Moore roots ERLC in ‘convictional kindness’

January 2, 2014

WASHINGTON (BP) — “Convictional kindness” became the new catch phrase for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in 2013.

The term entered the entity's lexicon when Russell D. Moore was elected its president in March — the first time trustees had needed to select a new head for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in nearly a quarter of a century. Moore quickly offered a vision of cultural engagement marked by faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus and Scripture as well as by grace toward those whom Christians disagree with on the issues.

“We will stand with conviction, and we'll contend, as the prophets and apostles did in the public square, against injustice, but we'll do so with a tone shaped by the Gospel, with a convictional kindness that recognizes that our enemies are not persons of flesh and blood,” Moore said in giving his first report to the annual SBC meeting last June in Houston. “Our enemies are invisible principalities and powers the Scriptures say are in the air around us. We oppose demons; we don't demonize opponents.”

Moore — whom the website Real Clear Religion named Dec. 27 as one of 2013's top 14 religious newsmakers — and the ERLC had plenty of chances to demonstrate “convictional kindness” throughout the remainder of the year. This was especially true when espousing a biblical perspective in the face of the effort to redefine marriage and of threats to unborn children from the Obama administration's abortion/contraception mandate.


Moore elected and inaugurated as ERLC president

ERLC trustees ushered in a new generation of leadership March 26 by electing Moore, then 41, as the eighth president in the ERLC's history. He took office June 1. At his Sept. 10 inauguration in Washington, D.C., Moore said, “We will stand as good American citizens, and we will fight for justice, and we will fight for liberty, and we will fight with our forefathers for all of those things that have been [guaranteed to us] by the Constitution as Americans, but we will also remember that we are not Americans first. We belong to another kingdom.” He came to the ERLC after nine years as dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

Richard Land retires after 25 years as ERLC president

Richard Land concluded a quarter-century of service as head of the ERLC and was named president emeritus upon his retirement. At a June 8 dinner honoring Land, SBC leaders commended him for his courageous leadership in directing the commission to become a stalwart advocate for the sanctity of human life and religious freedom while it maintained its biblical stances on such issues as racial reconciliation and marriage.  

U.S. Supreme Court embraces same-sex marriage

The Supreme Court struck down the section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that had defined marriage as a heterosexual union for purposes of such matters as federal benefits and had barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The ERLC responded with a fact sheet to help churches understand the effect of the high court's action. While the justices' opinion did not legalize gay marriage nationwide, a series of advances at the federal and state levels followed for the movement. 

ERLC continues opposition to abortion/contraception mandate

The ERLC bolstered its call for the Obama administration to overturn the religious coercion in its abortion/contraception mandate, a rule implementing the 2010 health care law that requires employers to carry insurance for workers covering drugs defined by the federal government as contraceptives, even if they can cause chemical abortions. The entity is co-leading with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops a diverse coalition opposed to the mandate. In addition, the ERLC signed onto friend-of-the-court briefs in support of several legal challenges, including ones by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties that will be considered by the Supreme Court in 2014. 

ERLC works with NAMB to support military chaplains

The ERLC joined the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in support of Southern Baptist military chaplains as they deal with the U.S. Armed Forces' recognition of same-sex marriage. In late August, NAMB issued new guidelines for chaplains that reinforced Southern Baptist beliefs on the issue.1 

Federal judge invalidates clergy housing allowance

A federal judge in Wisconsin struck down Nov. 22 the part of a 1954 law that allows ministers to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. The ERLC and GuideStone Financial Resources, the SBC's health and financial benefits entity, opposed the ruling and said they would work to protect the allowance. 

ERLC supports legislative prayer in high court case

The ERLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court in support of prayers before legislative meetings as constitutionally protected expressions by private citizens. The justices heard oral arguments Nov. 6 in the important religious freedom case and will issue their ruling in the next few months.  

Polygamy ban falls in Utah

A federal judge in Utah essentially decriminalized the state's ban on polygamy in a Dec. 13 decision. The ERLC's Moore criticized the ruling, saying, “This is what happens when marriage becomes about the emotional and sexual wants of adults,” instead of the needs of children. Utah's attorney general has announced that he will appeal the ruling. 

ERLC maintains support of immigration reform

The ERLC continued to work throughout the year for responsible immigration reform that is both just and compassionate. The Senate approved a broad legislative proposal, but the House of Representatives has yet to vote on measures to address the issue. 

ERLC launches new initiatives

The ERLC inaugurated several new enterprises after Moore became president. They included a panel discussion on marriage in conjunction with the SBC meeting in June, Church Equip conferences to assist local congregations, a conversation on religious liberty in Washington, D.C., by a diverse group of commentators and the John Leland Award Lecture on Religious Liberty on Capitol Hill. 

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