5 reasons I’m thankful for Southern Baptists

November 24, 2021

When asked to define conservatism, noted scholar Yuval Levin simply replied, “gratitude.” He explained that true conservatism is rooted in gratitude because it appreciates the institutions, procedures, and traditions that have been built up over the years by those who came before us. 

That understanding of conservatism deeply resonates with me, both as a philosophical conservative and as a theological conservative. I continually find myself grateful for what previous generations have done. Even in the midst of a challenging cultural season, where so many are interested in tearing things down, I find myself grateful for the efforts of peers, colleagues, and others who continue to build.

I am grateful for my fellow Southern Baptists, as well. We have built, and continue to do so, upon the work done by countless pastors, missionaries, church planters, ministry leaders, and scholars. Whether it is the enduring strength of the Cooperative Program, the commitment to sending missionaries around the globe or the planting of churches across North America, there is much to be thankful for. Here are five things the Lord has laid on my heart that I am truly grateful for. 

A cooperative spirit

Most of our state conventions have wrapped up their annual meetings. I was able to attend the Tennessee Baptist Convention just last week, and it was a true joy to be with pastors and church leaders from across our great state. People from various towns and different ministries came together to encourage one another and remind us of how much can be accomplished when we work together. 

I know this was the takeaway for so many messengers at all of our state conventions as well. Our cooperation is what makes us unique. We really are so much better when we work together to serve our communities and reach the nations for the sake of the gospel.

I’m grateful for the cooperative spirit that resides at the heart of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

Our theological fidelity

Another core component of the SBC is our commitment to the gospel. We believe that the Word of God is inerrant, and thus, we rightly hold a very high view of Scripture. If it weren’t for all six of our seminaries holding so fast to this truth, we would be foundering as a denomination. Each seminary continues to train men and women for gospel service. We must support our this integral work of our seminaries. They have excelled at teaching and equipping outstanding individuals we need to lead our churches and serve in this chaotic culture that is so desperate to hear a word of truth. 

Our theological fidelity ensures our churches continue serving in their communities and keep sending their best to be missionaries overseas. And all of that guides our work at the ERLC, ensuring that we are speaking to a watching world based on the convictions of our convention. 

I’m grateful for the theological fidelity our churches, associations, conventions, and entities hold to in our efforts to proclaim the gospel and reach the lost.

A commitment to church planting

I’m always saddened when I learn of an old church building that has been converted into something else. While I know a church building is only a structure of wood, brick, and other materials, it also represents lives and ministries where God has been at work. To think about that space no longer being used for these purposes grieves my heart, which is why I’m thankful for the important work our sister entity, the North American Mission Board, is doing to plant new churches in communities all across the country. Some are replants in those old, forgotten church buildings, and others are new plants meeting in movie theaters or strip malls. Regardless, the fact that our convention of churches continues to prioritize church planting is a natural outflow of our commitment to obey Christ’s commandment to go into all the world.

I’m thankful for NAMB and the faithful church planters who seek to take the gospel into new and forgotten corners of our country.

A commitment to international missions

In September, Staples Mill Road Baptist Church held a commissioning service for 34 International Mission Board missionaries being sent to the four corners of the globe. Around that same time, members of our ERLC life team traveled to Northern Ireland to place our very first Psalm 139 project ultrasound machine overseas. I see the same spirit in both of these events — Southern Baptists, motivated by the gospel, being sent out to save lives. It reminds me that the SBC views gospel proclamation around the globe as one of the main objectives, if not the main objective, that brings us together, and that’s a very, very good thing. 

I’m thankful for the IMB and our convention’s commitment to taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. 

A commitment to life

You would be hard pressed to find a Southern Baptist who doesn’t think the protection of preborn lives is not a matter of utmost importance. As a true conservative network of churches that actually believes every aspect of the Bible is true, we are resolute in our commitment to advocating for the rights of God’s image-bearers in the womb, and this requires a cooperation unlike no other. And Southern Baptists have risen to the task.

In the past year alone, the ERLC has placed 24 ultrasound machines. In December, we will place our 25th. This is not an accident. We have committed to placing 50 machines by the 50-year mark of the disastrous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. When I think about how Southern Baptists have rallied around the Psalm 139 Project already, I’m confident we will be able to place the other 25 life-saving machines in pregnancy resource centers around the country. The SBC cares about life because we know how precious each life is to God. 

I’m thankful for our convention’s commitment to taking a stand for life. 

A grateful people

I was recently visiting with a pastor of an SBC church, and he was reflecting on the last year. He admitted it has been uniquely challenging at times, but he was still appreciative of all the ways the Lord has blessed his congregation and ministry. Unfortunately, these stories of gratitude can get lost in the midst of all the noise. But I cannot tell you how many times I have had this same conversation with other pastors. I think that reveals a fundamental truth about Southern Baptists: We’re a people of gratitude. We know we are the recipients of an unearned grace, saved from death, and have been raised to walk in the newness of life (Rom. 6:4). And that’s why I’m thankful for a convention that cooperates to tell the world about the One who is the reason for the gratitude we have. 

Photo Attribution:

Baptist Press

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