Letter from the ERLC Executive Committee

February 20, 2020

Dear Chairman Stone and Members of the Executive Committee,

As convictional and grateful Southern Baptists, we would like to thank every member of the Executive Committee for their service to the Southern Baptist Convention. Our convention is indebted to all who take time to do the unglamorous but vital work of serving on our various boards and committees. 

At the same time, as members of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, we write to express our strong opposition to the recent Executive Committee formation of the ERLC study task force. There are several reasons why we believe this task force is unwarranted, divisive, and disrespectful.

1. The Task Force Inappropriately Seizes the Responsibility and Work of the ERLC Trustees

To begin, Chairman Stone’s own statements in Baptist Press regarding this action describe the need for this task force as being based on “reports that are largely anecdotal.” Chairman Stone stated that the task force is “looking for facts . . . we are making a statement about effectiveness.” To be clear, this task force seizes the work and responsibility of the trustees of the ERLC. Evaluating the effectiveness of Dr. Moore and the ERLC team is uniquely the work of the trustees of the ERLC. The appointment of this task force can be taken in no other sense than a vote of no confidence in the ERLC Board of Trustees, which is both insulting and, in our view, inappropriate and out of step with Southern Baptist cooperation.

Furthermore, as we review not only our own ministry assignment but the other Convention-approved ministry assignments, we see that there seems to be an intentional latitude in them so as to allow the work of our various entities to conduct their gospel ministry in ways that meet the demand of the moment. Our question, then, is which aspects or assignments have supposedly been violated such that it could justify a task force? This is all the more confusing to us when, unlike our other entities, virtually every single thing the ERLC does in its day to day ministry is, by necessity, in public view, for any and every Southern Baptist to see and evaluate. 

Not only that, but, again, we point to Chairman Stone’s own words in Baptist Press, when he said that this task force is “a formal process by which we can receive information and determine the level that this issue is affecting the Cooperative Program.” But the issue of whether or not the ERLC is adversely affecting giving to the Cooperative Program of the SBC was dealt with in 2017. The CP study created then found that Cooperative Program impact was “not as significant in fact as it is in perception.” By way of reminder, only fourteen churches in our vast convention were estimated to have diverted funds. Rather than create a new study or task force, we believe the wise and appropriate approach is to refer those offering present anecdotal complaints back to the 2017 Executive Committee study findings. Regardless, the entire premise of evaluating the ERLC effect on CP giving is flawed unless one also investigates how many churches have increased their giving because of their enthusiastic support of the work of the ERLC.

2. The Executive Committee Failed to Consult with ERLC Trustees

Further, as we reviewed both the comments by Chairman Stone, as well as the text of the approved motion itself, we were struck in particular by Bylaw 18.E(9):

To maintain open channels of communication between the Executive Committee and the trustees of the entities of the Convention, to study and make recommendations to entities concerning adjustments required by ministry assignments or by established Convention policies and practices, and, whenever deemed advisable, to make recommendations to the Convention. The Executive Committee shall not have authority to control or direct the several boards, entities, and institutions of the convention. This is the responsibility of trustees elected by the Convention and directly accountable to the Convention.

We are curious: At what point did the Executive Committee “maintain open channels of communication between the Executive Committee and [ERLC] trustees” as is the Executive Committee’s obligation under this bylaw? It appears to us that the Executive Committee cites one aspect of a bylaw to justify its action, but defies a critical part of the very same bylaw. Were any of our trustees consulted? If not, why not? Were any of our trustees invited into relevant discussions of this motion? If not, why not?

3. The Executive Committee Inappropriately Formed the Task Force During a Closed-Door Executive Session

More still, it appears that discussion of this motion at both the committee level and in the plenary session was done in executive session. Your Board, of course, has a right to go into executive session, but executive sessions are used most often to protect proprietary, financial, or sensitive information. We believe it was unnecessary and inappropriate for such a divisive move to be deliberated and decided in secrecy.

This is all the more confusing because Dr. Moore gave a presentation to the Cooperative Program Committee during the meeting, after which there was a question and answer session. According to several reports from that session, there were no antagonistic questions and no frustrations expressed whatsoever. If there was enough evidence, confusion, or frustration sufficient to justify the creation of a task force (1) why would none of that been expressed directly to Dr. Moore in public session when there was ample opportunity; and (2) why would the Cooperative Program Committee feel the need to discuss the task force in secrecy the next day? 

4. The Task Force Overrules the Will of the Messengers of the SBC.

We also believe that it is critical to point out that every time any question about Dr. Moore’s leadership of the ERLC has come before the convention, the elected messengers at the SBC Annual Meeting have overwhelmingly supported Dr. Moore’s leadership of the ERLC on behalf of Southern Baptists. A motion to defund the ERLC in 2018 was nearly unanimously rejected; the question of the messengers’ support for the ERLC has been asked and answered. If the job of the Executive Committee is to carry on the work and represent the will of the business carried out at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, this task force is doing the very opposite. It is taking the clear, expressed will of the body and calling it into question.

Not only that, but why would present-day anecdotal reports lead the Executive Committee to take an action that creates an undeniable and completely unnecessary culture of suspicion regarding the work and ministry of the ERLC? Is there any reason to think present-day anecdotal reports are any more accurate when anecdotal reports just a few years ago (1) proved not to align with reality, according to the Executive Committee’s own report; and (2) when the messengers have spoken at the Annual Meeting with overwhelming support. 

5. We Support Dr. Moore’s Leadership and the ERLC Board of Trustees Will Continue to Hold Him and the ERLC in Trust on Behalf of Southern Baptists

More importantly, as members of the Board that is charged with holding the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in trust on behalf of our churches, we as members of the ERLC Executive Committee want to be crystal clear in our confidence in Dr. Moore’s leadership and in the effectiveness of the Commission’s ministry. We grieve this task force in part because of the suspicion that it inevitably casts over Dr. Moore’s character. And we are firm in our belief that Dr. Moore’s character, convictions, and theology are both biblical and unimpeachable.

All told, we find the action of the Executive Committee in appointing this ERLC study task force disappointing, unnecessary, and harmful to our cooperative work in the SBC. The Executive Committee, of course, has a financial stewardship, particularly in terms of allocating the resources of the Cooperative Program. But that should not result in a disregard of the clearly-expressed will of the denomination it purports to serve. It should not include a disregard of the very bylaws the Executive Committee is claiming as justification for its action. It should not include a culture of secrecy leading to a committee that unmistakably creates suspicion regarding one of our own entities. It should not include ignoring the directive to “maintain open channels” and instead create hostile channels with what should clearly be first a matter for the ERLC Board of Trustees to consider.

At a time where a unified voice is needed for our cooperative gospel work, the Executive Committee is sowing needless division, treating trustees with disrespect, and spreading suspicion with this unnecessary task force. Even if the appointment of this task force does not violate the letter of the law, the existence of the task force and the process by which it was created unquestionably violates the spirit of friendly cooperation.

All this being the case, we as members of the Executive Committee of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission consider it critical that messengers at the SBC Annual Meeting be given the opportunity to signal whether they agree with the Executive Committee’s action in the creation of this task force. Should messengers approve such a task force, we will be happy to entertain questions. Until then, we are instructing Dr. Moore and the ERLC not to comply with it until messengers have an opportunity to signal their belief that such a task force is appropriate and legitimate.  

For Christ and His Kingdom,

David E. Prince, Chairman        
Lori Bova, Vice Chairman    
Ron Harvey, Secretary
Trevor Atwood, Chairman, Administration and Finance Committee
Michael Wilson, Chairman, Research and Public Policy Committee
Tony Beam, Chairman, Communications Committee     

Executive Committee of the ERLC

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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