Inaugural SBC Student Leadership Conference

April 29, 2015

For seminary student Jamin Eben, the inaugural Student Leadership Conference cosponsored by two Southern Baptist entities proved doubly beneficial.

Eben, a third-year master of divinity student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the event provided “a much better understanding of the nature and day-to-day shape of the cooperation that makes up the Southern Baptist Convention.”

“The core of Southern Baptist identity is not structure but cooperation, and the leadership conference truly brought that out,” Eben said via email. 

The first-time event also helped by exposing him to various Southern Baptist pastors and leaders, Eben said. 

“Leadership is desperately needed in the church today,” he said. “However, styles of leadership are so diverse that as a young leader I often wonder how to work toward my own development. Seeing a vast diversity of godly leaders helped me think through my own development a great deal.”

Eben was among 62 participants — primarily students with some faculty and staff members — from three SBC seminaries and seven Baptist colleges or universities at the March 26-27 conference in Nashville. The conference, cosponsored by the Executive Committee and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), was held in conjunction with the second annual ERLC Leadership Summit on “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation.”

Between and after sessions of the ERLC Summit, students interacted with Southern Baptist pastors and entity leaders. They also had the opportunity to ask questions of them in panel discussions at three meals during the summit. 

Frank S. Page, president of the Executive Committee, explained the work of the EC and the convention at the March 26 dinner before joining three pastors for a question-and-answer session. ERLC President Russell Moore responded to students and other guests at a Question and Ethics segment during the March 27 dinner break. Six LifeWay Christian Resources staffers on a panel fielded questions at a March 27 luncheon sponsored by the entity.

Page said the student conference enabled the Executive Committee to engage in its assignment from the convention of building cooperation — specifically in this case “to encourage students in their understanding of and appreciation of the work of the convention.”

“We were able to connect personally, as well as to share information,” Page said. “It was a wonderful time of connection and networking. We are hopeful this event will encourage cooperation in the days ahead.”

The goal of the student conference “was to invest in next generation leaders by growing them as leaders, networking them with key SBC leaders and educating them on how the SBC works,” said Phillip Bethancourt, the ERLC's executive vice president who emceed the dinner programs.

“We hope this will become an annual event that strengthens the SBC's connection to younger leaders,” he told BP by email. “Imagine the impact on the denomination after a decade if 500-plus key SBC leaders have attended this event and shaped their ongoing commitment to investing in the SBC.”

The conference developed from a model used by Southern Seminary, Bethancourt said.

Each spring, Southern's Student Life office takes its ministry leadership interns to Nashville to meet those who serve the SBC at entities in the city, said Jeremy Pierre, the seminary's dean of students and an assistant professor of biblical counseling.

“We want them to see models of faithful leadership so that they might grow into better leaders themselves,” Pierre told BP by email. “We also want to increase their appreciation for and dedication” to the SBC.

“At the ERLC Summit, our students witnessed careful thinking on a sensitive topic,” Pierre said. “Race relations is full of potential for misunderstanding and hurt, and we saw displayed a mature love for people, as well as a mature love for God's Word. 

“In addition, the folks at LifeWay and the Executive Committee demonstrated a heart for the mission of the Gospel and strategic energy for accomplishing it,” he said. “The students had high praise for everything. And they'd tell me if they thought otherwise!”

For Anderson University in Anderson, S.C., it was the first time for its students to make a trip to Nashville for such an event, sending five students and two faculty members.

Tim McKnight, assistant professor of Christian studies at Anderson, aimed “to introduce our students to the important work the ERLC is doing related to engaging cultural issues with a Christian worldview and particularly from a Kingdom perspective. Particularly, we were excited about them learning how a Christian worldview and Kingdom perspective relate to the issue of racial reconciliation.”

Anderson's students “learned how our convention seeks to engage our culture by holding out the truth in love,” McKnight said via email. “They learned that racial reconciliation is an outgrowth of the Gospel's message of reconciling man with God and man with man. They heard how they can engage sensitive cultural issues by holding out the truth of Scripture with the love of Christ.”

The students also were “able to hear firsthand from leaders within our convention and hear their hearts for engaging our nation and the world with the Gospel,” said McKnight, who expressed gratitude “for the opportunity and generosity extended to our students” by the Executive Committee, ERLC and LifeWay.

In addition to Southern Seminary and Anderson University, students from the following schools also attended: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth; Criswell College in Dallas; Dallas Baptist University; Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.; Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.; Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and the University of Mobile (Ala.).

Joining Page Thursday evening in answering questions about ministry and the SBC were Nathan Lino, senior pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church, and Vance Pitman, senior pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas. Jon Akin, senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tenn., moderated the question-and-answer time.

LifeWay staff members who addressed such topics as Bible translations, discipleship, church planting and digital technology at Friday's luncheon were Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project; Mark Dance, associate vice president for pastoral leadership; Micah Carter, spokesperson for the Holman Christian Standard Bible; Todd Adkins, director of leadership; and Daniel Im, church multiplication specialist. Jonathan Howe, director of strategic initiatives, moderated the panel.

This was originally published by Baptist Press.

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