Home Christian News Interim Leadership Led to Leatherwood’s ERLC Election

Interim Leadership Led to Leatherwood’s ERLC Election

Brent Leatherwood
Trustees of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission pray for Brent and Meredith Leatherwood following the announcement of Brent's election as the next president of the ERLC. (Baptist Press/Brandon Porter)

NASHVILLE (BP) – A year of supposedly temporary leadership convinced a presidential search committee it need look no further for the next president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the leader of that effort said Tuesday (Sept. 13).

Though Brent Leatherwood was not originally a candidate, the search committee presented him with “great confidence, joy and honor” as the nominee for president of the entity, Todd Howard told his fellow ERLC trustees in their annual meeting. The full board responded to Leatherwood’s nomination with a unanimous vote to approve him as the ninth president in the commission’s history.

Brent Leatherwood reacts to the news Sept. 13 that he has been unanimously elected as the next president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. (Baptist Press/Brandon Porter)

Leatherwood, 41, had served as acting president of the entity charged by Southern Baptists with addressing moral and religious freedom issues since the trustees placed him in that role at their September 2021 meeting. He succeeds Russell Moore, who served as the ERLC’s president for eight years before resigning June 1 of last year to become public theologian for Christianity Today, which he now serves as editor-in-chief.

Howard, chair of the presidential search committee, acknowledged its members did not initially consider Leatherwood as a candidate because he, as Howard put it, “did not check two boxes in particular” – pastoral experience and education. The eight criteria established by the search committee included calls for the candidate to be “pastoral in heart” and “appropriately educated.” While the profile did not require an earned doctorate, it expressed the committee’s preference the candidate have a doctorate or a law degree.

Though he has not served as a pastor, Leatherwood “is appropriately pastoral,” said Howard, pastor of Watson Chapel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, Ark. He described Leatherwood as a “warm” and “friendly” person who “thrives meeting new people.”

Regarding education, Howard told trustees Leatherwood “is well-read, self-taught and has a solid grasp on the important issues that he would have to be dealing with” and can hire others to address specific needs.

“[F]rankly, 13 months of solid leadership through the turbulent waters of the current Southern Baptist Convention was in the end more compelling than advanced degrees.”

brent leatherwood
Todd Howard, chair of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission presidential search team, describes the process of selecting Brent Leatherwood as their candidate for the spot. Leatherwood was unanimously elected as the new president of the ERLC at the entity’s Sept. 13 trustee meeting. (Baptist Press/Brandon Porter)

In an ERLC news release, Howard said Leatherwood “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.”

Following its final interviews with Leatherwood, the committee voted unanimously, “for the first time in this process,” to recommend him as the next president, Howard said.

The committee had “many outstanding and qualified candidates” to consider, Howard told trustees at the end of the 14-month search process. He read 1 Samuel 16 – the account of Samuel’s anointing of David as Israel’s king after God rejected seven other sons of Jesse – in explaining the committee’s experience. After doors closed for some, and others withdrew from consideration, Howard said, the committee found itself asking in a fashion similar to Samuel’s question of Jesse, “You have any more sons?”

After the election, Lori Bova, chair of the trustees, said Leatherwood “has made this seem like much less of a transition, because the team under his leadership has not missed a beat. He created a culture where our staff could feel confident to move forward in the work that was set before them.”