Thoughts from the ERLC Leadership Summit

April 25, 2014

Day One

One does not have to be in ministry very long to know that the issue of sexuality is a hot topic. And one just needs take a glance at the hashtag #erlcsummit to see that this is a conversation both “inside” and “outside” the church that is engulfed in much heat. Include that the gospel is intimately connected to the story of Redemption, of a Son leaving home to pursue and secure a bride at great sacrifice, and it makes this a timely conference. The talks from yesterday addressed important topics for pastors and members to think through together.

Pornography (Speaker: Heath Lambert)

Heath Lambert, a Biblical Counseling Professor at Southern Seminary, as well as the author of Finally Free, began the conference with a topic that is ravaging our churches—pornography.

It is truly an understatement to say that Pornography is a massive problem in the church—even among its ministry leaders and pastors. In fact, Lambert said. The greatest moral threat to Evangelical Christianity is the pastor who teaches rightly about homosexuality and then retreats home for an hour of pornography. Lambert compared Pornography to the forbidden woman of Proverbs 7 and posed that this is a matter of life and death. He pointed out the connections in that pornography appeals, like the forbidden woman, to our most based desire, for life to be about us. In addition, she argues that this will just be a little secret that nobody will know about. Finally, she says you do not have to worry about “me,” which plays right into the pornography culture whereby women are consumed without a thought of their needs or their good (He shared that 90% of people in porn industry are involved in some form of drug abuse, and an “actress” said this was so because drugs were the only escape to deal with how they are treated).

This is a matter of life and death as Proverbs 7 states, and Lambert gives some practical and theological ways for us to fight for life over death. He began with the foundational point that it is impossible to resist this forbidden woman apart from the grace of Jesus Christ. Lambert ended with an appeal to the evangelical church to be at the forefront of a movement to fight for and protect women from being consumed and abused, while at the same time awakening our Sons and the World to the idea that there is something much more beautiful to look at… and His name Jesus!

The Pastor’s Purity (Panel Discussion)

Next, a panel discussed how the pastor can wage war for his own purity. As the panelists discussed, because of their position of public leadership in the church, pastors must be doubly on guard and willing to make war with their sin. The panel pushed those listening to understand that this is first a belief issue (A Christ-Centered outlook on sex and purity) and the belief always goes before fighting (i.e. cutting out one’s eye by: putting safeguards on your computer, setting up accountability relationships, and not being alone with women that are not your wife – this caused a stir on Twitter).

In addition, when it comes to the life of the local church, pastors (and aspiring pastors) were challenged not to make the standard of holiness “the next guy” whom you might be tempted to judge yourself against, but instead the holiness of God. A helpful reminder for those thinking through “qualifiedness” (if that’s a word) is that this is not up to one’s evaluation of themselves anyways, it is up to the church who affirms whether the aspiring man meets the qualifications of an Elder. Finally, in the context of the local church, pastors were encouraged that when it comes to sexual sin church discipline “has to be on the table.” In church discipline we not only call the sinner to repentance, but also protect the weak and fight sin;  this is a must if we are going to personally make ourselves accountable and if we are going to protect, particularly women, those abused and hurt in our churches.

Discussing Sexuality with Teens in Your Home and Church  (Speaker: Jimmy Scroggins)

Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of First Baptist West Palm Beach, held one of the more frank talks I have heard on the issue of sexuality. I would strongly recommend listening to this message. He began by saying he has been humbled in this area and that he was much more confident to talk about sexuality and teenagers before his sons became teens. He wishes he could tell that his thoughts in this area led to a pain-free environment, but it isn’t so!

Scroggins points out that teens today have it much different than teens in the 80s when there was no internet or cell phones (if he wanted to have a CD or VHS that his parents did not approve it was contraband, now those things can be hidden deep in a phone). He pointed out that today’s culture is marked by morally ambiguity, access, radical autonomy and that porn is a given, sex is expected, Gay is Ok (he lamented that even when he gave a very sensitive talk on homosexuality in his church that teenagers saw him as a bigot), and marriage is a capstone not a cornerstone). Scroggins challenged that these cultural trends have to inform how we teach and train teens in our churches and homes.

He proposed the way forward in continually building and rebuilding a culture of marriage in the home and church where it is honored and cherished. And he pointed out the necessity to start early—a great starting point is premarital classes and parents of young kids in your church. He gave some practical teaching points on how to teach children early on this topic by affirming their gender at an early age. And he challenged pastors to never talk about sexuality without speaking about marriage since this is God’s design for sexuality.

Pastoral Care for Sexual Sin (Speaker: J.D. Greear)

J.D. Greear, pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC, concluded the evening with some wonderful challenges for dealing with sexual sin in the church and how to interact with the sin of homosexuality with both grace and truth.

Greear pointed out that evangelicals should maintain the high ground on sexuality since sexuality is God’s idea. In addition, pastors and churches should seek to fight sexual sin at its root (not just fruit) but showing off the multi-faceted beauty of the gospel. Greear then modeled for the listeners one of his principles for dealing with sexual sin (Don’t avoid hard topics) as he moved to discuss homosexuality.

This talk certainly garnered much heat on Twitter, but Greear gave some helpful and challenging points to think through as christians speak the truth in love on this topic. As I would recommend that you watch this talk to hear it from the source, I will only mention two: Greear challenged that the point for us can never be homosexuality, but has to be the Lordship of Jesus. Finally, after several points of how to love the sexual sinner, Greear challenged the church that just because you are ticking people off does not mean you are doing something wrong. He pointed to the example of John the Baptist’s beheading and stated that he thinks if “Christian bloggers” had been around in that day they would have been equally disappointed with John as they are with today’s evangelical leaders who risk their necks to speak to sexual issues with which those who want to defend the “good face” of Christianity and the overall culture oppose strongly.

Day Two and Three

Day 2 and 3 of ERLC Leadership Summit provided more fireworks on Twitter. They also provided some great content on how the gospel interacts with sexuality and how the church should respond in this age of confusion both inside the church and out. As this post is only meant to be a recap, you are encouraged  to watch the sessions in their entirety to learn more about these issues.

Day 2 began with Dr. Mark Regnerus speaking on the Sociological Trends in American Sexuality. He provided a lot of slides with research information about the changes in American sexuality. Particularly noticeable in his research was the onslaught against marriage in our culture as increased non-monogamy is one the rise. But most disturbing is the effect that pornography and online dating have had on women. According to Regnerus, with the increase of accessibility to easy avenues of sex, the sexual capital that women hold has progressively been cheapened, thereby making it possible for men who are failing at life to be the ones who have the upper hand in the bedroom. Again, please listen Dr. Regnerus’ session in its entirety for all of the statistics and research presented.

Next, Dr. Russell Moore, the President of the ERLC, gave a Q&A on topics of sexuality and the public square. This is a must-watch as he discussed issues of parents/pastors equipping on sex, sexual abuse, sex-change repentance, divorce, and many more. In the midst of wise and convictional counsel, one thing was clear: Dr. Moore is not afraid to tackle any tough topics or questions.

Dr. Moore was followed by Dr. David Prince, Pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, who spoke on The Gospel and Your Childrens’ Sexuality.” Similar to what I wrote yesterday about Dr. Scroggins’ talk, Dr. Prince gave helpful counsel on how to encourage and protect the sexuality of children. Throughout his session he gave thoughts on how to instruct our children at an early age to embrace and pursue a biblical view of their gender and how to teach them in direct language without being crude. He gave examples of how he prays for his children in this area: “Thank you that you made Luke a male, and Lydia a female, help them understand how to have their gender surrendered to identity of Christ.”

One of my favorite talks of the conference was Pastor Matt Carter’s, Pastor the Austin Stone Church and renowned Bird-Catcher, talk on exposition and sexuality. Carter, who pastors in Austin, TX, was told that he could never grow a church in Austin by preaching expositionally through books of the Bible. Well, he has proven that wrong and encourages expositional preaching as the best way to address all of the sexual confusion in our culture and churches. Some helpful thoughts from Carter:

Romans 10 is clear that there is power in the Word! If we believe that, we will believe that in area of sexual confusion and we will preach the Word as God has given it to us.

This talk was followed by a helpful panel on manhood where pastors discussed topics like: What does biblical manhood look like? How do we engage men in our churches? What does it look like to lead a family in today’s sexual culture? What will be the greatest threat to the next generation of families? And many more. I’d highly recommend checking it out.

Dr. Moore gave the last talk of Day 2 in a sermon entitled, “Walking the Line: The Gospel and Moral Purity.” This is a must watch. Moore highlighted the way demons want to fight on issue of sexual sin. They first want todeceive with a lie as old as the garden itself: “Has God really said?” They want to make those trapped in sexual sin (whether that be heterosexual or homosexual) believe that it is really “ok” just like Eve eating the Apple. They also want to accuse and make sexual sinners believe they will never be able to made right with God. Moore challenged all to preach a gospel that presents both truth and grace–one that lets sexual sinners know they will be held accountable for their sin, and also that one stood in our place to handle our account if we will repent and believe in Him! Moore admitted the gospel is a strange message and encouraged all to embrace the strangeness of a World Emperor who would take the account of others and grant them no condemnation if they will be found in Him. That’s Good News!

Kevin Smith, Teaching Pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Lousville, Ky, concluded the conference talking about Keeping the Marriage Bed Pure. This is a must-watch as well—another one of my favorites. Smith pulled no punches in his talk and pointed out how honoring God’s design for marriage, as well as building a culture of marriage, is vital for our churches. He also challenged us to see that the main threats to marriage are not from homosexuals but from the divorce culture where many children have heard dad’s say, “I’ve left your mom,” even at times for someone 2 years older than themselves. Smith was clear that homosexuality is clearly taught as sin in the bible, but challenged pastors to address the more major issues “in house” first. He said, “If you’ve been a pastor for 20 years and haven’t preached about divorce then shut up about homosexuality.” Smith’s point was not that we should not declare homosexuality is wrong (he addressed that clearly); it was that we should fight first the sins in our congregations that are even more frequently challenging our marriage beds.

Note: Some other breakouts to check out are Tony Merida’s Talk on Sex Trafficking, where Tony points out the massive problem this is in our world. If we love the Bible (which over and again speaks of justice) and if we are parents (if we see these victims as our own daughters) we will fight diligently to combat this problem. He also gave practical advice about how to start fighting and raising awareness of human sex trafficking no matter where you live. In addition, check out Baptist21′s Jon Akin on Resisting Adultery. In this session Jon gave helpful counsel from the Proverbs on the primary means of sexual temptation, the consequences of sexual sin (both temporary and eternal), and how Solomon ultimately point us to a personal relationship with Wisdom, Jesus Christ, and the gospel to fight sexual sin.

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