Representatives of a Different Kingdom

How the ERLC Advocates in Washington, D.C.

Chelsea Sobolik

Government is a God-ordained institution (Rom.13), and Christians have an important opportunity to shape public policies for the love of our neighbors and the common good. Because of what Scripture says, we know God cares deeply about the role and work of the government in society, and so should we. The opening verse of Romans 13 instructs Christians to be subject to the governing authorities, and also reminds Christians that there is no authority except from God. The verses following give guidance for how Christians ought to interact with and respect the institution of the government. 

Advocacy is an effective way to get involved in the legislative process and the public square, and the ERLC regularly advocates before our government for issues Southern Baptists care about and believe in. An advocate is someone who “pleads the cause of another” or “who defends a cause.” So, what types of policies should Christians care about and advocate for? Scripture is clear in multiple places that there is a particular group we should care about and defend—the vulnerable.

“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9).

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Ps. 82:3-4).

Do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart” (Zech. 7:10).

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him” (Prov. 14:31).

Our Areas of Advocacy

We speak to what the gospel demands of us and engage issues where we believe the Bible commands and when Southern Baptists speak. The biblical convictions we share with our brothers and sisters in local churches drive our advocacy, not partisan affiliation or political means. And we desire to bring a moral weight and Christian vision to each of the issues we address. It is paramount for our mission in the public square that we advocate for issues central to the gospel.

The ERLC’s advocacy is focused on the principle level. We believe there are some issues where the Bible draws a very clear line, such as issues of life and abortion. Scripture tells us that every person is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and is clear that the womb is God’s domain, and that his knowledge of the unborn even precedes the creative act of conception (Jer. 1:5; Ps. 139:13). As a result, we can make definitive statements and advocate for specific policies related to the issue of abortion.

There are other issues where the line isn’t quite as clear, but scriptural principles can still drive our advocacy. An example is the issue of immigration. Scripture doesn’t give us exact prescriptions for immigration policies like how many work visas are appropriate for a given fiscal year. What Scripture does give is clear guidance on how we should think about and treat our immigrant neighbors (Lev. 19:33–34; Jer. 7:5–7; Ezk. 47:22; Zech. 7:9–10). We should view them with dignity, and our policies should seek to keep families together and respect the God-given drive of people fleeing violence in search of a better life for themselves and their families. 

Our advocacy is also directed by the annual SBC resolutions that the convention votes upon. Each year, the SBC passes resolutions that cover a wide range of topics and help give guidance and direction to our work. 

Five Key Areas of Advocacy

Our advocacy at the ERLC focuses on five key areas:

  1. The ERLC promotes religious liberty as a biblical teaching because God alone is Lord of the conscience. We stand with our Baptist forefathers in defending the free exercise of faith for all people.
  2. The ERLC navigates complex issues related to human dignity because every person is an image-bearer of God. We protect the most vulnerable among us, beginning with the unborn, carrying our pro-life ethic through every stage of life.
  3. The ERLC believes marriage is an essential institution for human flourishing. We uphold God’s design for marriage and family amidst related policy items.
  4. The ERLC advocates for justice because the Bible teaches God is unequivocally just. We work to ensure impartial judgment and equitable treatment of the marginalized because we believe in a gospel that saves.
  5. The ERLC’s international work is focused on protecting the most vulnerable, such as the preborn, persecuted Christians and religious minorities, and vulnerable children.

What Does Our Advocacy Actually Look Like?

The public policy team of the ERLC closely monitors legislation and regulatory actions that fall into those five main areas. We advocate for good policies and against those which are harmful. On some issues, there is a wide-shared consensus and purpose, and on others, there is deep disagreement. As our public policy agenda says, “whether issues are currently popular or unpopular, we have the opportunity to bear witness, to seek to persuade, and to build the consensus needed to make change.”

If there’s an issue that we’re advocating on, we discern which Congressional offices we should meet with. Since there are over 500 members of Congress, we can’t meet with each office on each issue.

One of the ways we figure out which offices are most appropriate to meet with is by looking at which committees a member sits on. Legislation is marked up in a specific committee before it receives a full floor vote. During the markup meetings, members have the opportunity to offer amendments to the base text of a particular bill, strengthening the language, or helping remove harmful portions of a bill. Advocating before this process is an excellent way to go as upstream as possible. Other times, we’ll advocate for bills that are receiving a full floor vote. 

Capitol Hill staffers often have multiple issues in their portfolios, and we try to equip them with the resources they need in order to make policy recommendations to their bosses. So, when we have a meeting on Capitol Hill, we’ll typically bring along a one-pager, which is a document that concisely communicates our biblical perspective. 

As we meet with staff and members of Congress to advocate for issues, our goal is to make the case for why that issue matters to Southern Baptists, why the representative or senator should consider engaging the issue, and share our unique perspectives for policy solutions. By advocating on a policy, we play a role in equipping members and their staffers to think well about issues in the public square. 

Faith and healthy democracy matter for our public policy work. For example, laws that protect the preborn are of little utility without a robust respect for the rule of law, even and especially those laws and processes that form the essence of our democracy. And so, in this time of upheaval, the ERLC is also focused on the health of our public square—cultivating convictional kindness, working for depolarization, and developing leaders who love those whom they lead enough to speak the truth and guide them down a better path. Policy can affect the lives of millions of people, both domestically and abroad. The ERLC seeks to represent Christ well within the public square and advocate for issues central to the gospel so that our neighbors will be able to flourish. 

Chelsea Sobolik serves as the Director of Public Policy with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in the Washington, D.C. office. Previously, she worked on Capitol Hill on pro-life policies, domestic and international religious freedom, adoption, and foster care issues. Chelsea has been published at the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, and others. She is the author of Longing for Motherhood – Holding onto Hope in the Midst of Childlessness, and a forthcoming book on women and work. She has a B.A. in International Relations from Liberty University, and lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband Michael.

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