How the ERLC is advocating for Southern Baptists in Washington, D.C.

Specific examples from the 2020 Legislative Agenda

February 14, 2020

Our team in Washington, D.C., produces a legislative agenda annually to mark the work we aim to carry out in the year ahead. This list of desired government action is aspirational for the bills we hope become laws and at times those which we oppose, but also a prudent account for the season in which God has placed us to work. The ERLC will work in 2020 to advance core areas of our agenda that reflect our deepest convictions, such as pro-life and religious liberty legislation, while also targeting bills with broad, bipartisan support in order to make progress on our goals in a time of divided government.

Our work also finds us engaging with the administration on regulatory actions as well as advocating before the Supreme Court on foundational cases. We are also extending our capacity this year outside the gridlock of Washington, D.C., both internationally to bear witness before the United Nations and more locally as state governments like Tennessee wield increasingly important leadership on the issues of public debate.

As the Southern Baptist Convention’s outpost in Washington, D.C., the ERLC advocates for public policy consistent with the priorities of the convention. We share with government leaders and policymakers when introducing ourselves that the SBC is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15 million people in over 46,000 churches nationwide. Obviously, these numbers are interesting to those whose work requires the consideration of constituencies and eligible voters. But to us, the numbers are an introductory fact for which we are grateful, not the fuel by which we find the power to speak.

When the ERLC speaks, we speak as a chorus redeemed and reborn by the gospel and with consciences formed by the Word that became flesh. We speak as a people whose citizenship is secured in a greater Kingdom, but who, for a time and a purpose, are also American citizens. We seek the common good of our neighbors in ways that ultimately reflect the deeper realities of Christ’s eternal Kingdom.

The ERLC’s legislative agenda is organized by the five areas of our public policy portfolio and then tied together with a preamble and conclusion written by Russell Moore and Travis Wussow, ERLC’s vice president of public policy and general counsel.

Here are a few examples of specific policies we’re advocating for this year.

Sanctity of Human Life

An average of 2,400 abortions were performed each day in 2017 in the United States. While this rate is thankfully at its lowest since abortion was legalized in 1973, the number remains excruciatingly high. The ERLC will continue our fight on behalf of the most vulnerable by supporting bills like the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act which would prohibit abortions at or beyond 20 weeks’ gestation when we know the child in utero feels pain. 

We will also search for opportunities to defund Planned Parenthood of taxpayer dollars, as they performed more abortions from October 2017 to October 2018 than in any year prior and recieved more federal taxpayer dollars than ever before, making up more than a third of their operating revenue. While the increase of pro-life rhetoric and executive regulations from government officials in Washington, D.C., is important, this devastating data of the abortion industry’s success at the expense of federal money must not be overlooked.

Religious Liberty

The Bible teaches that governments and rulers have authority because it is granted by God. But that authority is always limited because God alone is Lord of the conscience. It is from this recognition that the ERLC defends the free exercise of fundamental conscience freedoms by supporting policies like the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act. This law would prohibit government discrimination against child welfare agencies on the basis of their religious beliefs. Thus, it would protect children in need as foster systems are overcrowded and under significant strain. 

Unfortunately, religious freedom is often misunderstood whether in policies affecting child-welfare organizations or even with issues in the healthcare profession. This requires the ERLC to make the case for why this God-given freedom is a cornerstone of all our other constitutional freedoms. For example, the ERLC supports the work of the Department of Health and Human Services Conscience and Religious Freedom Division which is needed because healthcare workers should never be forced to participate in abortions and other medical procedures which conflict with their religiously informed conscience. We will continue to advocate for a public square that protects and upholds the dignity of all people and the rights of all to live and act according to their deeply-held convictions.

Marriage and Family

Marriage is a gift from God that is both the basic social structure and a mysterious illustration of the relationship between Christ and his Church (Ephesians 5). The family that grows from marriage is an essential institution for human flourishing, and we will uphold the integrity of God’s design by supporting policies like the Adoptee Citizenship Act. When the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 was enacted, which simplified the administrative steps required of families adopting internationally, it unfortunately left an entire population of adoptees without citizenship. This bill closes the loophole to provide immediate citizenship to these children, already adopted by U.S. citizens, yet left out of the previous law. 

The ERLC will also continue to engage with Congressional leadership and the HHS and other executive branch leaders in responding to the opioid crisis by caring for affected families.


We see unfolding in the narrative of Scripture that God is unequivocally just in all his ways. As Christians, we bring glory to God and shine light on the gospel when we pursue justice for the marginalized. The ERLC will seek justice in 2020 through advocating for reforms related to payday lending and strengthening laws that deal with human trafficking. 

For example, the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act would extend interest rate cap protections rightly recognized for members of the military to all Americans. Other examples of our justice work include the push for a whole-of-government approach to combatting human trafficking as we did in 2018 with the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act.


The ERLC’s work overseas is focused on our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, other religious minorities, widows, and orphans. We will stand up for those whom oppressive regimes toss aside as we continue our China International Religious Freedom Initiative. The Chinese people face daily threats and state-authorized terror in an attempt to stifle their religious beliefs in public and private spaces. The ERLC maintains its grave concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s approach to Christians and other religious minorities and will work with other nongovernmental organizations to direct both U.S. and international pressure toward alleviating their persecution. 

Our team has also taken note of the growing international push for abortion legalization throughout the developing world. The ERLC will increase its efforts to resist the entrenched international abortion lobby at the UN as we work with countries seeking to protect life within their borders.

You can find our 2020 Legislative Agenda here

Jeff Pickering

Jeff Pickering is the director of the Initiative on Faith & Public Life, a project of the American Enterprise Institute. AEI is a leading public policy think tank in Washington, DC and the initiative exists to equip Christian college students for faithful engagement in public life. Jeff moved to Washington … 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