ERLC conference urges parents to be models for their children

August 29, 2017

Christian parents must seek to be what they want their children to become, a sellout audience was told during the final two days of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s 2017 national conference.

A diverse collection of speakers — including a United States senator, a filmmaker, storytellers, songwriters, as well as pastors and authors – addressed about 1,300 attendees at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville. The three-day event – titled “Parenting: Christ-centered Parenting in a Complex World” — concluded Aug. 26.

Longtime pastor and author Crawford Loritts told the crowd Aug. 25 whatever he wants his children to be they have to see in him. “They have to see me moving aggressively toward” that goal, he said.

“[A]t the end of the day, the thing that’s going to shape your future, shape your family, help your child to make it home before dark spiritually are [callouses] on your knees with an open Bible and a walk before God,” said Loritts, senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Ga. “That must never be forsaken. That has got to be the centerpiece of what we’re really, really all about.”

Bible teacher and author Jen Wilkin said in an address on rearing an “alien child” – a phrase based on I Peter 2:11 – the bottom line is: “The only reliable way to raise an alien child is to be an alien parent.

“Just think about this, before your child ever learns to read a Bible, they will read you,” she said.

The “alien parent” is not concerned with what other parents think; they are concerned with what God thinks, Wilkin said. “Alien parents trade the fear of man for the life-giving fear” of God.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said parents are going to feel guilty about the lack of time with their children in an age when work is normally separated from home.

“[Y]ou’re always going to feel guilty, because we’re going to fail as parents,” he told attendees Aug. 26. “So one thing to do is to flee to Christ.  . . .  They’re ultimately His kids, and we’re trying to steward them.”

In an in-person interview with ERLC President Russell Moore, Sasse addressed themes in his new book The Vanishing American Adult.

Sasse described the concept of adolescence – the “greenhouse phase” from about 18 months to four years after reaching puberty – as “basically a pretty good thing.” He said, however, “Perpetual adolescence is a disastrous thing where you never end that middle state.

“Adolescence is a means to an end. It’s not a destination,” Sasse told Moore and the audience.

Sasse said the practice by churches of “generational segregation” in corporate worship is problematic.

“The reality is that we should recognize that we live across generations and ultimately we’re going to be in a dependent state again unless the Lord returns prior,” he said. “We live in a world where we are going to decline and we should love our neighbor, and we should start doing that now.”

The Aug. 25 evening session focused on artists Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of The Jesus Storybook Bible and other books; singer/songwriter/author Andrew Peterson; and Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales and “What’s in the Bible?”

Lloyd-Jones told Moore in an in-person interview she wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible because she wanted children to know God loves them.

“We’re part of an incredible, real-life fairy tale,” she said. “[S]tory-telling is often the most effective way to ambush us.

“Really, the most beautiful characters in the Bible are the ones who turn and repent. And we love them because we see ourselves in them.”

Lloyd-Jones encouraged the audience to tell children the truth even about scary things.

“Tell it in an age-appropriate way, but don’t shy away from it,” she said. “Unless you tell them the truth, it’s more terrifying to them.

“Our job is not so much to protect children as to equip them.”

Peterson told his story of being captivated by fantasy novels as a boy until an experience when he was 19 transformed him and he became “wide awake to God’s presence.”

“What I was looking for all along had found me,” he said. “This beautiful, broken world that had been hidden in plain sight my whole life suddenly ambushed me.”

“I believe the Lord used those books to pique my desire for another world, to exercise the muscle of my imagination  . . .  and even to comfort a little kid,” Peterson told attendees.

“I think the trick to captivating your child’s imagination with the beauty of the Gospel is to show them that the Gospel matters at all and it matters in every corner of the universe,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t exercise discernment. It does mean that Christ is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

After he spoke, Peterson sang a song he had finished writing only a couple of days before on the pre-eminence of Christ based on Col. 1.

After the end of Veggie Tales, Vischer said he looked back and wondered, “Am I persuading kids to behave Christianly without giving them Christianity? I realized to help kids I needed to go deeper.”

The DVD series “What’s in the Bible?” came as a result. He encouraged parents at the conference and watching by live stream to tell kids the whole story about the Bible so they can build a “spiritual foundation for a moral imagination.”

“The world today is trying to decorate a tree with morals without a tree,” Vischer said. “The world is hanging morals in the air and hoping they’ll just stay there somehow. We still have the tree to hang morality on.

“The world desperately needs us to keep telling our story, the story of God who made you special and loves you very much, who has a plan, a plan of salvation, a plan of redemption, who’s calling us to be ambassadors of reconciliation. We can change the world because we are the ones with the story.”

Dennis Rainey, longtime president of FamilyLife, offered from his own experience four Gospel lessons for parents:

“Your home is an embassy of the King of kings and Lord of lords,” Rainey said. “The world we’re operating in is not our home. The embassy you’re from represents the place that is home. And so you’re raising emissaries; you’re raising dignitaries; you’re raising children who are to be ambassadors to their generation.”

Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, told attendees “a strong marriage empowers us to be strong parents.”

“When you love your mate well, you are loving your children well,” he said. “And your children first see love and understand what it is by watching the way you love one another.”

Phillip Bethancourt, the ERLC’s executive vice president, said in remarks based on Eph. 6:10-13 parents must give their children “a purpose to pursue,” “an identity to embrace” and “a battle to fight.”

“One of the best ways we can lead our children in the battle is by modeling what it means to fight the good fight of faith in our home,” he said. “We’re not just seeking to tell our kids they need to engage in spiritual warfare. We’re saying, ‘Watch me, because I’m going to show you what it looks like.’”

On Aug. 25-26, the conference included panel discussions during the plenary sessions, as well as breakout sessions on a variety of topics Aug. 25.

One of those breakout sessions – on sexual orientation and gender identity – was greeted by a group of about 50 demonstrators from the pro-lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender organization Faith in America, which is seeking to persuade churches to change their viewpoint about the biblical teaching on the issues. The group gathered outside the room where the session was held and sang “Amazing Grace” as part of its peaceful demonstration.

The ERLC’s 2018 national conference is scheduled Oct. 11-13 in Dallas. With the theme of “The Cross-shaped Family,” the event will feature such speakers as Bible teacher Beth Moore, Nashville pastor Ray Ortlund, as well as Moore and Wilkin.

Tom Strode

Tom Strode serves as a correspondent for Baptist Press. Tom and his wife, Linda, have been married since 1978. They have two children with wonderful spouses and five grandchildren. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Linda and he live in Nashville, Tenn. 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