Standing in the gap for human dignity

Proclaiming the Inherent Worth of Every Individual

Chelsea Sobolik

What links the topics of immigration, gambling, racial unity, and prison reform? Underneath these issues is the awareness that each individual is created in the image of God and therefore possesses inherent worth and dignity. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) seeks to advance human flourishing and a just society through furthering policies that recognize the dignity inherent to all people. This is an outflow of the Bible’s teaching, as well as various statements from the the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) recognizing our calling to stand up for the marginalized and oppressed. In so doing, Christians point to a God who is just and commands us to seek justice and righteousness, especially for the vulnerable (Micah 6:8).   

Predatory relationships 

The ERLC stands in Southern Baptists’ long tradition of opposing predatory relationships and the unjust treatment of the impoverished. Though initial leaders of the organization such as A. J. Barton often focused on gambling as a vice, they also noted its destructive connection between the preyed upon individual and those seeking to profit from them. 

They connected the problem of liquor in the saloon to the various vices that sprang up in the community around it, such as gambling and prostitution, which were deleterious for the poor and the family. This theme of speaking up for the vulnerable in society was championed by past leaders of the organization such as Hugh Brimm, Acker (A.C.) Miller, and Foy Valentine. 

More recently, the ERLC has spoken to the problems of predatory relationships and how society treats the poor. On the basis of a 2014 resolution condemning predatory payday lending, the ERLC advocated and was crucial in the repeal of the 2017 “True Lender” rule, which allowed predatory lending organizations to avoid regulations in their state and enabled them to charge unjust and exorbitant interest rates on the borrowers.1https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/erlc-applauds-the-u-s-house-of-representatives-for-repealing-the-true-lender-rule/ Additionally, the ERLC has spoken out about the rise of online gambling and sports betting, noting that the rapid legalization of online sports betting is most likely to injure the poor and those who are impoverished.2https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/how-christians-can-think-about-the-epidemic-of-online-gambling-and-sports-betting/


The history of the SBC and the ERLC (and the earlier commissions) is one that is tragic in its failure to uphold human dignity, particularly for non-white individuals. The SBC was founded out of a commitment to send slave owners as missionaries, wedding the gospel to the anti-Christian message of human enslavement. Even the earliest leader of the Committee on Temperance (the forerunner of the ERLC), A. J. Barton, though supportive of some measures of African American institutions such as the founding of American Baptist College and Seminary, was still committed to a program of racial segregation. 

However, following Barton, the Christian Life Commission (CLC) took a turn toward racial equality under the leadership of all the following presidents. Imperfectly at times, they advocated for recognizing the dignity and worth of African Americans, addressing the primary problem of their day. 

In one notable instance, A.C. Miller, in his first address as president of the CLC to the convention, offered a resolution in support of the recent Brown v. Board of Education ruling ending school segregation in 1954. Met with fierce opposition, he called on Southern Baptists to respect the ruling. Jesse Weatherspoon, a former leader of the organization, stood up to defend the resolution, concluding that “If we withdraw this from our consideration tonight, we are saying to the United States of America, ‘Count Baptists out in the matter of equal justice, and I do not believe we want to do that!’” Following his speech, the recommendation was passed.3https://cdn.sbhla.org/wp-content/uploads/20211228154827/SBC_1954-16-Friday_evening-Part_1.MP3 https://cdn.sbhla.org/wp-content/uploads/20211228154836/SBC_1954-17-Friday_evening-Part_2.MP3

Additionally, at other points in the history of the SBC, the ERLC played a key role in advancing the cause of racial reconciliation. Former ERLC President Richard Land was pivotal in the passage of the 1995 resolution apologizing to “all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27).”4https://www.sbc.net/resource-library/resolutions/resolution-on-racial-reconciliation-on-the-150th-anniversary-of-the-southern-baptist-convention/

In 2016, Russell Moore spoke to and supported the resolution repudiating the Confederate battle flag, noting that “the Cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.”5https://www.russellmoore.com/2016/06/14/southern-baptists-confederate-flag/ The following year, Moore spoke up in defense of the 2017 resolution which condemned “The Anti-Gospel of Alt-Right White Supremacy.” In his speech from the floor in support of the resolution, Moore referred to racism and white supremacy as attacks on the gospel and Christ himself.6https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/sbc-denounces-alt-right-white-supremacy/  

In 2018, the ERLC and The Gospel Coalition co-hosted a special event in Memphis, Tennessee, called MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop, with nearly 4,000 attendees. A diverse array of speakers emphasized that racial unity is a gospel issue, with the dividing wall of hostility torn down by Christ (Eph. 2:14), and equipped the body of Christ to pursue racial unity in the midst of tremendous tension. One of the highlights from the MLK50 conference was that over $1.5 million dollars were raised for the “MLK50 Dream Forward Scholarship Initiative,” which allows Christian colleges and seminaries to invest in the educational future of minority students.7https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/6-special-features-of-mlk50/

Criminal justice reform

As early as the 1960s, at a ceremony held in the Rose Garden of the White House and organized by the CLC and Foy Valentine, the attorney general called for greater church involvement in crime prevention and support of law enforcement, but he also addressed “criminal rehabilitation.”8Aaron Griffith, God’s Law and Order: The Politics of Punishment in Evangelical America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020), 125. However, as historian Aaron Griffith has argued, this was often a position in contrast to the majority of the laity in the SBC, many of whom favored a law and order political strategy.9Ibid, 127.

One of the more recent and prominent ways the ERLC has been able to encourage lasting change in this area is by advocating for criminal justice reform. Through partnerships with organizations such as Prison Fellowship, the ERLC has advocated for reforms which respect the humanity and imago Dei of individuals while incarcerated, and continues to seek policies that make the justice system more equitable. 

One prominent reform occurred in 2018 with the First Step Act, passed and signed into law by President Donald Trump. This bill “provide[s] for programs to help reduce the risk that prisoners will recidivate upon release from prison.”10https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/5682/text The ERLC advocated for the act repeatedly in meetings with congressional staff and sent letters to legislators urging its passage because of the value of each person. As the ERLC noted: “These [people] are our neighbors who bear God’s image … A balance needs to be struck between upholding the law for community safety and dealing holistically with how we punish and rehabilitate individuals who break those laws.”11https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/how-the-erlc-has-been-advocating-for-marginalized-communities/


The ERLC also works to equip Christians to carry out the call of Scripture to treat the immigrant and refugee with care and respect (Deut. 10:19). Richard Land was known for saying that America has spoken in two ways to immigrants, with signs saying “Help Wanted” and “No Trespassing.” Land argued that the nation should both secure its borders and provide a pathway to legal citizenship for the undocumented individuals already in the country, pointing back to a promise made by President George Bush in his 2000 campaign.12https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127769214 

In 2016, the SBC passed a resolution on “Refugee Ministry,”13https://www.sbc.net/resource-library/resolutions/on-refugee-ministry/14and in 2018, passed another titled “On Immigration,”14https://www.sbc.net/resource-library/resolutions/on-immigration/ stating their desire to see “immigration reform include an emphasis on securing our borders and providing a pathway to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures, maintaining the priority of family unity, resulting in an efficient immigration system that honors the value and dignity of those seeking a better life for themselves and their families.”

To that end, the ERLC works with the Evangelical Immigration Table—a national movement committed to applying biblical principles to immigration issues—to urge Congress to take action and develop bipartisan solutions. Additionally, the ERLC has advocated for a robust refugee resettlement program by making the case that the program, since its inception in 1980, has long enjoyed both broad bipartisan support in Congress and in the communities these men and women have enriched, including many Southern Baptist churches.15https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/why-we- need-to-rebuild-the-refugee-resettlement-program/


Christians are called to care about the least of these and to work for just systems to protect our vulnerable neighbors. May we pray that the Lord would open our eyes to those we can help and use our time, talent, and treasure to proclaim that every person has inherent worth. On behalf of Southern Baptists and before the world, the ERLC will continue to uphold the dignity of every individual through advocacy efforts, equip pastors and local churches, and help form the moral imagination of others to see that everyone is precious in God’s sight.

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