Women, sexuality and the ERLC Summit

April 22, 2014

Liberal Christians often champion themselves as facilitators of deep, authentic dialogue about the cultural issues facing America’s faithful. But when the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) gathered together yesterday for their first-ever leadership summit to genuinely discuss a myriad of sexual morality topics–including same-sex marriage and sexuality, the premier cultural conundrum facing the Church–unexpected kickback erupted on social media.

Unsurprisingly, non-Christians and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & Queer (LGBTQ) community was less than nice in their commentary surrounding the ERLC’s biblical perspective on God’s design for marriage between one man and one woman. What the ERLC didn’t anticipate was women’s rather off base resentments launched at the summit and its mission.

Ladies in the Twitterverse had this to say about the summit:

Hannah Lewis ‏@hishtaphel @pr3130girl:

@SBCvoices I was raised Baptist. They’re not all like this. This #erlcsummit is like all the Baptist Stupid put in one room.

Rachel Held Evans ‏@rachelheldevans:Since it probably won’t be said at#erlcsummit: Abuse at church *must* be reported to authorities, not just handled “in house.”

dana ‏@thedanasmith:i once lived that hell. i was once a product of your air of superiority and hatefulness. i am so grateful to be free from it #erlcsummit

Hannah Wright ‏@wrightinthecity:

I’m doing my best to ignore the #erlcsummit tweets because the stuff being quoted? Absolute insanity. Lord help us.

Hannah Lewis ‏@hishtaphel:

If you are at the #erlcsummit and you are a woman, you don’t have to live in shame or fear or guilt about your body. U are not the problem.

Thank you, Hannah for your concern. But as a 20-something single working woman who was in attendance at yesterday’s summit (the first day of a three day event, mind you), I witnessed neither patriarchal superiority, insanity, avoidance of abuse, nor hatefulness.  Nor did I feel shamed or guilty for wearing a hemline above the knee without a blazer and  pantyhose.

If I had witnessed “hatefulness” or male oppression and privilege, then I’d be the first to publicly address my outrage. But relying on tired stereotypes instead of thoughtful analysis and participation is not exactly the communication strategy we should be implementing to make our female voices heard.

Choosing to “lean in” and participate, I didn’t hear patriarchy and oppression. Instead, I heard keynote speaker Heath Lambert, Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southern Seminary and Boyce College, say, “I am praying for a movement among the church to fight for and protect women from being consumed” by pornography.

Believe it or not, same-sex marriage was not the focal point of yesterday’s discussions. Pornography in the church was the first topic addressed by Heath Lambert. Raising the question, “What type of young men are we creating?,” Lambert noted that twelve is the average young boy’s age when first exposed to pornography.

During a breakout session, Pastor Scroggins talked with youth ministry leaders, including myself, about how to talk honestly with teenagers about sexuality and marriage, not just same-sex dispositions.

“Sexual information is pursuing your kids. It’s everywhere,” said Scroggins. But he also addressed why the culture (including many within the church) “view marriage as a capstone, instead of a cornerstone.” Next he talk about how 60 percent of evangelical kids are having sex before graduating high school. Finally, Scroggins highlighted the effects of a radical autonomous ethos and divorce among Generation X and Millenials. In other words, he discussed all present-day concerns that everyone in the church should be talking about, not just the self-appointed progressives.

Actually, the tone from keynote speakers regarding sexual immorality of all types is noticeably different than even I expected. “We have to reject redneck theology in all of its forms,” reminded Pastor Jimmy Scroggins during a panel discussion on homosexuality and the Gospel. “No Adam and Steve jokes.”

In the past Southern Baptists have not always gotten it right. But they appear to be working to rebuild trust and respect with non-Christians. “We need to take the courageous gospel message of love to a broken culture and proclaim freedom from sin!” proclaimed  Lambert.

While I would have appreciated more female voices within the panel discussions and breakout sessions, it cannot be disputed that the ERLC’s tone is shifting in a genuine attempt to mirror the Gospel and balance a message of grace, respect for all women and men, repentance and reconciliation in a troubled post-modern world.

Christian women whose theology doesn’t completely align with the SBC should not dismiss their brothers and sisters in Christ so quickly and harshly.

If evangelical women want their voice to be represented louder at SBC events such as the ERLC Summit, perhaps next year my fellow sisters in Christ can step away from the Twitter feed, chose not to dismiss an event because it is labeled “Baptist,”  and join in the authentic face to face dialogue.

These are hard discussions, but the brokenness of humanity should drive every Christ-following woman and man to engage when it is not convenient nor easy. As Heath Lambert said well, “It is not hateful to call people to repent. It is not loving to let people exist in their 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