Why Southern Baptists care about the Uyghur genocide

An interview with Griffin Gulledge on the SBC resolution, religious liberty, and praying for the Uyghurs

January 10, 2022

On July 15, 2020, Griffin Gulledge, the pastor of Madison Baptist Church in Madison, Georgia, had a tweet go viral. He posted a video on Twitter showing Uyghurs, a minority people group in China, kneeling in rows after being escorted off of trains. All of their heads were shaved. And all of them were headed to forced labor camps. Gulledge then went on to tweet, “China is committing one of the grossest acts of human rights violations in modern history, and we aren’t saying a word because it financially benefits most of the rest of the world.” In addition, he shared reports from various news outlets. 

Many of those who follow Gulledge were made aware of this atrocity for the first time, and it has become an advocacy priority for the Southern Baptist Convention, emphasizing the God-given dignity of every individual and the importance of religious liberty. Gulledge answers questions below about his actions on behalf of the Uyghurs and his advice to the local church. 

Elizabeth Bristow: You were recently awarded the ERLC’s John Leland Religious Liberty Award for drafting a resolution for the Southern Baptist Convention that advocated on behalf of Uyghur people, a predominantly Muslim and Turkic-speaking ethnic group who are the targets of a genocidal campaign by the Chinese government. What led you to act on behalf of this vulnerable and oppressed people group?

Griffin Gulledge: Ultimately, what led me to act on their behalf is two things: the Word of God and awareness. It’s an old trope that every pastor should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Well, perhaps the application goes deeper than just preaching, but also extends to how we live our lives.

I was taught from Scripture that every person is created in the image of God and endowed with a fundamental dignity by their Creator. As I began to read in The New York Times, among other outlets, about the plight of the Uyghurs, it became abundantly clear I could not be silent. When you read about the systematic imprisonment, surveillance, reeducation, family separation, rape, organ and hair harvesting, and various other abuses of this people by the Chinese government, you cannot remain silent. I could not remain silent. So I decided to use whatever platform or voice I had to speak and tell others as I had been told.

EB: The resolution you drafted, “Resolution 8: On The Uyghur Genocide,”was resoundingly adopted by the messengers at the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. Why is this significant, and what implications does it have for the future of the SBC?

GG: It’s significant for several reasons. First, it’s significant because it makes the SBC the first major denomination, or in our case convention of churches, to speak up on behalf of Uyghurs and call this genocide. 

Second, it reminds our people that we have an obligation to speak up in the face of abuse and oppression. The Uyghurs are not the only people group facing such horrors, but if we can see it clearly with them, perhaps we can see it clearly in our own midst. 

Third, it gives us a track record for speaking up on genocide. This is not the first time, and will not be the last, the SBC has spoken up on issues of human dignity. Moral credibility and a consistent public witness requires us to speak up, and here we have. We have a clear precedent to not be silent in the face of grave injustice. 

A final implication is this: Southern Baptists are unified around the things that matter most. Our mission. Our gospel. Our Bible. Loving our neighbors. Some people came to Nashville to fight one another, and ended up locking arms and fighting for those far more in need of our effort, energy, and prayers. I hope we will be marked by this in days ahead.

EB: Your resolution made the Southern Baptist Convention the first denomination to condemn the CCP for the genocide of the Uyghur people. Why is this significant?

GG: It’s never a bad thing to be the first to do what is right. Moral action should never be dependent on a finger to the wind or the ‘mood of the room’. More than that, what we have done as the largest denomination by speaking up first is create what I call a permission structure. Now we have created a pathway for others to join us, others to speak up, others to engage. The IMB and Send Relief can target this people group with love and care. Other parachurch agencies can justify allocating money and resources to them because Southern Baptists Care. And on and on that goes. I hope we are the first domino.

EB: You mentioned in a Baptist Press interview that you didn’t do anything special to gain this religious liberty award, but did what any Baptist can do. When it comes to issues of global persecution and human rights crises like what we’re witnessing in China, what can people in the local church do to make a difference? 

GG: When I say I didn’t do anything special, I don’t mean that what I have done or said is unimportant. What I mean is that speaking up loudly in the face of moral atrocities should be standard for Southern Baptists. I hope this resolution is a starting line for our advocacy, not a finish line.

Call your senators and representatives. Call for preferred refugee status for Uyghurs. It takes no time at all. Commend them when they do it, no matter if you voted for them or not. 

Speak up. Be a voice for awareness. Read about their plight. Share it online and with your friends and loved ones. Caring consistently well set us apart from the slacktivism of “one post on twitter, then back to my real cares” that marks our day and age.

Pray for Uyghurs. Pray for their salvation, and pray for their protection.

Finally, do your homework. Are there Uyghurs near you? Are there refugees you can help? Can you collect goods? Can you volunteer? I heard of churches in California doing ministry to Uyghurs just the other day. We can help, but we can’t do it with our head in the stand. Speak up. Look up. Stand up. Mobilize for the good of your neighbor and the spread of the gospel.

EB: Why should Christians care about religious liberty and global religious persecution? Is it wrong to care that Muslims be protected? 

GG: Religious freedom is the open door for global evangelization. If you want the gospel to advance, you cannot support silencing other religions via tyranny. Their freedom to practice their religion gives us the freedom to persuade them that Christ is better in every way: more worthy of their love and affection, devotion and worship. We don’t influence by the sword, but through the sword of the Spirit: the Word of God. Religious freedom is a necessity to engage in that kind of ministry.

EB: How would you encourage a pastor to help stir up the hearts of his flock to care for the vulnerable? 

GG: Preach Christ. You were far off. You were lost. You were weak. Ezekiel 16:6 says, “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’”

That’s us. That’s all of us, spiritually. And it is some of us, physically. When we understand and believe the gospel, indifference to suffering is driven out. Preach Christ, show how he loves the needy, and call people to respond.

EB: How can Christians learn more about these issues, and how can we pray? 

GG: There are countless great resources online from the ERLC, the national media, and more. Uyghur news is available if you will only seek it. There is a huge amount of publicly available information. It starts with you. Seek it out. Read for yourself. 

Pray for Uyghurs who are Christians — that as they suffer, they will have a powerful witness among Uyghurs who are lost. Pray for God to protect the Uyghurs and end their suffering. Pray for Uyghur children whose lives are being torn apart. Pray for Communist China to lose its power over them. Pray for God to convert the tormenters. Pray for Uyghurs to know Christ and pray for missionaries who take the gospel to them. Above all, don’t just pray once. Pray, pray, and pray again for the Uyghurs.

Photo Attribution:

Anadolu Agency / Getty Contributor

Elizabeth Bristow

Elizabeth Bristow serves as the press secretary for the ERLC. Elizabeth oversees public relations and media operations for the organization. She received a B.A. in Public Relations and Marketing from Union University in 2010. She is a native of Tennessee and resides in Lebanon, Tennessee, with her husband and two … Read More

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