4 things Christians can do in a divisive political time

July 30, 2020

This past weekend we crossed the 100-day threshold. For those who don’t follow politics closely, that means there are now fewer than 100 days before the November 2020 election. Obviously, the months and weeks ahead of any election, especially in a presidential election year, are an important time. We shouldn’t take it for granted that we live in a nation where citizens are able to help determine the trajectory of our country and how its people are governed. But one thing that an imminent election also means is that the heat and drama of politics will further intensify in the days ahead. And as we enter into the most intense part of the political cycle, Christians should think carefully about what it looks like to conduct ourselves in ways that honor Jesus.

The Scriptures call the people of God to be good citizens (1 Pet. 2:13-17). In the United States, one of the clearest responsibilities of citizenship is participating in the political process through which we elect our nation’s leaders. For some Christians, that simply means that on or ahead of election day, they will make their way to a polling place to punch a ballot. For others, participating in the political process is more involved. That might include certain forms of advocacy, volunteering, or even running for office themselves. Either way, the Bible isn’t specific about how much being a good citizen requires of Christians as far as politics is concerned. But even so, the Scriptures do have much to say about the way Christians engage in the political process.

Troubling data

Before laying out a few things Christians should keep in mind this election season, it is worth briefly considering some data from a recent national survey conducted by the Cato Institute. It is not a secret that our society has become increasingly politically polarized and tribal. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of the sad realities about our politically charged time is that the loudest voices are usually those on the extreme ends of the political spectrum. And predictably, this has resulted in a silencing of more reasonable voices. 

In their survey, Cato found that 62% of Americans “say the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.” And this isn’t a problem for only one side. As the report details, “Majorities of Democrats (52%), Independents (59%) and Republicans (77%) all agree they have political opinions they are afraid to share.” 

But more than silencing certain voices, a shocking number of people now believe that a person’s political views are grounds for certain forms of retribution. The Cato survey concluded that 22% of Americans “would support firing a business executive who personally donates to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign.” On the other hand, 31% would “support firing a business executive who donates to Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.”

Four ways for Christians to engage

The findings of the Cato survey are deeply troubling. And as we enter the throes of election season, this is an opportunity for Christians to show the world a better way to think about politics. To that end, here are four things Christians can do as the election approaches.

1. Keep things in perspective

One of the reasons political discourse is often so toxic is because we regularly overestimate the stakes. Every election is important, but most people are rightly exhausted by the quadrennial proclamations about the “most important election of our lifetimes.” More than that though, our political engagement needs to reflect the confidence we have in Jesus. There is nothing wrong with Christians supporting a candidate or party. There is nothing wrong with having a preferred outcome for November’s election or working toward that end. But for Christians there is something greater at stake than the outcome on Election Day, and that’s our public witness. 

As believers, in everything we do we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). And as we engage in the political process, we want everything we do to reflect Jesus. That means, for example, we refuse to engage in fear-mongering and mockery. And it also means we refuse to compromise on our convictions for the sake of political expediency. A lot of things shape a person’s view of politics. But every Christian should look to the Scriptures and listen to their conscience to guide them at every step. Whatever November’s elections might mean, there is no outcome that can change the fact that Jesus is still on his throne (Heb. 12:2). Our political engagement should reflect our confidence in his sovereign rule over the universe.

2. Recognize people’s dignity

The United States is a large and diverse country. Our nation is filled with millions of people with different backgrounds and experiences and political views. You don’t have to believe that all political views are equally valid in order to show respect to the people who hold them. In fact, persuasion is one of the best things about the political process; people take their ideas into the public square and attempt to convince others to adopt their view or support their candidate. But as the Cato survey revealed, so often political discourse devolves from attempts to persuade into opportunities to mock, insult, and ridicule.

Whatever November’s elections might mean, there is no outcome that can change the fact that Jesus is still on his throne (Heb. 12:2). Our political engagement should reflect our confidence in his sovereign rule over the universe.

Christians should always resist this temptation. As followers of Jesus, we recognize that every person is made in the image God (Gen. 1:27). And because they bear God’s image, every person is worthy of dignity and respect. So it’s always important for Christians to remember that if it has flesh and blood, it’s not our enemy (Eph. 6:12). Yes, we may have ideological opponents. There will be those we have the strongest of disagreements with. But our fellow citizens are not our enemies. And even in the midst of a heated campaign cycle, we must treat other people with the kind of love and respect that points them toward Jesus. 

3. Have some humility

Sometimes it is tempting to believe that if other people would just read their Bibles or use their brains they would see political issues the same way we do. But the truth is, politics is an incredibly complex enterprise, and arriving at particular political solutions is rarely such a linear process. Still, there are some political questions that Christians should not debate. Abortion is probably the most obvious example in our own day. It should be uncontroversial to say that Christians should oppose abortion. The Bible not only teaches us that all life is sacred, but also clearly teaches that life begins in the womb (Ps. 139:13-16). But even with an issue like abortion, where we can draw a straight line from the teaching of Scripture to the position that Christians should hold, there are still more questions to answer. Some Christians feel strongly that they cannot support any kind of incremental effort to eliminate abortion. These Christians feel abortion is so heinous that they are unable to support anything less than a total ban on the procedure. Other Christians, however, will support almost any measure that would reduce the number of children dying from abortions. Which of these is the better or more biblical approach is obviously more complicated.

Beyond this question, the reality is that with most political questions it is much more difficult to draw such a straight line. On many issues, Christians may give serious thought, searching the Scriptures for insight, and still come to different conclusions about the best policy solution or path forward. This is no sign that our Bibles are deficient. Nor is our lack of agreement necessarily sinful or based on a faulty reasoning. The truth is politics is often more complicated than whether something is right or wrong. And more things influence our opinions than we sometimes believe. One of the best things that believers can do is recognize their own fallibility. When other Christians hold political views you disagree with, have enough humility to believe that they might have good reasons for doing so.

4. Be passionate, not belligerent

None of this is meant to strip away anyone’s zeal. Our nation is best served when its citizens are passionate about the political process, especially by passionate followers of Christ. Moreover, the issues at stake in this and every election are important and sometimes critically so. The leaders we elect and the policies they implement will have a meaningful effect upon real people’s lives. So in a sense, caring about politics is caring about people. But all of us know that politics can be a nasty business. Sadly, people are usually more motivated by anger or fear than an optimistic vision of the future. This is why we see so many more ads attacking politicians than ads extolling their virtues. 

Even so, before we are citizens of the United States, Christians are citizens of another kingdom that is not of this world (Phil. 3:20). If we are trusting in Jesus and our ultimate allegiance belongs to him, we are called to serve and honor him in everything that we do. And this includes the way we engage politically. There is nothing wrong with passion, but passion is no excuse for subterfuge or malevolence. Sinful behavior is just as wicked when the goal is to win an election. Jesus didn’t browbeat anyone into heaven. And lambasting one’s ideological opponents is no way for Christians to conduct themselves either. Whether you are campaigning door to door, speaking at a political event, or posting on Facebook, remember that you are representing Jesus. Be passionate, but not belligerent. Let your words and actions honor him. 

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. 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