White Papers

ERLC 2023 State Policy Review

March 15, 2023

Across the nation state legislative sessions are underway. Though we typically think of Washington, D.C., as the primary location for policy change, the realities of a polarized nation and nearly evenly divided federal legislature make it difficult for substantial decisions to be made at a national level. As a result, state legislatures are in a position to make more consequential decisions in the policy areas that Southern Baptists care about and have addressed.

One of the ministry assignments of the ERLC is to assist churches through the communication and advocacy of moral and ethical concerns in the public arena. While the public arena is often thought of federally, it is also just as important locally. We will continue to serve and partner with state conventions and state advocacy groups on the issues of missional priority that are not just of national importance, but state importance as well.

Perhaps the best picture of state-level engagement has been seen in the aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Since the historic Dobbs decision, the pro-life movement has significantly shifted focus to the states. Though there certainly remains a role for federal legislation, it is now up to each state to decide the status of abortion. As a result, there is a greater opportunity than ever before for the citizens of each state to advocate for both protections for the preborn and care for vulnerable mothers. We’ve already seen creative action from several states to do more to meet the needs of abortion-vulnerable women and empower them to choose life in their states. 

Beyond protecting life, there are several other issues being legislated at the state level that are of interest to Southern Baptists. Just as the ERLC advocates for life, religious liberty, marriage and family, and human dignity at the national level, many of these same issues are currently being considered in state legislatures. Some of these include gambling, conscience protections for medical professionals, gender-transition procedures, the abortion pill, predatory lending, and more. 

The following review is not an exhaustive list of policy priorities but just a few examples of current debates happening at the state level where Southern Baptists may choose to engage. Regardless of the current state or outcome of these specific pieces of legislation, we look at these policies to chart a hopeful vision for the landscape of state legislatures in this season and years to come. Our hope is that this document will serve as a framework for engagement as believers and policymakers alike review the thousands of proposals made in each state this legislative session. For any of these proposals, we would encourage interested readers to engage with their Baptist state convention whose team will have the latest information about developments related to these bills.

Religious Liberty 

The Baptist Faith and Message summarizes the biblical teaching on religious liberty and freedom of conscience, a distinctive passed down to us from our Baptist forefathers and foremothers, some of whom were imprisoned or executed as they stood for these truths. Moreover, our Baptist ancestors in the United States were instrumental in the crafting and adoption of the First Amendment to our Constitution, which guarantees free exercise of religion for all, and forbids the establishment of a religion. Recent years have seen simultaneous gains for religious freedom in the courts and threats from administrative and legislative action. The following issues are a few areas where we see key debates about religious liberty happening in the states:

Support conscience protections for healthcare workers

No healthcare worker should feel compelled to compromise their deeply held beliefs in order to continue serving others. Now, both in a post-Roe world and as our country’s views on issues of sexuality and gender have shifted rapidly, healthcare providers are being increasingly mandated to participate in or provide insurance coverage for procedures and practices that conflict with their religiously-informed consciences. In the states, there are opportunities to advocate for the protection of consciences in legislation. This session, Kentucky is one state considering such legislation:

Southern Baptists spoke to conscience protections at the 2019 annual meeting through a Resolution on Protecting Religious Liberty and at the 2016 annual meeting through the Resolution on Biblical Sexuality and The Freedom Of Conscience.

Support state Religious Freedom Restoration Act efforts

In 1993 Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which served the purpose of preventing other laws passed on the federal level from inducing a substantial burden on an individual’s religious freedom. Many Supreme Court cases have relied on RFRA in rulings, one most notably being Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores. The original intent was for RFRA to apply to all three branches of government and both federal and state governments. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the application of RFRA to the states was an overreach. In response, 23 states have passed their own RFRA. This session, there are more states considering a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and we want to see more do the same. One such state is Michigan:

Southern Baptists spoke to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the 2016 annual meeting through the Resolution on Biblical Sexuality and The Freedom Of Conscience.

Protect the religious liberty of foster care and adoption service providers

Across the country, child welfare and child protection systems are overcrowded and under significant strain. Unfortunately, it is in this context that some states and cities are working to exclude child welfare providers who seek to operate in a manner consistent with their religious convictions. This leads to fewer families available for foster care and adoption. Legislation is needed that would prohibit government discrimination against child welfare agencies on the basis of their beliefs and ultimately protect children in the foster system and children waiting for adoption by ensuring that a wide range of child welfare providers are available to serve them. This session, Iowa is one state considering such legislation: 

 Southern Baptists spoke to religious liberty at the 2019 annual meeting through a Resolution on Protecting Religious Liberty.

Sanctity of Human Life

The Baptist Faith and Message summarizes the biblical revelation that every person bears the image of God, and thus, is worthy of protection and dignity, regardless of age, level of ability, or stage of development. 2022 was a monumental year for life in the United States. After 50 years of dedicated advocacy, the disastrous precedents in Roe and Casey were overturned, sending the issue of abortion largely back to the states. While there certainly is a role for the federal government to play, states now primarily have the responsibility to restrict and regulate abortion. Some states have already completely banned abortion while others have worked to become “abortion destinations.” Each state has unique challenges and opportunities to protect the preborn. The following issues are a few areas where we see key debates about life happening in the states:

Oppose any efforts to expand abortion access or enshrine a constitutional right to abortion

Since the Dobbs decision, many states are working to enshrine and expand abortion access and become “abortion destinations,” even going as far as considering constitutional amendments to safeguard future access to abortion. Others are considering efforts to repeal the pro-life laws currently in effect in their states. This session, many state legislatures are considering such bills that would expand abortion access and take more preborn lives. Three examples of this type of legislation being considered are:

Southern Baptists spoke to abortion at 2022 annual meeting through the Resolution On Anticipation of a Historic Moment in the Pro-life Movement

Support further efforts to restrict abortion through pro-life laws and constitutional amendments as we work toward its end

Since the Dobbs decision, many states have already taken significant steps to restrict or make abortion illegal in their state. It is our hope that other states will follow their lead and take further steps to protect the preborn. While attainable pro-life victories will look different across the country, it is important that each state work toward any positive steps it can to save lives. Some states that already have laws to protect life are considering further steps to amend the state constitution, ensuring that abortion has no place in their state. This session, multiple states are considering bills that would take steps toward the end of abortion:

Southern Baptists spoke to abortion at 2022 annual meeting through the Resolution On Anticipation of a Historic Moment in the Pro-life Movement

Support efforts to end the proliferation of chemical abortions

Chemical abortion (sometimes referred to as medication abortion or the abortion pill) is a method that uses an abortifacient to stimulate uterine contractions and end the pregnancy in a process similar to a natural miscarriage. As surgical abortion procedures have declined, chemical abortions have risen, making up 53% of the total in 2020. As many states severely restricted or banned access to abortion following the Dobbs decision, it is likely that this number will continue rising. These drugs not only take the life of a preborn child but also pose serious threats to the women who take them. However, the FDA in 2021 moved to increase access by permanently allowing these abortion pills to be delivered by mail. In January of 2023, the FDA moved to allow local retail pharmacies to dispense these drugs in states where it is legal, furthering the accessibility of these life-taking drugs and putting more women and preborn children at risk. This session, one state considering legislation to regulate this predatory industry is Wyoming:

Southern Baptists spoke to abortion at 2022 annual meeting through the Resolution On Anticipation of a Historic Moment in the Pro-life Movement

Southern Baptists spoke to abortion causing drugs at the 2019 annual meeting through a Resolution on Protecting Religious Liberty

Oppose physician-assisted suicide and all euthanasia efforts

Physician-assisted suicide is currently legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, as well as Montana by court decision. This is a practice in clear conflict with ethical principles of the Bible and from both a biblical worldview and the Hippocratic tradition. There is currently a concerted effort in several states to legalize and expand this practice. This session, New York is one such state considering such legislation:

Southern Baptists spoke to physician-assisted suicide at the 1996 annual meeting through the Resolution On Assisted Suicide.

Family and Marriage

The Baptist Faith and Message affirms the biblical teaching that “God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.” It continues in saying that “Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.” These gifts of marriage and family are creation ordinances and blessings from God, foundational to human flourishing. States have many opportunities to advocate for policies that maintain and protect these essential aspects of life together. The following issues are a few areas where we see key debates about marriage and family happening in the states:

Support pro-family policy in a post-Roe world

If the family is the most foundational unit of society, it is crucial that all aspects of policy provide a platform for families to thrive and flourish. An essential aspect of our advocacy for life in this new, post-Roe world must be for policies that address financial insecurity and other key factors that drive women to seek abortions. States have the opportunity to pursue policies that remedy marriage penalties, empower abortion-vulnerable women to choose life, and provide baseline levels of support for new parents. This is consistent with the 2022 SBC Resolution that urged a focus on “pro-life and pro-family policies that serve and support vulnerable women, children, and families” as we work to “eliminate any perceived need for the horror of abortion.” Two examples of such proposals are:

Southern Baptists spoke to pro-family policy at the 2022 annual meeting through the Resolution On Anticipation of a Historic Moment in the Pro-life Movement.

Support adoption and foster care policies

The defense of vulnerable children is woven through a wide variety of policies, from religious liberty concerns involved in adoption and foster care to the various support of families as they work to take care of children in the adoption and foster care system. States should pursue policies that would support and strengthen adoption, making it both more affordable and accessible. Some states are already taking proactive steps to support vulnerable children, and this session, two of those states are South Carolina and New Hampshire:

Southern Baptists spoke to adoption and foster care at the 2009 annual meeting through the Resolution On Adoption and Orphan Care

Advocate for a biblical view of gender and sexuality

Scripture is clear that marriage is between one man and woman, and that every person is made in the image of God. Our culture is radically turning aways from this foundational biblical view of gender and sexuality, and the repercussions are devastating. States have many opportunities to push back against harmful gender-transition practices and affirm the foundational rights of parents in decision-making regarding their children. Two examples of legislation pursuing those goals are:

Southern Baptists spoke to a biblical view of gender and sexuality at the 2014 annual meeting through the Resolution On Transgender Identity

Human Dignity

The Baptist Faith and Message both affirms the biblical revelation that every person bears the image of God, and thus, is worthy of protection and dignity, regardless of age, level of ability, or stage of development and echoes the biblical mandate to seek justice and righteousness, especially for those who are vulnerable. God revealed in the words of the prophet Micah: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8) In our advocacy for fair and impartial judgment and equitable treatment of the unjustly oppressed and marginalized, we bear witness to a God who is ultimately the just Judge, and to a gospel that saves all who believe without partiality. States have a number of opportunities to enact policies that recognize the dignity of all. The following issues are a few areas where we see key debates about human dignity happening in the states:

Oppose the legalization and expansion of recreational marijuana

According to the CDC, the use of mairjuana can have significant effects on a person’s brain, specifically relating to memory, learning, decision-making, and other traits. As Christians we believe in the imago Dei, that all people were made in the image of God, that includes not only spirit, but body as well. The effects of marijuana not only negatively impact the user but also can be a detriment to relationships and families. This session, Oklahoma was one state considering expanding access to this harmful substance:

Southern Baptists spoke to recreational marijuana at the 1973 annual meeting through the Resolution On Alcohol And Other Drugs

Oppose the expansion of gambling and sports betting

As nearly every state across the country has loosened restrictions on gambling, Americans spent approximately $213 billion on legal betting alone in 2021. Online sports betting has spread rapidly, making it easier than ever to become trapped in the addictive and destructive cycle of gambling. Churches across the convention have repeatedly shared that this issue is a key driver in the tearing apart of marriages and families in their congregations. This session, Georgia is one such state considering this type of legislation:

Southern Baptists spoke to gambling at the 2017 annual meeting through the Resolution On The Sin Of Gambling.

Support payday lending regulations

Payday lending is an industry that preys on the poor through offering short-term, small-dollar loans at exorbitantly high interest rates. The average annual interest rate on a payday loan is 400%, trapping the poor in cycles of despair and debt. These practices should be regulated to restrict this industry’s ability to prey on the poor among us. This session, South Carolina is one state considering this type of action:

Southern Baptists spoke to payday lending at the 2014 annual meeting through the Resolution On Predatory Payday Lending

Support efforts to combat and prevent sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is an evil that the SBC will unequivocally fight against. We first and foremost wish to see a world in which no one suffers any kind of abuse. Subsequently, we recognize the necessity of  just policies that will prevent abuse and serve justice to abusers. Mississippi and Washington are taking proactive steps toward combatting sexual abuse:

Southern Baptists spoke to sexual abuse at the 2022 annual meeting through the Resolution On Support for Consistent Laws Regarding Pastoral Sexual Abuse and at the 2019 annual meeting through the Resolution On The Evil Of Sexual Abuse.

Support efforts to improve prisoner reentry

True justice executed by the government not only punishes wrongdoers but also upholds the dignity of both parties and provides a path toward reconciliation for the offender. Oftentimes, the formerly incarcerated face significant challenges in obtaining housing, education, and employment, making reentry into society more difficult and recidivism more likely. States have an opportunity to support policy changes that strengthen families and reintegrate past offenders to their communities. One state considering such legislation is Oklahoma.

Southern Baptists spoke to prison reentry at the 2013 annual meeting through the Resolution On America’s Growing Prison Population.

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