7 updates on the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group’s ongoing efforts

September 10, 2019

The SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group (SAAG) has continued to work diligently throughout the summer. As SBC President J.D. Greear said at the 2019 annual meeting, “Our efforts on abuse don’t end here in Birmingham. This is just the beginning of a long journey together.” In an effort to keep Southern Baptists up to speed on the Advisory Group’s efforts, here is a brief update on recent developments.

“Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention” event

The ERLC hosted a Monday night panel, “Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention,” at the SBC with guests Beth Moore, Rachael Denhollander, Susan Codone, Russell Moore, and J.D. Greear. At the event, Codone shared for the first time publicly her story of being abused by clergy as a youth in a Southern Baptist church. She called the entire Church to be a part of the solution to this problem, saying, “All of us can look for predators. All of us can look for grooming behaviors. All of us can help vet new hires and hold leaders accountable. All of us can educate each other about the ramifications of sexual abuse in the church and the life-time effects of trauma.” This candid conversation set the stage for other important developments that happened at the annual meeting related to abuse.

SAAG report

The Sexual Abuse Advisory Group report at the SBC, given by J.D. Greear and Russell Moore, included a time of lament, responsive reading, and prayer with different survivors and advocates participating in the programming. In the report, Greear said that to see progress occur on this issue, we must have the right heart, public statements, partnerships, training, resources, governing documents, future efforts, and a unified call to action. This report has continued to shape the work of the Advisory Group’s ongoing efforts.

Actions at the SBC annual meeting

Movement in several of the areas Greear addressed occurred at or surrounding the annual meeting. A resolution was passed on the evils of sexual abuse. In it, the SBC asked for forgiveness for failing to cultivate a culture of protection for those abused; acknowledged that local church autonomy should not be used as a reason for failing to act in order to protect the people it serves; and further acknowledged sexual abuse is a "sin to be disciplined in the context of the church, but also a crime to be prosecuted in the context of civil government."

The SBC bylaws were also changed in Birmingham to approve a standing Credentials Committee tasked with addressing situations when churches mishandle issues like abuse or racism. Additionally, a constitutional amendment, once affirmed by a second vote next year in Orlando, Fla., will make it explicit in SBC governing documents that you cannot be a church in friendly cooperation with the SBC if you mishandle abuse. 

Church Cares curriculum

The Advisory Group partnered with the ERLC and LifeWay to release Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused, a video-based curriculum that brings together top experts from various fields to help leaders understand and embody compassionate care for abuse survivors. The PDF handbook and videos are all available for free at churchcares.com. Thanks to the generosity of LifeWay, every attendee at the annual meeting received a hard copy of the curriculum handbook. Over 1,000 churches have already begun to use the curriculum since it launched.

Caring Well report

Just before the convention, the SAAG released an extensive written report of their findings. As part of the report, the Advisory Group listened to and learned from hundreds of survivors of sexual abuse, church leaders, and national experts in this field. The report includes the personal testimonies of many of those survivors. This report aims to begin to educate Southern Baptist churches on the abuse crisis, equip them to care well for survivors, and prepare them to prevent abuse.

Caring Well Conference

The ERLC will host its national conference next month to confront the issue of abuse. The Caring Well Conference will welcome more than 1,500 attendees to Dallas, Texas, on October 3-5. Participants will listen to survivors, learn from experts, and leave equipped to strengthen their churches’ engagement on the issue. In addition to a free live stream, scholarships are available to attendees who cannot afford the cost of registration thanks to the generous funding provided by the SBC Executive Committee. Following the event, any surplus proceeds will be reinvested in the ERLC’s ongoing work on abuse, and all conference content will be available for free. 

Caring Well Challenge

Last month saw the launch of a pilot program for the Caring Well Challenge—a year-long initiative for churches to immediately enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors. The 750+ churches participating in this pilot group will enable the SAAG to refine and strengthen the challenge as it’s prepared for other churches to participate in it in the future. This unified call to action has been encouraged by all of the SBC entities, the Women’s Missionary Union, around 90% of the state conventions, all of the seminaries, and 10 of the Baptist colleges and universities. The goal is to equip churches to be safe for survivors and safe from abuse. Churches can sign up for the challenge and receive resources and support at caringwell.com.

Phillip Bethancourt

Phillip Bethancourt is Senior Pastor of Central Church in College Station, Texas. Before he was called to pastor Central, he served as the Executive Vice President of the ERLC team. He completed an MDiv and PhD in Systematic Theology at Southern after attending Texas A&M University. Phillip and his wife, Cami, have been married since 2005, … 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