Priorities for the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group

The ERLC and SAAG continue to fight against sexual abuse

November 11, 2020

When Southern Baptists gathered in Birmingham in 2019, they showed their continued commitment to fight against sexual abuse in several ways, one being by passing a resolution on the evils of sexual abuse. In that resolution, Southern Baptists asked for forgiveness “for failing to cultivate a culture of protection for those in Southern Baptist churches and institutions who have been sexually abused.” They resolved “to create a culture where victims can not only share about their abuse with the assurance of protection, but also receive care while church leaders fulfill their obligation to implement policies and practices that protect against and confront any form of abuse in the future.” 

As SBC President J.D. Greear said at the same 2019 Annual Meeting, “Our efforts on abuse don’t end here in Birmingham. This is just the beginning of a long journey together.” In this vein and on behalf of the messengers’ resolve, the ERLC and SAAG are committed to creating a culture that is safe for survivors and safe from abuse by preparing churches, promoting convention-wide action, and protecting the vulnerable through state-level public policy. 

We recognize the need for a widespread change and understand that a cultural shift takes years of effort. We will continue to raise awareness and to train to help churches embrace the findings of the SAAG and the resources provided to help them be safe for survivors and safe from abuse. We will continue in the comprehensive effort to educate, saturate, and motivate Southern Baptist churches, entities, and leaders to embrace and incorporate the recommendations and findings of the study group to ensure widespread adoption. Over the next year, the ERLC in partnership with the SAAG will continue to work in this area in the following ways:

Preparing churches

Caring Well Challenge relaunch

The Caring Well Challenge is a unified call to action in the SBC that is an attainable and adaptable pathway to help churches enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors. Over 1,000 churches took the Caring Well Challenge last year and were provided with helpful free resources and valuable insights to guide them through the process. But the Caring Well Challenge was not a one-time event. Churches who participated will continue to need resources, training, and to have this important issue set before them. Other Southern Baptist churches will also benefit from taking the challenge for the first time. 

We have updated the challenge to allow churches to join at any time and receive resources and equipping over the course of the following year. We will continue to promote and emphasize the Caring Well Challenge in the year to come.

Development of new resources for churches and ministries

The Caring Well Report was a starting point for a collective response to sexual abuse. Several resources have been developed to meet those needs including the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum, the Caring Well Conference, the Introductory Guide to Caring Well, and the Caring Well Challenge

Over 1,000 churches have participated in the Caring Well Challenge in 46 states/territories and several countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, and South Africa. Over 2,800 churches had assigned the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum at churchcares.com. While we are thankful to see churches utilizing these resources and growing in their care and protection for people in their care, we recognize there is more to be done. 

Over the next year we will continue to release new resources that address in detail specific topics raised in the Caring Well Report, such as the following: 

Digital Resources During COVID:

Knowing that the stay-at-home orders have led to a rise in domestic and sexual abuse, we have produced resources during this time to raise awareness and to equip the church:

Also, knowing people were at home and on social media, we’ve also continued to create new content and share past content and resources on our website and platforms on issues concerning sexual abuse.

Hiring Guide: 

This resource will help churches protect and care for their congregations well by helping churches create a screening framework for hiring staff and select volunteers. Employment laws vary from state to state. While there are principles that apply to every church or ministry, each church will have to consider their specific context to best implement effective policies and procedures. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to making a church a safer place for children. This guide is designed to provide a starting point for church leaders who are working to implement effective hiring and screening policies to help prevent future abuse.

Reporting Guide: 

The Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum provided an appendix with all the state reporting guidelines. As state laws have changed since it was released, an updated version is needed. In addition, we will be providing principles on reporting that are true no matter your location.

Responding to a Disclosure Resource: 

The Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum and Introductory Guide to Caring Well contain a helpful starting point for the first steps a church should take when an individual discloses that sexual abuse or assault has occurred. Our goal is to extend and expand on that starting point to provide additional resources for churches who are seeking to care well for survivors and to ensure their churches are safe from abusers. This resource will discuss independent investigations, working with law enforcement, communications with church members, and protecting the survivor’s agency through this process.

Light Magazine:

The ERLC will be dedicating one of its bi-anual issues of Light Magazine to the topic of abuse. The issue will feature testimonies from survivors and articles written by experts on various topics related to abuse to continue to inform and equip churches and lay leaders.

Camp Counselor Recruiting Guide:

This resource will help churches protect and care for their congregants who attend overnight and day camps throughout the year. Camp environments present unique challenges to keeping congregants safe from abuse; this guide will provide a starting point for churches when recruiting camp counselors and other camp staff who will be responsible for children and minors.

VBS Volunteer Recruiting Guide:

Many churches around the country host or participate in Vacation Bible Schools during the summer months. This provides a great ministry environment for reaching our communities, but also necessitates implementing policies and procedures to keep children safe. This resource will help churches create policies or identify gaps in their existing policies to make these ministry opportunities safer from abuse. 

Promote convention-wide action

Caring Well Conference

In 2019, the ERLC hosted its national conference to confront the issue of abuse. The Caring Well Conference welcomed more than 1,500 attendees to Dallas, Texas, on Oct. 3-5. Participants listened to survivors, learned from experts, and left equipped to strengthen their churches’ engagement on the issue. These great resources are available as a free resource for churches to be equipped. Further, at caringwell.com, we have created a suggested training calendar for watching these talks as a church or leadership team. This suggested plan includes discussion questions.

Emphasis Sunday

Step seven of the Caring Well Challenge includes the call to dedicate a Sunday service to talking about abuse. While the commitment to safety and excellent care persists, congregations need to know the progress their church has made in making their churches safer for survivors and safer from abuse. This service provides the opportunity to do four things:

  1. Equip congregations to understand what the Bible says about abuse and the refuge God wants his church to be.
  2. Allow churches’ Caring Well teams to review the outcomes from each of the elements in the Caring Well Challenge.
  3. Acknowledge the continued need for growth in this area. We want to always be improving in how we prevent and care for the abused.
  4. Pray for those who are still healing from abuse and that God would allow the effects of the Caring Well Challenge to be lasting in the churches that participated.

We have provided resources at caringwell.com to help churches prepare for this Sunday and will continue to create resources to help churches implement this.

Protect the vulnerable

Federal public policy advocacy

Advocating for national laws and regulations that better protect churches and ministries from sexual abuse remains a top priority for the ERLC. The ERLC continues to explore federal policy changes that will protect children and hold abusers accountable.

State public policy advocacy

The ERLC, in conjunction with the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group, encourages Southern Baptist leaders and congregants to assess the laws surrounding sexual abuse within their respective states to evaluate if any additional legislation is needed to both ensure that survivors of sexual abuse have access to justice and that future abuse is prevented.

Texas Statute

Texas has recently enacted a law aimed at allowing churches and nonprofits to share the credible information they have about alleged abuse. Southern Baptist leaders in Texas crafted and passed HB 4345 giving immunity from civil liability to churches or other nonprofits that in good faith report allegations of sexual abuse to an individual’s current or prospective employer.1H.B. 4345, 86th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Tex. 2019). This allows church leaders to warn future employers about a potential predator by sharing a former employees’ sexual abuse and misconduct allegations without being sued. 

Missouri Bill

HB 1446 was introduced in the Missouri legislature by Rep. Doug Richey, who also serves as Senior Pastor of Pigsah Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church in Excelsior Springs, Missouri.2H.B. 1446, 100th Gen. Assem., 2nd Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2019). The Missouri Baptist Convention supported the legislation.3Bill filed to protect churches, target predators,” The Pathway (Jan. 2, 2020); Ben Hawkins, “Mo. House bill enables churches to fight abuse,” The Pathway (Mar. 25, 2020). The bill was heard in committee but did not pass the Missouri legislature in 2020, in part due to legislative disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Series of White Papers

The ERLC published a series of white papers focused on state policy issues related to sexual abuse such as sharing information between nonprofits, mandatory reporting, child protection, clergy abuse, and statute of limitations. 

The first is Facilitating Abuse Disclosures by Non-profits. Using the work already done in Texas and Missouri, the paper addresses perpetrators moving from church to church with near impunity. Abuse often goes unabated because perpetrators assume churches and nonprofit organizations will not share credible information about alleged abuses with future employers out of fears of being sued for defamation. While it is imperative for churches to protect the vulnerable whether they are shielded from liability or not, implementing legislation according to the recommendations in this white paper can facilitate abuse disclosures and protect churches who do the right thing.

The ERLC, in partnership with the SAAG, will continue to pursue the aforementioned priorities in the coming year to serve Southern Baptists. Many of these items are long-term initiatives we have engaged and will continue to engage for several. There will be continued efforts. This is not the end of our work on this subject, but only the beginning. We will continue to advance this important work, supported by Southern Baptists because we must do everything we can to protect the vulnerable and care for the survivors among us.

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