3 principles for talking politics on social media

March 14, 2016

The election season is in full swing, and there’s no way to avoid the Facebook post from the friend who swears they “never” talk politics, or the Twitter “rant” from the coworker that you didn’t even think watched the news. With the sheer insanity of our current election season, social media is not a good place to get away from politics.

Many of us struggle to know how to engage in conversations about these important topics on social media because opinions and emotions run high. These conversations often the run the risk of dehumanizing the people we are talking to, since we really aren’t saying these things to someone’s face, just their profile picture. Consequently, we can find it easy to get sucked into the hyperbole, the accusations and the sense of personal offense that often characterize political conversations on social media.

But it matters how we talk about these issues online. We can either point people to the gracious truths of the gospel or to the arrogant spirit of our own flesh with our words. James’ warning that the tongue is a fire that can do catastrophic damage (James 3:6) is not less true on Facebook than it is in the living room.

Here are three principles to remember that will help you as you talk about contentious political issues with friends and family online:

1. Listen

The biggest reason that conversations nosedive from helpful to hurtful is that people become unwilling to listen to the opposing point of view. When one or more participants decide to stop listening, the result is a gaggle of garrulous gabbers who just want their voice to be the loudest. At this point, defending your beliefs really just means defending your turf, and the discussion stops being about truth and becomes an extension of individual egos.

James 1:19 says that Christians ought to be quick to listen but slow to speak. For conversations that involve strongly held beliefs, like politics, the temptation is to enter a discussion determined to “prove” how correct you are instead of determined to learn something you didn’t know before. The best way to counteract this temptation is to follow the apostle’s command: Be slow to speak but quick to listen. Be eager to understand why someone may disagree with you, and what it is that may have lead them to a different conclusion. Instead of making assumptions, ask questions. This will not only help you be better able to represent the other person’s beliefs fairly, but the process will almost always disarm tension and emotional heat from a controversial topic.

2. Be honest

The internet is a magnificent, world-changing tool, but it does lend itself to the propagation of false and often manipulative content. Christians seem particularly vulnerable to the scare mongering chain email, or even more embarrassingly, mistaking a piece of satire for actual reporting. As people who believe in absolute truth, Christians have to be the first in line to reject false rumors and innuendo, even when they seem to support “our side.”

As you engage in political conversation online, be honest. Don’t say what isn’t true, and refuse the temptation to exaggerate so as to better prove your point. One of the biggest reasons Christians fall into this temptation on social media is that they want to sound like an expert on everything. But a 10 second Google search is not the same as being knowledgeable, and an unbridled desire to prove someone wrong can lead us into passing along false or incomplete information as if it is true. If you’re not actually sure how much the national debt has increased, find out before you comment on it. If you don’t know that a particular politician said this or that, find out as best you can before you say so. Model honesty and humility, and the chances are, the people you talk to will do the same.

3. Don’t take it personally

When someone disagrees with us, our natural tendency is to interpret it as a personal insult. We feel like we’ve been rejected or ridiculed somehow. But in the majority of cases, our sense of personal offense doesn’t come from what someone actually said or did. It comes from the pride in our hearts.

Taking disagreement personally is usually a sign that we’ve invested a sense of self-worth in our opinions. But this need not be. If your concern is for the truth of the gospel and the flourishing of your neighbor, then you will of course feel strongly about some issues, but your ego won’t be at stake. If you find that someone’s differing opinion instinctively causes anger or defensiveness in you, the best thing you can do is to step back, temporarily back out of the exchange, and pray for your own heart and for the well-being of your neighbor. Resist the idea that your personal honor is at stake by the appearance of disagreement.

Generally, the people who are the best at not taking disagreement personally are the people who actively cultivate friendships with others not like them. This is one of the most glorious functions of the local church—to connect Christians who have nothing in common except the gospel. Pursue relationships with people who don’t look or sound like you, and you’ll find defensiveness and ego slowly but surely evaporating.  

Samuel James

Samuel James serves as Communications Specialist in the Office of the President. He received his B.A. from Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife, Emily, live in Louisville and have one son. Read More by this Author

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