5 ways to guide your people through cultural conflict

September 23, 2014

When your members walk through the church doors this Sunday, they will arrive after a week spent living in a changing American culture. Their thoughts are not only being shaped through a variety of media—talk radio, social media and television—but also through water-cooler conversations at work and dinner-table discussions.

Christians living in a fallen world are confronted by a variety of choices. How should we think through the moral and political issues? More importantly, how can God’s people, out of desire for the flourishing of their neighbors and the advance of God’s Kingdom, winsomely shape the discussions going on in their spheres of influence?

It’s not only the pastors who are tasked with driving the discussions at church; it’s the church leaders, who interact often with the average layperson. They carry a sober responsibility to steward their office well, to bring to bear the gospel on the questions brothers and sisters in the Lord are facing each day.

1. Be informed by the Word

When it comes to cultural engagement, perhaps the biggest temptation Christians face is being influenced primarily by voices who may not share the Christian worldview. Regardless of political affiliation, we imbibe the latest content from our favorite cables news channels, ideological websites or Twitter pundits. If we are not careful, we allow a political party or movement to form our belief system.

But Christians should be people of the Book. And church leaders should model this more than anyone in the church. In Acts 6, Luke tells us that the deacons chosen to serve the people were devoted to “the ministry of prayer and the word” (Acts 6:4).

God’s people have a different grid through which we view the hot-button issues of the day. What does Scripture have to say, not only about our positioning, but about the way in which we should engage? This doesn’t mean every Sunday in the lobby has to turn into an ethics lesson, but that those called to lead the church are known for their prayerful, thoughtful, gospel-saturated viewpoints.

2. Be led by the Spirit

The men chose to lead the church at Antioch were not simply men of the Word, but they were men led by the Spirit of God. And there are few places where the Spirit’s work is more evident or more important than in discussions about divisive cultural issues. It is possible to be correct theologically and yet sin with our tone and with our speech.

Paul reminds us in Galatians that peace and joy are fruits of the Spirit. Church leaders must not only model Christ-like speech but must be sensitive and mindful of the right timing for discussions about culture within the church. There are times when it is better to simply listen to another Christian’s viewpoints without interjecting. There are other times where arguments are best left unengaged for the sake of unity in the body of Christ. The church lobby is not the place for warring political factions to wage their turf battles. Christian leaders should reflect humility and grace, serving as peacemakers and not agitators.  

3. Recast the story

The real cultural battles are not between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, elites versus the tea party. These are ancillary skirmishes in a longer conflict that traces its beginning to a Garden and a snake. The crimson-colored narrative that runs through the Bible helps us see our world in a fresh new way. The injustice and evil we see around us is the product of the Fall, but in Christ we have a new King and a new Kingdom. The gospel isn’t just something we tack on to the end of our messages, it’s the radical new paradigm that brings hope the world.

The gospel teaches us to look at the evil in the world and know that the demand for justice comes from an inborn desire to see the world made right again. It points not to temporary political messiahs, but to the resurrected Christ who is now Lord and King. It teaches us to view our political adversaries, not as enemies to be vanquished, but as people made in the image of God. The gospel breaks our heart as it broke the heart of Jesus, leading us to engage through tears, living out the mission of God in the world.

4. Mind the mission of the Church

Many are asking today, “What is the mission of the church?” Is it to preach the gospel and see the lost converted and discipled into followers of Jesus? Or is it to be the hands and feet of Jesus in shaping the contemporary culture? But faithful Christians don’t have to accept this false dichotomy, because the gospel is not only the story of personal regeneration through Christ’s atoning work, but the story of God’s renewal of his creation through Christ’s defeat of sin and death.

Therefore, Christians are not just saved from hell, but saved to good works (Eph. 2:10), which is why we are not transported in a chariot of fire to heaven the moment we are converted. Jesus placed us as otherworldly citizens in this world. The church models in miniature what the Kingdom will look like when it is fully consummated.

So the church’s mission involves both the conversion and discipleship of lost sinners and the flourishing of local communities, the care for every creature made in the image of God. This mission helps keep church leaders centered on the mission, from becoming single-issue outposts or auxiliaries of political parties of movements. By solid teaching, preaching and gospel-informed discussions, church leaders set the tone, helping their people see past the one election, one ballot initiative, and one issue. Instead, we equip God’s people to engage for the long haul, a faithful presence on all cultural issues informed by the gospel.

5. Equip for engagement

Lastly, church leaders are tasked by God to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12-16). Unfortunately, we’ve come to believe this simply means the work it takes to make a church run. And undoubtedly this is one aspect. Local churches have a need for continual training in ecclesial functions. But this goes much deeper than Sunday School teacher training or usher meetings.

The work of the ministry, for a follower of Jesus, is the holistic implications of the gospel in all areas of life. When we equip saints, we equip them to be influencers for Christ in the world in which God has called them. How they live as fathers. How they perform in the workplace, and for purposes of this discussion, how they engage the cultural questions of their day.

To equip saints for cultural engagement is more than simply mobilizing the church for activism but helping the church think through every cultural issue with a gospel lens. It’s equipping them on how to navigate the tension of courage and civility and how to speak and think with a kindness and grace that shapes civil discourse.

Bottom Line: Church leaders have a unique position of influence in which to shape the people God has called them to serve.

This article was originally published in Deacon Magazine.

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