4 ways to think through which social media hills to die on

March 20, 2017

We are a society of advocates.

Scroll anyone’s Facebook page, and you are likely to find passionate posts about a variety of causes. We wear pink bracelets, pin on yellow ribbons and hammer out (or comment on) passionate blog posts. As Christians, we feel a pull to stand with conviction, but with genuine believers on both sides of nearly every issue, it can be tough to know where the battle lines should be drawn.

With so many ways to express ourselves—and so many of us jockeying for position—I want to blow the whistle and call for a time out. Our mommas’ advice to think before we speak still stands. Join me in pressing pause on social media for a moment to make space to re-think. Let’s lay aside our pet causes, walk away from hashtag activism for a spell and think through what really matters (in this world where everything seems to).

Social media is here to stay, and it will forever change the way we gather information and interact with the people in our world—for better and worse. Let’s look past the screen and consider how our rules of engagement are impacting others.

Sweet or salty?

During Jesus’ most famous sermon, he gave this well-known description of his followers.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matt. 5:13).

Salt sits next to the ketchup as a condiment on our tables, but if we had been sitting on the hill when Jesus preached these words, images of french fries would not have come to mind.

Throughout scripture, we see salt used as a preservative (Exod. 30:35; Lev. 2:13). Is Jesus calling Christians a preservative here? Is our witness the thing that keeps the culture from decaying? Our witness to the truth does have a preservative effect, but the Bible promises that things are going to get worse (2 Tim. 3). The cultural tide will never truly turn before Jesus returns.

The Bible also describes salt as medicine (Ez.16:4). Are we supposed to act like medicine, then? In some ways. We are called to give comfort to the afflicted (2 Cor. 1:6), but God is the Great Physician. Healing is ultimately his job.

Salt has a third use that Jesus’ listeners on the mountain would have known well. It purifies. We see this in 2 Kings 2:18-22 when Elisha’s first task after taking over for Elijah was to clear a stream filled with toxins. The purifying agent he used was salt. Our influence works the same way. As Christ followers, we can purify our homes, neighborhoods and churches by continuously pointing to the gospel with our words and actions.

When Jesus spoke about salt losing its taste, he wasn’t referencing losing our salvation (we can know that from the rest of scripture), but rather, losing our influence. Contaminated salt doesn’t promote purity. Yet, there is more to this metaphor. The throwing out and trampling Jesus mentioned might well have been literal. Impure salt does have a function. While not much good for purifying or healing, it does kill plants. Fruit crops are especially sensitive to it. Impure salt eliminates fruitfulness. Two thousand years after this sermon, that will preach!

Being salty doesn’t mean being spicy or gritty. It should not be our primary goal to act as a cultural irritant. Our influence should have a purifying effect on those around us. Instead, when our methods or motivations are off, we may very well kill kingdom growth.

That sobering image is backed up by another one of Jesus’ gardening metaphors: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit” (Matt. 12:33). What fruit will we be known by?

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37). Jesus’ words here bring us to a fork in the road. How does God’s inspired Word apply to how we talk in a virtual word? Surely, if every word matters, so does every like, share, comment and post. It’s not just noise, or venting, or over sharing. It’s choking out the fruit.

Knowing which hills to die on

So, what makes a mountain and what makes a molehill? When should we be silent, and when should we shout it from the rooftops? Here are four pivot points to help us think it through.

1. The gospel is primary

Jesus’ final words to his followers were shockingly simple: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

Share the gospel. Teach the Word. Make disciples. If we stuck to these three big ideas, how would it change the rhetoric? It would be so convenient if Jesus took a stand on all of the issues of our times. It would be great to be able to quote chapter and verse for my position on every hot topic. But Jesus was not a political candidate running for office interested in building a platform by checking red or blue boxes. If we really read his words without an agenda, we see that he was obsessed with the kingdom, salvation and sin. He talked about little else. Perhaps it’s time to stop war dancing around the issues and start talking about what Jesus talked about. Yes, some of these issues will involve clear lines of sin and need to be talked about, but we have to be ever-so-careful to watch our tone and the content of our conversation.

2. No one belongs under the bus

You know that Christian leader who really blew it? Or the one who just released a book that’s causing a stir? Does the Bible writes us a permission slip to slam them?

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). It’s counter to our current sub-culture for sure, but what might happen if we defended the truth with grace and saw encouraging the body as our job instead of policing the blogosphere?

3. Be winsome

Winsome is a word I’d like to give vocab quizzes on in every Christian home in America. Officially, winsome means “attractive or appealing in appearance or character.” Unofficially, it means to be nice. It’s a word that peaked in the 1900s, but winsome needs to be brought back.

While there is room for humor and wit among the people of God, there is not room for snark, insults, attacks or mudslinging. I am officially the pot calling the kettle black on this one, but I want to raise the bar in my own conversations. Join me?

4. It’s okay to stop clicking

Proverbs 17:28 offers this nugget of truth: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” I like the Mark Twain paraphrase, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Tony Reinke reminds us that Jesus called us to be salt and light, not salt and like. We don’t have to confront everyone we disagree with. We don’t have to give an opinion on everything we read. It may not be good for your metrics, but it will be good for your influence to pray more than you Tweet, ponder more than you post and wait before hitting “send.”

My own heart can’t bear the weight of every issue any longer. I know which hills I am willing to die on, and I will not charge onto the battlefield anywhere else. It’s true that this makes me a less circulated writer and thinker, but it makes me a more sane follower of Christ, and hopefully a saltier one too.

What hills are you willing to die on? Where has God asked you to take a stand, and how can you do so in a way that clearly points others toward him?

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Erin Davis

Erin is a speaker, author and blogger who addresses women of all ages nationwide and is passionately committed to sharing God’s Truth with others. She is the mother of three boys and the author of 13 books which can be found on her website. Erin lives on a small farm in rural Missouri and … 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