By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
NASHVILLE — The lineup of speakers at this year’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission conference was impressive. So, too, was the setting for the event, which was held at the sprawling Opryland Hotel.
But the true appeal of this year’s gathering was the event’s central topic: Parenting.
Touching on subjects that ranged from social media to sports to foster care, the conference examined the guidelines of “Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World.” The event generated a sell-out crowd that was estimated around 1,300.
“Parenting, and parenting struggles, are something that unites us,” said Daniel Darling, vice president for communications of the ERLC. “It goes across different generations, different theological streams. (Christians) might have disagreements on certain things, but I think we all are saying, ‘How do we raise our kids well? How do we raise them in the Lord?’ How do we prepare them for a world that we can’t see?’ ”
The three-day conference examined those type questions through a series of plenaries, panel discussions, and breakout sessions.
“I think parenting hits on a nerve,” said Darling. “I think normal people, the average parents, feel pressed in from every side. I have four kids and it feels like parenting has more challenges, or at least different challenges, than it ever has.”
The conference featured more than 50 speakers and special guests, including SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore, influential author Jen Wilkin and Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer.
“The lineup we have this year is very diverse, and they’re speaking on a very diverse topic,” said Bobby Reed, the chief financial officer of the ERLC, during an interview on the second day of the conference. “We’re addressing issues that range from ‘how do we talk about race’ to ‘how do we talk about suicide’ to ‘how do we navigate technology with our kids.’ It’s really across the board in terms of what we are dealing with.”
The event was live-streamed to a world-wide audience and was viewed in multiple countries.
The amount of attention created by the conference was encouraging for the ERLC’s production team, which includes a small-group of full-time workers along with part-time employees and contract labor.
“We were very excited with the turnout,” said Darling. “Even when we first opened registration in the spring, we were surprised by just how quickly the people registered. Churches were registering their entire children ministry teams and their student ministry teams.”
Reed said he believes the impact of the conference will go well beyond the scope of the attendees.
“It has a generational effect,” he said. “These messages are getting to the children, who, in just a few short years, are going to be adults, raising their own kids and answering some of the same questions. Knowing how to do that from a Bible-centered perspective is key.”
Darling said he hopes the conference was not only informative, but also encouraging.
“I think bringing a diverse group of people together to share and to say ‘here is what we are doing’ makes you feel like you are not alone,” he said. “Parenting, as Dr. Moore says, is one of those things that humbles us and humiliates us. And it kind of brings people together in many ways when you start talking about your kids and talking about the things that you are going through.”
“The tenor of this event is that we are not necessarily providing formulas for parenting,” Darling said, “but we are offering messages from the perspective of ‘here is what God has to say about our job as parents.’ ”