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Digital Public Square offers help to churches in its first year

NASHVILLE (BP) – The Digital Public Square has succeeded during its first year in providing multiple resources to help churches and leaders think wisely about the ethical challenges of technology.

A project of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the Digital Public Square was launched after the entity’s trustees affirmed its implementation in a vote at their September 2021 meeting. The effort’s production in its initial year has included a book as well as a weekly podcast and newsletter, with more books and other resources on the way.

Jason Thacker, the ERLC’s chair of research in technology ethics and director of its Research Institute, leads the Digital Public Square.

A little more than a year after introducing the project, Thacker told Baptist Press Wednesday (Oct. 5), “One of the main goals of this project is to help equip churches to see how the ethical principles that arise from our beliefs are directly applicable in this digital age.

“It can be tempting at times to think that the challenges we face are wholly unique or that somehow Christianity has little or nothing to contribute to these discussions about the role of technology in our lives and society,” he said in written comments for BP.

“God’s Word is not only sufficient for the Church’s task in our digital society, but it reminds us that we have hope no matter the challenges we may face now or in the future.”

ERLC President Brent Leatherwood said the Digital Public Square is a vital part of the commission’s work.

“The ministry assignment given to us by our churches challenges us to apply Christian ethics to the issues facing us in society,” Leatherwood said in written remarks for BP. “In our current moment, few matters are as complex as those presented in the area of technology.

“The work that Jason Thacker is leading for the ERLC continues to produce some of the most helpful and thoughtful resources for pastors and lay members alike. He develops these materials not only because he wants to help our churches, but because he wants to honor Christ – a principle at the heart of all we do at the ERLC.”

The Digital Public Square’s resources are intended to help churches, as well as government and business leaders, to respond to the technological challenges in ways that support religious freedom and free expression, according to the digital section of the ERLC’s website. It addresses such ethical issues as sexuality, gender, hate speech, pornography, digital authoritarianism and objectionable content.

Among the resources so far in the biblically based approach led by Thacker:

  • “Following Jesus in a Digital Age,” a book written by Thacker and released Aug. 30 by Broadman & Holman (B&H) Publishing that seeks to help Christians understand how technology is influencing their walk with Christ and how to respond to social media and such issues as misinformation and polarization.
  • The “Digital Public Square,” a podcast hosted by Thacker with guests discussing theology, ethics and philosophy.
  • The WeeklyTech newsletter in which Thacker offers up-to-date information and Christian perspective on technological trends.

The need for resources from the project has been demonstrated in the last year by the growing debate over digital governance and the requests for oversight and accountability of tech companies, Thacker said.

These developments have ranged, he said, from the misleading labeling of pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) by Yelp to assertions of disinformation about PRCs to debate about data privacy after the overruling of Roe v. Wade to ethical questions about artificial intelligence to continuing discussions about gender and sexuality issues online.

The next set of resources to be produced consists of:

  • A video-based, Bible study version of “Following Jesus in a Digital Age” that includes interviews with Christian leaders and is scheduled to be released Dec. 1 by Lifeway Christian Resources. 
  • “A Student’s Guide to Social Media,” a book by Thacker for teenagers and young adults published by Christian Focus Publications and to be available in January.
  • “The Digital Public Square: Christian Ethics in a Technological Society,” a volume edited by Thacker featuring various contributors and to be released in February by B&H Academic.

In the next year, Thacker said the Digital Public Square will transfer its focus to a “state of digital governance report” that will offer a portrait of current and future technological issues, as well as an evangelical Christian statement of principles on “content moderation and digital governance.”