Christian Curriculum

ERLC unveils new technology, pro-life initiatives


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By TOM STRODE, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE (BP) – The Ethics and Religious Freedom Commission plans cutting-edge work over the next 18 months on tech and pro-life issues, Southern Baptist directors said at their meeting annual.

Jason Thacker, President of Technology Ethics Research, and Elizabeth Graham, Vice President of Operations and Life Initiatives, outlined plans in their areas of responsibility during their reports to the RRLC Board of Directors on 15 September in Nashville. Acting on the last day of their two-day meeting, the trustees unanimously approved motions after the two reports to affirm work in both areas and encourage continued efforts by staff.

Thacker unveiled to administrators a new research project he is leading – the digital public square. Launched after the directors’ affirmation vote, the project is designed to produce resources to help churches and leaders “navigate this digital age wisely and reflect on some of the most complex and crucial ethical challenges in the world. our faith with wisdom and insight, ”he said in his report.

The project, Thacker said, will help answer questions such as:

  • What is the real role of government in digital governance?
  • How do you train other people if they are mainly shaped by technology in their use and habits?
  • How to defend freedom of expression and religious freedom in an increasingly polarized society?

The resources to be provided over the next 18 months consist of four major elements, he said: (1) A “report on the state of digital governance” which will present a portrait of current and future technological challenges; (2) an evangelical Christian statement of principles on “content moderation and digital governance”; (3) a church resource kit slated for release in summer 2022; and (4) two books to be published next year – “Following Jesus in the Digital Age” and “The Digital Public Square: Ethics and Religion in a Technological Society. Thacker writes the first for Broadman & Holman Publishing and edits the second for B&H Academic.

“Given the current state of the debate on the appropriate role of freedom of expression and religious freedom and digital governance,” ERLC believes this is an important area to invest in Thacker told directors. It will generate “substantial resources” and “seek to equip the church in the digital age and allow us to defend these principles in this important arena,” he said.

Thacker’s work on the ethics of technology over the past few years has resulted in continued opportunities to “provide critical commentary, as well as advice, to many of these great tech companies, as well as their policy teams. , while they formulate and formulate »policies. , he said. When one of these companies heard about the Digital Public Square project, they offered to provide support.

The project is funded by the co-op program, the SBC’s Unified Giving Plan, but Facebook Technologies LLC also provided a research grant after the effort began. Thacker provided assurances to the Trustees and to the project website – www.erlc.com/digital – regarding the independence of the ERLC in accepting the grant.

“This research grant has been provided without restriction, which means that the grant money will be used to [the] at the sole discretion of the ERLC management team and board of directors without any direct or indirect oversight of Facebook in research efforts or influence on project results or resources produced, ”according to the response. to one of the frequently asked questions on the website. “All material produced as part of this research project will be copyrighted by ERLC and / or those who contribute to it. “

Facebook and other tech companies have approached ERLC for resources because “there is a dearth of literature in this area,” Thacker told administrators. “There has been very little or no research into the nature of religious freedom and religious expression in the digital age.”

Brent Leatherwood, named interim chairman at the board meeting, told directors Thacker is “rapidly consolidating his reputation as one of the main voices, if not the main voice, of evangelicalism in concerns the ethics of technology, and we think this project is natural. a place to house all of this research, to produce resources that will equip the church, and to once again allow it to have a platform to talk about these issues. “

Graham described the pro-life work of the ERLC, including its leading role in a campaign with other organizations as 50e Roe’s birthday v. Wade approaches. The United States Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in its January 22, 1973 ruling in the Roe case.

The Road to Roe50 “is our short term strategy for engaging the church,” Graham said of the alliance, which she says has medium to long term strategies as well. “With this moment we see the chance of a lifetime to raise awareness of our work and our action in church.”

The effort “is a strategic window of opportunity,” the ERLC and its partners believe it can “unite and mobilize the church” leading to Roe’s 50th birthday.e anniversary, she told the trustees. “The purpose of Roe50 is to inspire, educate and activate the church to support and defend the dignity of every human person.”

The church is “not deeply engaged in the issue of abortion,” Graham said, citing a range of statistics in several surveys as evidence. More than 60% of women who have had an abortion say they are “affiliated with a religion,” according to a pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute survey that is supported by other studies, she said. A Lifeway Research survey sponsored by the Care Net pregnancy resource center network in 2015 showed that 36% of women attended a Christian church at least once a month at the time of their first abortion, she said. to administrators.

“We have to make abortion illegal, but we have to make it unnecessary and unthinkable,” Graham said. “We believe the church is the answer. This is why the role of the Church is so important. This is why what we do and hope to accomplish at ERLC is so important.

Road to Roe50’s church engagement strategy includes, Graham told the board:

  • Curriculum for all ages designed as a three year discipleship training program. Separate material for children, teens, and adults will have a pre-launch release in fall 2022, with a general release in January 2023.
  • A Roe50 tour of several states in strategic cities in the fall of 2022.
  • A Roe50 event in Washington, DC, in January 2023.
  • A vast digital campaign to affirm life, as well as to train and mobilize people to serve “vulnerable mothers, unborn babies and families”.

ERLC and its partners are asking people to “join us on the Roe50 route,” Graham said. “We want the Southern Baptists to lead the way [in] at the service of women and children ”in crisis situations.

ERLC’s other pro-life efforts include Project Psalm 139, which helps provide ultrasound technology to pro-life pregnancy centers. The ERLC has placed ultrasound devices in 18 centers so far this year, Graham told administrators at a committee meeting on September 14.

After Graham’s report, David Prince, chairing his last meeting as chairman of the board, told the other directors: “There is no evangelical organization in the world doing a life’s work with the community. depth and breadth of ERLC. And many other organizations are empowered by the fact that ERLC does a life’s work with such depth and breadth. “

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