4 rules for the way Christians engage in politics

July 26, 2021

One can hardly roam our social media feeds these days without encountering fiery political speech. Engaged citizens, policy advocates, and politicians themselves spend countless hours scrolling and posting their views on whatever hot-button issues seem to be dominating the newsreels, often manifesting itself in angry and demeaning language and accusations against someone somewhere of negligence, malfeasance, or blatant evil. Pointed fingers cast blame on everyone except ourselves, of course, and those within our own tribe. And the apparent consensus is that this sort of social media activity equates to good, productive political engagement.

But is this sort of “engagement” good? And is it productive? 

What is political engagement, really?

A question like this immediately brings to mind James Davison Hunter’s challenging book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. In a section of the book titled “The Public Witness of the Church is a Political Witness,” Hunter discusses what he calls one of the ironies of our political responsibility. He says,

A final irony has to do with the idea of political responsibility. Christians are urged to vote and become involved in politics as an expression of their civic duty and public responsibility. This is a credible argument and good advice up to a point. Yet in our day, given the size of the state and the expectations that people place on it to solve so many problems, politics can also be a way of saying, in effect, that the problems should be solved by others besides myself and by institutions other than the church. It is, after all, much easier to vote for a politician who champions child welfare than to adopt a baby born in poverty, to vote for a referendum that would expand health care benefits for seniors than to care for an elderly and infirmed parent, and to rally for racial harmony than to get to know someone of a different race than yours. True responsibility invariably costs. Political participation, then, can and often does amount to an avoidance of responsibility (172-173).

Hunter’s argument is that our political participation often amounts to little more than going through the motions and shifting the burden of responsibility from ourselves to our elected officials (or others) by virtue of our vote or social media activity. Rather than welcoming the “costs” of true responsibility, we have a tendency to cast our ballots and then, for the next four years, cast blame on all those who have “mishandled” the responsibilities that we may have been too timid to take on ourselves. It is easy to shirk our responsibilities in exchange for the sort of faux engagement that happens too often online, but this exchange is neither a faithful nor productive one. 

So, for Christians, what should productive political engagement look like? There are countless examples that could be named, from volunteering in a local crisis pregnancy center to writing to one’s state representatives to serving on local boards or running for office. The opportunities are too numerous to list. But, there are several “rules of engagement” that should mark the way that we approach our political responsibilities as Christian citizens. 

1. Engagement trumps participation

All those who are truly engaged in the political process are participants, but not all political participants are equally or meaningfully engaged. Mere political participation looks much like Hunter’s description, a casting of the ballot only to retreat to our respective silos assuming that we have fulfilled our civic obligations. At that point, we think we are free to participate behind the veil of our computer screens, engaging in the sort of venomous online dialogue that has become the norm. This is political participation.

Being engaged goes further than simple participation. It necessarily involves showing up at the voting booth, but it may also include volunteering at the voting booth. For Christians, as Hunter suggests, it not only entails voting and advocating for pro-life legislation, but it might also include joining the March for Life, volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center, or even “adopt[ing] a baby born in poverty.” The point is, political participation is easy. It costs nothing. But engagement is hard work, and it’s costly. 

2. Engagement is costly

Because politics has civic and social ramifications, to be truly and meaningfully engaged in our society’s politics necessarily requires a willingness to be practically inconvenienced. To return to Hunter’s quoted examples, many can identify the potential difficulties of deciding to “adopt a baby born in poverty . . . to care for an elderly and infirmed parent . . . to get to know someone of a different race,” but these and more may very well be what bearing “political responsibility” begets. Convenient or not, these are the costs of being a politically engaged Christian citizen.

But just because engagement is costly does not mean engagement is joyless or that it is not worthwhile. In contrast to the emptiness of our society’s brand of political participation, with its slothfulness and omnipresent outrage, meaningful engagement in the politics of our society is a way in which we may bring the personal implications of the gospel — those good works prepared by God for us to do (Eph. 2:10) — to bear on a culture starving for good news. 

Actual, meaningful political engagement is an arena wherein we can exercise the indicatives of the new birth; chiefly, loving our neighbor as ourselves. And if our engagement is to be loving, it must be kind. 

3. Engagement should be kind

Contemporary American politics has grown increasingly vicious, and it seems committed to slithering down that dark path. The bulk of this hateful behavior takes place online, where citizens can exercise intimidation behind the security of a screen and can dehumanize their opponents with inhumane and sometimes unconscionable words. This is a form of the political participation mentioned earlier, when our so-called engagement takes place solely in the political theater that is social media. 

But for Christians, this sort of activity “should not even be named among us” (Eph. 5:3). If political engagement is chiefly an act of neighbor love, and if love, as defined by the apostle Paul in Scripture, is to be kind, among other things, then there is really no excuse for us to take up our political responsibilities without the kindness that Scripture requires (1 Cor. 13:4). And, lest we misunderstand, kindness is not spineless or weak. On the contrary, a Spirit-driven commitment to convictional kindness in the face of slander and misrepresentation takes courage and resolve. And it might be just the thing to turn the tide of politics as we know it.

4. Kingdom citizens, kingdom politics

Finally, part of the Christian’s vocation in a political system such as ours is to call out what is evil and unjust with prophetic boldness, that is certain. But while some of us are called to be prophets, the New Testament makes clear we have all been commissioned as priests, and while there is some overlap, the ministry of priests often looks quite different from that of a prophet. 

As the apostle Peter writes in his first letter to the church dispersed abroad, part of the generic vocation of God’s royal priesthood, the church, is to “conduct herself honorably among the Gentiles” (2:12), to “submit to human authority” (2:13), to “do good” (2:15), to “honor everyone” (2:17), and to “be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this” (3:8-9). 

The New Testament speaks exhaustively about how the church is to conduct herself in all spheres of life, including in politics. And this much is certain, our citizenship in the kingdom of God is meant to inform, indeed rule, the way that we exercise our American citizenship (or wherever you find yourself). That means being more engaged — and meaningfully so — in the political process, not less. It means before we speak a word of complaint, we should consider how we might constructively resolve what dismays us. It means cultivating a willingness to bear our political and civic responsibilities no matter the cost. 

If we wish to see American politics improve, we must reject political participation in its current and unhealthy form. Instead, we must be willing to roll up the sleeves of our priestly garments and, with kindness, invest in the costly work of meaningful political engagement. 

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of … Read More

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