Beto O’Rourke’s tax-exemption threat is the logical conclusion of the sexual revolution

October 14, 2019

Contrary to the idea that the government is entirely beholden to “viewpoint neutrality,” one story in particular shows that it is not: Bob Jones University.

The government revoked the University’s tax-exempt status for its odious interracial dating ban. The government did not shut the school down, but it used the tools of public policy to make its existence more financially difficult and turbulent. In effect, it was engineering a preferred moral outcome: Drop the racism or be squeezed out of existence.

Few found this objectionable, and justifiably so: Citizens did not want racist policies to find back-end government acceptance through the form of tax-exemption.

But this should make us consider: If the government is going to go so far as to lend its seal of condemnation on an institution, it ought to possess sound rationale for doing so, combined with an almost unanimous social consensus.

The growing attitude of the sexual revolution

Why bring this up? Because a similar situation of complexity is upon as society figures out what to do with Christians (and other religious conservatives, whether Muslims, Mormons, or Jews) who refuse to forgo traditions and convictions on matters of sexuality and gender that go back, literally, thousands and thousands of years.

Consider how this conflict is playing out. Last week, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke made the brazen suggestion during an “LGBTQ Town Hall” that any institution that fails to go all-in on LGBT rights should be stripped of its tax-exemption status. That’s right—churches, mosques, synagogues, or any other religious institution that dare question the stampede of the sexual revolution deserves to be marginalized by overt government action. It was breathtaking in its suggestion, but it was met with roaring cheers by the audience, which suggests that this attitude is far more prevalent than many on the Left are willing to admit (because of the electoral consequences, of course).

Thankfully, I saw a few religious progressives speak out against O’Rourke’s insipid tyranny. But here’s a question: By the standard of rhetoric that progressives and religious progressive alike use on the topic of LGBT rights and dissenting institutions, it would seem that institutions that hold out on LGBT affirmation deserve to be shut down. How can I say such a thing?

Harmful sexual ethics?

Well, because it is now completely commonplace to hear from just about every corner of liberal society that a failure to affirm an LGBT identity leads to harm. A parade of horribles is trotted out linking Christianity’s teaching on sexuality to LGBT suicide. For example, it’s possible to now buy a “bad theology kills” t-shirt. Accusations of harm are perhaps the most powerful rhetorical tool that progressives use to render religious conservatives silent.

Our society is refusing to have the most important question related to these debates: Whether Christianity does engage in invidious, irrational discrimination or whether Christianity has reasonable, persuasive, and rational explanations for believing what it does about the purpose of sexual design.

I say all of this to get to my major point: The progressive rhetoric surrounding Christian sexual ethics leads to the conclusion that the government should do something to banish it from polite society. One cannot insist that something is “harmful” and sit back and say the government should do nothing to be an impediment to it, or even encourage it by way of tax-exemption. The biggest problem is not with Beto's policy suggestion, but that the rhetoric of progressives necessarily leads to the conclusion that Beto simply dared to honestly acknowledge. It's illogical to say that Christianity is "harmful" and then not want it punished in some form.

But progressives will refuse to take responsible ownership or intellectual honesty for where their rhetoric would take them, because it would appear too extreme to really suggest that, yes, an institution that fails to believe that biological men and women should share locker rooms should face punishment by the government. But that’s where the rhetoric leads, and it’s where massive policy proposals offered by the likes of Elizabeth Warren (who also mocked traditional beliefs at the LGBTQ forum) will bring us as well. She is leaving no stone unturned in bringing the LGBTQ revolution to every sector of American life, carelessly or intentionally plundering constitutional liberties with it. 

I appreciate the intellectual honesty of those progressives who will look you in the eye and tell you that Christianity’s teachings on sexuality are harmful and dangerous. What I cannot accept are criticisms of O’Rourke’s policy by the same people who accuse Christians of holding toxic beliefs that endanger others. Which will it be? Are Christian views really toxic? If so, why protect them? Or, is this really all just an exercise in moral obfuscation? The time for talking out of both sides of one’s mouth is over. 

Our society is refusing to have the most important question related to these debates: Whether Christianity does engage in invidious, irrational discrimination or whether Christianity has reasonable, persuasive, and rational explanations for believing what it does about the purpose of sexual design. 

As I’ve written elsewhere, our society needs a joint exercise in sustained reason about sexual ethics in order to determine what it should promote or discourage.

It also ought to lead us to an even more scandalous question that society is completely incapable of having at this point, but honesty would require: Is there something morally problematic or morally questionable about identifying as LGBT? Or, in a free society, can there be compromises of goodwill that allow deeply divergent viewpoints to co-exist?

These are the questions we need answers to in order to find reasonable accommodations and compromise for all sides in a culture war. Sadly, the pitched state of American politics won’t allow this to happen.

The answer in all of this is, of course, that Christian sexual ethics are not remotely “harmful” or “dangerous.” They may be misunderstood, but something of divine origin meant for our good can only be designed for our flourishing.

Andrew T. Walker

Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. 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