News Articles

Resolution on AI, emerging technologies intended to be timely statement

Kristen Ferguson, chair of educational leadership and director of online education for Gateway Seminary and vice chair of the 2023 SBC Committee on Resolutions takes questions from reporters about the resolutions presented to messengers in New Orleans. Photo by Luc Stringer

NEW ORLEANS (BP) – With artificial intelligence becoming an increasingly hot-button issue and other technologies being developed at a rapid rate, representatives from the 2023 SBC Committee on Resolutions hope the resolution “On Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technologies,” will serve as a “timely” statement on the topic.

Kristen Ferguson, chair of educational leadership and director of online education for Gateway Seminary and vice chair of the committee tasked with presenting resolutions to messengers at this year’s annual meeting in New Orleans, told Baptist Press the growing usage of these technologies inspired the group to move forward with the resolution.

“We discussed quite a bit as to whether it was time (to have a resolution on the topic), and because of the popularity of generative AI that’s been developed over the last six months, we felt like it was time,” Ferguson said.

“The conversation about AI is in our culture and government and economy, and it’s starting to change a lot of things. 

“We really felt like it was a timely piece because we believe that Southern Baptists and Christians have things to contribute and say about ethical use and practices with artificial intelligence.”

The resolution is believed to be the first official statement regarding artificial intelligence from a faith group.

Kristen explained although the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission released a statement of principles regarding AI in 2019, the full Convention had yet to speak to the issue.

However, Ferguson believes previous SBC resolutions and statements had already built the framework to address this new phenomenon.

“I think what we were trying to do was show that there is an important bridge to our own convictions and confessional history of what is man, what do we believe about work and human flourishing and the human agency involved in choices that go into the usage of technology,” Ferguson said.

“So yes, artificial intelligence in its current form and as it’s emerging is something new, but what we wanted to show is that Baptists already have a lot of doctrine and knowledge from Scripture that we think applies.”

Jason Thacker is a research fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology and technology for the ERLC. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute, and has studied various emerging technologies for years.

He serves as a consultant to the Resolutions Committee and agreed with Ferguson that the resolution on AI is timely.

“I think when most people think about artificial intelligence, until the recent eight or nine months, we always kind of kept it at arm’s length,” Thacker said at a press conference the committee held after the resolution’s passage in New Orleans.

“It was an issue maybe we would have to deal with one day, but it wasn’t something that was pressing. But especially with the advent of and the release and popularizing of generative AI, that’s what ChatGPT is, it has really come above the fray.

“We’re having throughout our Convention conversations that no longer is AI something out there, but it’s actually something that’s deeply already influencing and shaping how we think about what does it mean to be human.”

Thacker explains the biblical worldview on humanity and the image of God are things Southern Baptists have held clear convictions on for a long time.

“This body of believers here in the Southern Baptist Convention has long held that humanity is uniquely made in the very image of God and all that entails,” Thacker said at the press conference.

“As we think about these emerging technologies that are now doing things that once we reserved solely for humans, it can create a little bit of fear. It can be a little panic in our communities and throughout all of our society. This isn’t just a thing that Southern Baptists are thinking about, this is something our wider society is thinking about.

“Sometimes in these conversations we can get fixed on the symptoms or some of the big pressing questions and fears, that we kind of overlook some of the deeper abiding questions like what does it mean to be human. That’s something that the Bible speaks clearly too, and something we wanted to, not only as a committee and a commission and even as a convention to speak clearly too.”

Ferguson hopes the resolution will inspire a generation of Southern Baptists toward engagement with these ever-developing technologies without “uncritical embrace or fearful rejection,” just as it says in the resolution’s first “resolved” statement.

“I would love to see this resolution just help our congregations and our churches have some doctrinal framework to help them think through AI,” she said.

“I hope that it gives our people some language to connect to our doctrine, because it is so new and complex. I really hope that we have a generation of Southern Baptists coming up into college who pursue their career in fields of technology, so that they can help shape these important technologies with our ethical standards embedded in them, and with religious liberty in mind and employing these tools for Great Commission purposes.”