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Southern Baptists pass resolutions on the Great Commission work of women, the ethics of AI, and the office of pastor

Southern Baptists adopted six resolutions Tuesday, June 13. Photo by Sonya Singh

NEW ORLEANS (BP) — On Tuesday afternoon (June 13), messengers to the 2023 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in New Orleans approved six resolutions, including ones on the legacy and responsibility of women fulfilling the Great Commission, the ethics of artificial intelligence, and the office of pastor. 

Dani Bryson, member of the 2023 SBC Resolutions Committee, presents one of the resolutions for approval by messengers June 13. Photo by Sonya Singh

South Carolina Pastor David Sons, chair of the 2023 SBC Committee on Resolutions, told messengers that 23 resolutions had been properly submitted to the committee for consideration. Nine resolutions were submitted to the messengers for vote, with six being considered on Tuesday afternoon. Messengers passed all six of the resolutions passed during the Tuesday session.

Before presenting the resolutions, Sons stressed how they serve local Southern Baptist congregations.

“I believe that the best resolutions are the ones that seek to state Southern Baptist opinion and not shape Southern Baptist opinion,” Sons said. “They help us to clearly articulate what we believe to our local congregations. And the resolution process is an important part of what we do because, in their own unique way, resolutions further our cooperative mission of reaching our neighbors and the nations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”  

On the legacy and responsibility of women fulfilling the Great Commission

Messengers affirmed the legacy of Southern Baptist women with a resolution thanking God for calling women to fulfill the Great Commission and urging churches to continue equipping them to make disciples.

The resolution came just before Southern Baptists considered the appeal of two churches that had been declared “not in friendly cooperation” with the Convention because of women serving in pastoral roles.

Southern Baptists celebrated the “multitudes of women” who had served the convention as missionaries, writers, apologists, teachers, mentors and leaders. They also affirmed women’s intrinsic worth, gifting and dignity “for the purpose of his own mission and glory” and honored the work they are currently doing in “homes, churches, communities, and workplaces.”

The resolution asked Southern Baptists to work together to train and support women in disciple-making efforts as they pass on the Christian faith “to the next generation.”

On the Southern Baptist confessional heritage of the office of bishop/elder/pastor

In the only resolution to pass with significant discussion, the messengers voted to “re-affirm our confessional heritage, grounded in Scripture, and recognize” only two biblical offices and “to encourage churches to uphold all the biblical qualifications for those who hold either office of bishop/elder/pastor or deacon.”

The body of the resolution describes the history of how Southern Baptists have understood the terms pastor, elder and bishop as interchangeable within the Convention’s historically approved statements of faith. The resolution notes the 1925, 1963 and 2000 versions of the Baptist Faith and Message all describe only two scriptural offices in the church (deacon and bishop/elder/pastor).

Messengers amended the wording of the original resolution to eliminate a clause recognizing that “autonomous churches may differ in their uses and categories regarding titles for staff members.” 

On artificial intelligence and emerging technology

In what is believed to be the first denominational statement on the ethics of artificial intelligence, Southern Baptists acknowledged the powerful potential of AI and other emerging technologies. They also expressed a desire “to engage them from a place of eschatological hope rather than uncritical embrace or fearful rejection.”

The resolution also affirmed the Bible’s ability to answer any “ethical challenges, questions, and opportunities” that may emerge from these technologies. In addition, messengers also declared human dignity to be “central to any ethical principles, guidelines, or regulations for any and all uses” of these technologies.

Messengers called on civic, industrial, and government leaders to “develop, maintain, regulate, and use” these technologies with care. Confessing that God alone has the ability to create life, messengers overwhelmingly declared that technology will never be able to “usurp the sovereignty and power of God.”

“Our Resolutions Committee deserves all the appreciation we can muster for crafting this first-of-its-kind resolution for any denomination or network of churches. Artificial Intelligence has been a hot topic, both in Washington and on the international stage,” said Brent Leatherwood, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president.

“This resolution comes at an opportune time and proves once again that even when it comes to the leading edge of emerging technologies, the Bible, as always, gives us principles to guide us in uncharted waters,” Leatherwood told Baptist Press in written comments.

On wisely engaging immigration

Messengers approved a resolution affirming the inherent dignity of immigrants and refugees while asking government leaders to maintain robust avenues for asylum seekers to enter the country and take swift action to secure the border.

The resolution said that every immigrant and refugee had inherent value, “regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, culture, national origin, or legal status.” It asked government officials to create both avenues for asylum seekers and a pathway for citizenship.

While asking the government to take efforts to secure the border, the resolution asked for elected officials to provide “adequate resources” for U.S. border patrol “and those working in the immigration system.” In addition, messengers asked federal and state governments to work together to both protect the border and protect the dignity of immigrants.

The resolution commends the work of Southern Baptist churches in ministry to immigrants and refugees and encouraged churches to continue to share the Gospel and provide Christlike care to these communities.

“Our convention of churches has consistently called for a secure border and for immigrants to be treated with dignity. This resolution once again asserts our commitment to these twin principles that should never be pitted against one another,” Leatherwood said.  

“It rightly calls on our nation’s officials to come together and create solutions to solve the immigration crisis,” he told BP.

On needed care and support for pastors and ministry leaders

Noting the unique challenges facing pastors and ministry leaders in today’s cultural climate, messengers affirmed the importance of caring for pastors and other ministry leaders. The resolution commended associations, state conventions and national entities that were caring for the wellness need of pastors.

Messengers urged pastors not to suffer in silence but to reach for help when needed, “both for their own sakes and for the good of those to whom they are called to minister.” They also asked churches to neither ignore nor stigmatize leaders who express internal or external struggles.

Southern Baptists also committed to work together to “promote a culture of holistic flourishing among our pastors.”

On the importance of revitalizing and replanting

SBC messengers affirmed efforts to revitalize and replant churches as a key part of fulfilling the Great Commission.

The resolution asked Southern Baptist churches to consider how they can be a part of revitalization efforts by prioritizing “spiritual health, discipleship, and missional engagement of their congregation” and help other churches to do likewise.

Messengers encouraged Southern Baptists to continue to offer resources and training opportunities for this effort through the North American Mission Board, state conventions, and local associations.

Messengers will consider three more resolutions on June 14.

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  • Tobin Perry