5 highlights of the ERLC’s work and Baptist cooperation

February 27, 2024

Southern Baptists gather each February for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee meeting. Recently, it struck me that it usually seems to occur around some pivotal moment––either in the life of the wider SBC or in our culture.

Five years ago, just before everyone came to Nashville, Tennessee for this meeting, the results of a major investigation by the Houston Chronicle surfaced, detailing hundreds of instances of abuse in churches.

Four years ago, a few weeks after the meeting, a pandemic would overtake the globe. 

Two years ago, it was announced at the meeting that Russian forces under the direction of Vladimir Putin had initiated their illegal invasion of Ukraine. Thousands of innocent and vulnerable lives have been murdered since that day.

And just last year, merely a few weeks after the meeting concluded, a personal nightmare occurred for me: My three children would endure the worst mass shooting in Tennessee history at their private Christian school.

I recount these moments to provide some perspective that moments matter. Since the last meeting, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has been diligently working to carry out the ministry assignment given to us by our churches. And, while doing so, reimagining the ways we can best serve our churches, equip our pastors, and work in our four priority areas: 

In all of this, our aim remains the same: to be alongside our churches in service, helping them understand and navigate the challenges of the moment and, from that service, speak into the public square with a distinctively Baptist voice. We cannot effectively speak from our churches into culture if we are not first rooted in our work for the churches. Here are some of the significant ways we have done this over the last several months: 

Evangelical Statement in Support of Israel 

We all witnessed the horror of Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas. This unprovoked terrorist attack killed thousands and was the worst of its kind in the history of the country. Millions were outraged, including many of our fellow Southern Baptists. It was clear pastors and so many throughout the SBC wanted to say something and show their support. So we acted.

In a great example of Baptist cooperation, my dear friend and faculty member at Southwestern Seminary, Dan Darling, created an Evangelical Statement in Support of Israel. Within hours after its release, over 2,500 signatures joined the document. After a few days, we shared a version with Capitol Hill, the White House, and the United Nations. The message was clear: Southern Baptists are committed to not only Israel’s right to defend itself, but its very right to exist, and we are urgently praying for the vulnerable lives in the midst of the warfare.

Public Policy Agenda

Turning our attention to Washington, D.C., we have once again produced a robust federal Public Policy Agenda. This document sets forth our policy priorities for the federal government, including proposals we are spotlighting before Congress, the White House, and the courts.

It also lists areas of concern and harmful policies we are monitoring in order to register our opposition to in official channels. To that end, the last year has seen a noteworthy uptick in one area in particular: administrative rule-making. In a typical year, we file one or two public comments about proposed rules from the Executive Branch. In 2023, the ERLC filed 19 official comments registering our deep opposition to actions the Biden administration is contemplating. These run the gamut from taxpayer funding for abortion travel and tourism to sexual orientation and gender ideology (SOGI) policies within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

But, not everything is negative in Washington. In just the last few weeks, the ERLC has provided its endorsement of two policies at critical junctures in the House of Representatives. The reauthorization of the Child Tax Credit, a proposal Speaker Mike Johnson, a fellow Southern Baptist, called a needed “pro-family policy” that helps mothers and families access the support they need to choose life.

And just last week, our support helped with the passage of the Uyghur Policy Act, a bill that will prioritize combatting the genocide of the Uyghur people by the Chinese Communist Party in official United States policy. Both of these steps were informed by significant resolutions passed by our messengers at recent annual meetings that show where Southern Baptists stand on important matters of public policy.

Baptist Cooperation

Not all of our work is federal. We partnered with Iowa and Minnesota-Wisconsin to challenge school districts that have sought to come between parent and child and enable the spread of harmful transgender ideologies.

We worked with the North Carolina Baptists to override their governor’s veto of a 12-week abortion ban. Because of this Baptist cooperation, more lives are able to be saved now in North Carolina than was previously the case. NC Baptists have been a crucial partner, like so many of our state conventions, in the success of our Psalm 139 Project. Baptist cooperation here helped with the placement of 12 additional life-saving ultrasound machines around the country. This fall, as we had a presence at 32 state annual meetings, we were able to recognize these partnerships with six different states as we gave them our first “partner for life” awards

Most recently, an exciting new partnership developed with us, the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), New Mexico Baptists, and a local SBC church in Hobbs, New Mexico. For instance, the Texas Baptists funded the placement of a machine in a neighboring state that has, tragically for now, become an abortion destination. Planned Parenthood has made these locations a priority to prey on mothers, and we believe we need to meet that challenge by taking our ministry to those same places.

Equipping Churches

All that I’ve mentioned thus far has been outward looking. The other side of our mandate calls us to equip and inform our churches. Our most recent edition of Light magazine is titled “Gender Chaos: Christian Answers in a Sexually Confused Culture.” It’s topic is one of the biggest points of feedback from a survey we conducted at the annual meeting where we asked Southern Baptists what they are wrestling with in their churches. In this edition, you will find all sorts of articles to help churches understand the moment.

Another large project is the release of “God’s Good Design: A Practical Guide for Answering Gender Confusion,” our gender and sexuality resource for churches and small groups. It will provide a theological underpinning based on the biblical definitions of marriage and sexuality as well as practical applications and examples that can be used by our churches.

Additionally, we have just released our Baptist political theology resource titled “The Nations Belong to God: A Christian Guide for Political Engagement,” written by my former colleague and current Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor, Andrew T. Walker. Again, it was developed in response to our survey from the annual meeting and is created in the helpful style of a Q-and-A catechism. Because we do not view it as our responsibility to tell people who to vote for, we aimed to provide a framework for thinking well about political matters based on Scripture and Baptist beliefs. Downloaded more than 1,500 times in the first few days, we think this will be a helpful tool in this chaotic election year and in many years to come. 

Abuse Reform 

Finally, we have continued to play a supporting role for the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF). As we have said many times, sexual abuse is a scourge upon our churches. Doing everything possible to ensure predators cannot prey on vulnerable lives in our congregations must continue to be a top priority. Messengers have repeatedly and overwhelmingly said they support this task force and expect reforms to be implemented. So, we have provided analysis and counsel to the task force based on our experience creating the Caring Well initiative. We are eager for the next steps that will emerge.

In all of these matters, I believe Baptist cooperation is key to equipping our churches and meeting the challenges of the day. And I believe that underpins the very nature of SBC meetings. They are an opportunity to showcase why Baptist cooperation matters and to wisely meet the moments in which God has placed us.

F. Brent Leatherwood

Brent Leatherwood was elected as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in 2022, after a year of leading the organization as acting president. Previously, he served as chief of staff at the ERLC, as well as the entity’s director of strategic partnerships. He brings an expertise in public … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24