Communicating Truth and Love in the Public Square

June 2, 2014

Moral indignation without compassion is little more than petulance and self-righteous smugness.

Mercy and acceptance untempered by a steadfast commitment to unchanging truth constitute moral weakness and can indicate, at times, self-loathing.

Finding the perfect mean between these two demands a measure of spiritual maturity difficult to achieve and even harder to sustain.

We want to be bold for the truth, yet personally gracious and courteous. We want to call sin sin, but don’t want to be harsh or condemnatory. We want to make arguments structured logically and informed factually, but we don’t want to forget that we’re dealing with fallen, finite, needy people to whom reason can seem cruel as they face their private pain.

Wedding grace with truth is always a tough union, but for Christians in the public sphere, such a marriage needs a lot of help to keep it going. The Internet has given volume to myriad Evangelical voices. It has become a place to persuade and to vent, to argue and to harass. Christians who talk professionally—politicians, radio hosts, pastors, counselors, etc.—will be the first to admit that they sometimes err too far on the side of grace and sometimes too far on the side of truth. The wire on which they walk is high, and when they fall from it, there can be calamitous results.

The difficulty in always maintaining a “truth in love” tone is compounded by the crevasses of human nature. Any form of public proclamation involves the taking of a position. This can bring out the peevishness in many of us, especially those harboring a perpetual discontent with almost everything in Evangelicalism (and perhaps their lives at large).

Even if the position is both indisputably biblical and attractive to secular society—fighting human trafficking comes to mind – there are those believers who will criticize the stance taken: It distracts us from sharing the Gospel; it involves too much cooperation with the world; wouldn’t the money be better spent on (name your preferred ministry here)?; it doesn’t get to the root of the problem; and so on, ad nauseum.

There are only a few alternatives for the believing church: (1) Shut up, do acts of private or relatively non-public charity, and tread quietly through an increasingly hostile culture, hoping no one will notice us and, if they do, that they’ll really like us; (2) justify bombast in the name of courage and ranting in the name of defending the faith, giving free rein to obnoxious self-presentation that glories in verbal beatings; and (3) do our best, in the power of the Holy Spirit and with the direction of the Word of God, to wed grace and truth, as our Master did (John 1:14-17), and ask Him to scour away our unavoidable errors of tone and content.

Of course, such errors—sometimes sins—are not wholly eradicable. The history of the church is checkered with episodes of unforgettable vice and even viciousness in the Name of Christ, and we Evangelicals in America have had (and still do have) any number of Christian leaders whose moral failings, verbal excesses, and theological eccentricities have blemished our testimony.

We always will, but this justifies neither of two extremes: apathy about saying or doing wrong or foolish things or near-paranoid preoccupation with saying and doing everything with immaculate expression. Neither alternative has value: inaction animated by fearful caution is as unacceptable as arrogance and aggressiveness masked as prophetic boldness.

The real issue is one of a commitment to maturity, personal and spiritual. A significant part of Christian maturity is the humble recognition of our sin and our ignorance and their manifestations in the public square and a ready willingness to repent of them.

This does not mean we accept immediately every criticism hurled at us (“You’re against same-sex marriage? You’re a homophobic hater!”). It means that we are honest before our God and those to whom we proclaim various aspects of His truth and are quick to seek forgiveness when we’ve blown it.

Christian communicators have a unique duty to proclaim truth faithfully and mercifully. Here are a few suggestions about how better to do so:

(1) We need to study (on an ongoing basis) the Word of God, Christian theology, and church history. Too often, Christian commentators speak out of earnest hearts but relatively uninformed minds. Unschooled in theology and unfamiliar with church history, these good brethren are susceptible to false teaching and bad ecclesial history. “Study to show yourself approved unto God,” Paul told Timothy (II Timothy 2:15). Good intentions and sincere convictions bereft of sound theology and an understanding of the Christian past lead to errors of all kinds.

(2) We need to read commentaries, articles, and books with whose conclusions we disagree. Listening to MSNBC once in a while won’t kill you. You will not die if you read The New Republic or the editorial page of The New York Times. Doing so will challenge some of your pat-answer conclusions and help you view those who disagree with you as real people, many of them highly intelligent and quite sincere (and sometimes, if we’re honest, right in their conclusions). Moreover, you might not enjoy reading Barbara Ehrenreich or even Noam Chomsky, but wouldn’t it be wise to have a least some knowledge of what the other guys are saying? How can you “understand the times” if you never read about the influence of deconstructionism on contemporary education or check out what NARAL is saying about the emergence of a pro-life majority?

(3) We need to guard our hearts. Truly righteous indignation is never personally demeaning or hateful. Truly Christian compassion never minimizes the gravity of sin or false teaching. Truly thoughtful criticism is never petty, and truly sober-minded tolerance is never morally weak. “Let a man examine himself,” says Paul with respect to the Lord’s Supper (I Corinthians 11:28). Not bad counsel for the way we live and move in the public square, either.

(4) Ask Godly friends for counsel about the way you are coming across. Give them the freedom to speak freely. You might be an Evangelical megastar; just remember you’re also fallen, frail, mortal, and prone to pride. Legends in their own minds die like the rest of us. So, take everything but the Bible with at least a small grain of salt; however, if several trustworthy friends approach you about something you said or the way you said it, have enough humility at least to consider whether you need to apologize for it. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” Proverbs tells us. Loving exhortation is as valuable as genuine encouragement.

This advice derives in part from the principles of Scripture and in part from the fact that I too often have failed to apply them as I write and speak to audiences both Christian and secular. They also come from decades of political experience in which I’ve witnessed both the best and the worst of Evangelical Protestant presence in the public arena.

So, love God, hate sin, love sinners, stand for what’s right, have a humble spirit. Easy, right?

Because combining these things is so difficult those who have been born again have been given God’s self-revelation in Scripture and the presence of His indwelling Holy Spirit. Whatever our audiences, whether a three year-old at home or a nationwide following, let’s all lean harder on them.

Rob Schwarzwalder

Rob Schwarzwalder is a senior lecturer at Regent University.  His op-eds have been published in numerous national publications, ranging from TIME and U.S. News and World Report to Christianity Today, The Federalist, and The Public Discourse, as well as scores of newspapers and opinion journals. 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