6 reflections from SBC21

Resolutions, a new president, and a spirit of unity

June 24, 2021

There has already been a lot of ink spilled on the events of SBC21. But before we close the  book on a very good annual meeting, I thought I would take the opportunity to set forth a few highlights and offer my own perspective about the state of the SBC as we move forward together.

Few of us knew what to expect heading into this year’s annual meeting. From the messenger pre-registration numbers, we could tell it was going to be a capacity crowd that shattered attendance records from recent years. The number of anticipated messengers continued to climb in the weeks before the meeting, and as they did, curiosity and concern about what would happen rose along with them.

Would the annual meeting be a fractured and contentious two-day civil war? Would the debate over CRT reach a boiling point? Who would be the next president? And how would we feel when it was all over? Those were just a few of the questions being kicked around ahead of our time together in Nashville. 


But when the day finally arrived, something amazing happened: Southern Baptists came together. We didn’t just meet together physically; we came together under the banner of Christ. 

At the outset, I found myself sitting next to two men, older saints whose views and preferences (even clothing) in many ways certainly did not match my own. But we stood shoulder to shoulder and prayed next to one another. We sang praises to God together. At several points, we cast votes the same way. And when we didn’t, we simply turned to one another to discuss the reasons why. Honestly, it was wonderful. 

There is something special about being together in the room. For too many of us, two years without an annual meeting and the coldness of online discourse allowed a defensive posture to develop. But from my vantage point, that largely dissipated once we were in that room. I don’t mean that every person in the room was totally unconcerned about our differences. But I do mean that I think most of us felt grateful to be there together and proud of the faith and practice we hold in common.

Among the two big stories coming out of the annual meeting, our shared sense of unity is certainly one of them. Looking at the final tallies from the presidential runoff, you might think the two candidates being separated by less than 600 votes represents a deep divide. But if you were there, you know that one vote doesn’t tell the whole story, because on so many occasions, the room overwhelmingly expressed the same opinion on a range of issues. For my part, I could not be more grateful for the sweet spirit of unity that permeated so much of those two days.

Sexual abuse

The other major story coming out of the annual meeting was the resolve of the messengers to continue to address with absolute seriousness the scourge of sexual abuse among us. The abuse of the vulnerable is heinous. And it is especially so when those being preyed upon are victimized in places where they are supposed to receive spiritual care and instruction. Ahead of the annual meeting, significant allegations surfaced about the potential mishandling of the SBC’s response to the issue of sexual abuse in some of our churches by certain members of the Executive Committee. 

In response to those allegations, Grant Gaines and Ronnie Parrott, local church pastors in Tennessee and North Carolina, announced their intention to call for the newly-elected SBC president to appoint a task force to oversee an independent, third-party investigation of these allegations. Gaines called for that action in the form of a motion on the first day of the meeting. But because it involved a specific SBC entity, under the convention’s rules that action was automatically referred to the Executive Committee. The following day, Gaines rose to speak to the issue and urged those to whom it pertained to treat such allegations with the utmost seriousness. But when another messenger requested a floor vote on the issue, the messengers overwhelmingly voted in favor of the motion to form the task force to oversee the investigation.

To be clear, the investigation is merely that. It is an inquiry to determine what, if any, wrongdoing occured in the course of the Executive Committee’s response to the issue of sexual abuse. But even this reflects a firm commitment on the part of the messengers, and the whole SBC by extension, to accept nothing less than our very best efforts to make our churches places that are safe for survivors and safe from abuse. 

Ed Litton

The vote for SBC president was probably the most anticipated vote of the convention. And it was close. The four candidates each represented a unique vision for the future of the SBC. Each man also had a particular emphasis about what the SBC needed most at this time. Ultimately, after a memorable nomination speech from former SBC president Fred Luter, the messengers narrowly elected Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Mobile, Alabama. Providentially, Litton’s point of emphasis was unity. As a pastor, he has championed the ideas of racial reconciliation and worked with other pastors in his community to bring the body of Christ together and address points of tension and division. God willing, Litton will continue to lead efforts to pursue unity and reconciliation during his tenure as the leader of our denomination.


One of the highlights of any annual meeting are the sermons preached from the stage in the main hall. This year, J.D. Greear delivered his final sermon as president of the SBC. And he held nothing back. In it, he addressed the issues of sexual abuse and race within the convention. He called for Southern Baptists to keep our eyes focused on our mission and to avoid allowing politics to create division. 

Similarly, pastor Willy Rice of Calvary Church in Clearwater, Florida, preached the convention sermon. Rice challenged messengers to embrace not only the teachings of Jesus but the manner of Jesus as well. Specifically, Rice insisted that Southern Baptists should not be jerks in the way we treat others and warned of the divisiveness that often emanates from discussions online. Both sermons are well worth (re)watching in full.

Events & exhibits

Outside of the business of the convention are dozens and dozens of ancillary events and a massive exhibit hall. If you’re not careful, you can spend most of your time simply wandering from booth to booth picking up free swag. We had an incredible time at the ERLC booth talking to folks, giving away t-shirts, and highlighting the work of our Psalm 139 initiative that places ultrasounds in crisis pregnancy centers around the country (and soon the world). This annual meeting also featured a number of incredible events including the Send Conference, the SBC Women’s Leadership Network gathering, the seminary lunches, and the B21 panel. But an unexpected highlight for many, many people was the hymn sing that happened in conjunction with the 9Marks events that were hosted at First Baptist Nashville.


This year’s Resolutions Committee was an all-star team. They brought forward nine important resolutions that the messengers approved including resolutions on Baptist Unity, the Equality Act, the Hyde Amendment, and Race and the Sufficiency of Scripture. Each one was careful and precise, and to the best of my memory, all of these resolutions garnered strong support in the room. (We wrote about the ones pertaining to the ERLC here).

But at the conclusion of the time for resolutions on Tuesday, a pastor made an earnest appeal for his resolution on the abolition of abortion to be brought to the floor (it was one of several dozen the committee did not put forward to the messengers). Southern Baptists, never missing an opportunity to oppose abortion, voted convincingly to bring that resolution to be debated on the floor. 

The following day, the resolution calling for the abolition of abortion was debated on the floor. I ended up speaking against the adoption of that resolution from the floor, not because I opposed its aim but because there were (and are) troubling aspects about this particular resolution. As originally written, it called for the total rejection of any law or statute to curtail abortion that fell short of total abolition. That would mean that the vital tools employed by the pro-life movement such heartbeat bills, pain-capable bills, informed-consent laws, and parital-birth abortion bans would be taken off the table. 

After I spoke, another messenger successfully moved to amend the resolution to reopen the door for these measures. But even so, in my view, substantial problems remain with this resolution, which have now been addressed by seven SBC professors and separately by a member of the 2021 Resolutions Committee. Simply put, even the amended resolution provides no exception for the physical life of the mother and seems to indicate support for the prosecution of post-abortive women, both of which represent significant departures from both the SBC’s historic approach to this issue as well as the consistent messaging of the pro-life movement. The enemy in the fight for life is not vulnerable women but the abortion lobby: doctors, lawyers, and activists who profit from the destruction of innocent human life. Though women who pursue abortions unquestionably commit a grievous sin, it is still critical to distinguish between these vulnerable women and the abortion industry that preys upon them.

Ultimately, I absolutely affirm the messengers’ desire to make a clear statement demonstrating their resolve to end abortion at the nearest possible opporunity. And honestly, I believe that is what most believed they were voting for: a resolution calling for the immediate abolition of abortion. Unfortunately, this resolution went further than that in ways that actually repudiate the efforts of the pro-life movement in which countless Southern Baptists labor every day. In any case, it presents an opportunity to potentially revisit this opinion next year at the annual meeting in Anaheim, California.


To wrap this up, I would simply say that for myself and so many others, this year’s annual meeting was a surprising and welcomed breath of fresh air. Regardless of which candidate we may have supported to succeed Greear, last week so many Southern Baptists were able to come together and remember how wonderful it is to partner with millions of other Baptist Christians through the SBC for the purpose of reaching and discipling the nations. From my vantage point, we were unified and filled with joy, and we left with confidence that the SBC has exciting days ahead of us.

Photo Attribution:

Baptist Press / Eric Brown

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

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