SBC resolutions on “gun violence,” which expressed solidarity “with all those victimized by gun violence” and implored political leaders to “take concrete steps, toward solutions that uphold the dignity and value of every human life.” But red-flag laws deny human dignity by punishing innocents and aren’t empirical solutions. More importantly, lobbying for them isn’t solidarity with victims. It’s solidarity with the opportunist politicians looking to capitalize on those victims with “do-somethingism.”
Nail in the Coffin
This latest move by the ERLC isn’t a misstep. It’s just the next stop on its downward trajectory away from gospel fidelity and toward left-wing activism.
This was clear under the leadership of the ERLC’s former President Russell Moore, who led the commission for the better part of a decade until stepping down in 2021. Under Moore’s leadership, Southern Baptists made a motion to stop bestowing millions of dollars every year upon the ERLC because it had become a “significant distraction from the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists.”
Pastors reportedly voiced concerns many times about the ERLC leader’s support for the building of a mosque and contempt for Southern Baptists who questioned that support, his advocacy for unfettered immigration and slander of Christians who disagreed, his position on secondary celebrations for same-sex unions, an accusation that he received money from a Soros-allied organization, and his anti-Trump animus. In fact, when Moore finally broke his silence after the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which overturned the deadly Roe v. Wade precedent that prevailed for half a century, he opted to trash the former president and the Christians who voted for him rather than triumph in a massive pro-life victory.
This trajectory appears to have continued under the new president. While Tennessee reporters have claimed without evidence that Leatherwood speaks for the majority of Southern Baptists in his support for the red-flag push, the ERLC under his leadership has apparently been quiet on state efforts to affirm the sexes and legislation designed to protect children from devastating transgender medical interventions — an issue on which Southern Baptists are united.
That’s because the ERLC does not really exist to spread the gospel while advancing religious liberty and human flourishing in the halls of power. Instead, it has gotten high on another one of its objectives — “Provide information resources that inform and equip churches for active moral witness in their communities” — and patted itself on the back while talking down to those country bumpkin Southern Baptists who cherish their guns or their borders or their freedom a little too much.
No matter what some little ERLC Twitter video would have you believe, Biden is right that Lee’s proposal is a red-flag law. There’s nothing in the gospel of Jesus Christ mandating support for those. And there’s certainly nothing authorizing denominational ideologues to use money faithfully offered for gospel advancement for partisan lobbying.