Compelling Reasons to Retain Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions (Part 1)

June 7, 2016

The tax-exempt status of religious institutions remains a topic of discussion in American public life.[1] From time to time, public debate regarding this issue flares up, and this appears to be one of those times. Within the last year, several prominent news outlets have published articles and opinion pieces debating the wisdom of tax exemptions. (See, e.g, the September 2015 debate sponsored by The Washington Post, and Mark Oppenheimer’s Now’s the Time to End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions)

The current flare up was fanned into flame by the oral argument heard in Obergefell v. Hodges. (See Michael J. DeBoer, Justice Scalia and Clergy Solemnization of Same-Sex Marriages) During the argument, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. asked the Solicitor General of the United States, Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., whether the tax-exempt status of religious colleges and universities that oppose same-sex marriage could be in doubt if the Court were to recognize same-sex marriage as a fundamental right. More specifically, Justice Alito observed that the Court in Bob Jones University v. United States[2] had held that “a college was not entitled to tax-exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating,” and he asked if “the same would apply” to religious colleges and universities if they oppose same-sex marriage.[3] The Solicitor General responded: “I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. . . . I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is . . . going to be an issue.”[4]

Two months later, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision recognized a new constitutional right—the right of same-sex couples to marry.[5] The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires states to license marriages between two people of the same sex and recognize such marriages when they are lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state.

As a result of the Court’s Obergefell ruling, states and the federal government are changing their laws, and some of these changes will directly affect people of faith and religious institutions. Nevertheless, the opinion of the Court in Obergefell, which was written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, offered virtually nothing to address the tax-exemption concern Justice Alito raised. The following paragraph is all that the Kennedy opinion offered on the issue and the other religious liberty concerns:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. . . .[6]

One month after the Obergefell ruling, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen indicated to a Senate subcommittee that, in the remaining two and a half years of his term, the IRS would not take action to remove the tax-exempt status of religious colleges and universities based on their beliefs on same-sex marriage.[7]

For people of faith in America, the tax-exempt status of religious organizations is not “going to be an issue,” as Solicitor General Verrilli surmised. For them, the tax-exemption issue has been a longstanding concern, and it will remain so. Their concern regarding tax exemptions, however, extends well beyond the financial implications. For them, tax exemption is about organizational autonomy and freedom from governmental control. It is about their fidelity to fundamental beliefs, core values, and faith-inspired missions. It is about government seizing the power to define what qualifies as right belief and the threat of government rewarding compliance and punishing noncompliance with government-defined orthodoxy.

Those religious institutions that have publicly expressed a commitment to the biblical definition of marriage and the traditional Christian understanding of sexuality and marriage feel the pressure of the tax-exemption debate acutely. But again, for these organizations, the concern extends beyond the potential impact on their properties and their bottom lines. For them, the concern is existential in a deeper sense—losing tax-exempt status would mean losing their freedom from governmental control over beliefs and values and governmental intrusion into questions of organizational identity and mission. As to this concern, Justice Kennedy’s remark and Commissioner Koskinen’s representation have done little to allay fears.

As Christians engage publicly on the tax-exemption issue, several fundamental points regarding taxation and several well-established justifications for tax exemptions should be kept in mind.[8] The following points and justifications for tax exemptions are not ranked in order of strength. Rather, they are organized so as to take up historical, social, and policy grounds first (in Part 1 of this essay) and then constitutional grounds and other points second (in Part 2).

Religious and Other Nonprofit Organizations Have Been an Enduring Feature of American Society, and Americans Form Them to Pursue a Variety of Shared Purposes.

Religious organizations, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit associations have been constructive features of American society since the colonial period. In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville, an early observer of America, provided the following reflection on the place of nonprofit organizations and voluntary associations in American society:

Americans . . . constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies . . . , but associations of a thousand other kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.[9]

Americans continue to associate together and form organizations to accomplish cultural, economic, educational, political, religious, scientific, social, and other purposes.[10] Exempting these organizations from taxation has helped to ensure that this feature of American society (the voluntary, nonprofit sector) remains vigorous and endures for future generations.

Religious and Other Nonprofit Organizations Contribute Many Benefits to Society.

Religious and other nonprofit organizations confer a wide range of public benefits and often meet needs that government might otherwise seek to meet.[11] These benefits include cultural, educational, philanthropic, and other contributions.[12] In the tax-exemption debate, attention should be given to the public benefits these organizations contribute because tax exemptions originated in political and social philosophy and charitable trust doctrine, not economic theory (where much focus is placed today).[13]

In addition to conferring these public benefits, religious and other nonprofit organizations promote freedom, republican ideals, and civic virtue. Nearly two centuries ago, Tocqueville wrote about the constructive role religion and religious organizations in America play in maintaining a free society:

Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must nevertheless be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilities the use of free institutions. . . . [Americans] hold [religion] to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party; but it belongs to the whole nation, and to every rank of society.[14]

So understood, governments give tax exemptions as a quid pro quo—they exchange tax exemptions for the benefits these institutions confer. As one federal court has explained, “the public is willing to relieve an organization from the burden of taxation in exchange for the public benefit it provides.”[15]

Several United States Supreme Court decisions reflect this understanding. In 1924, the Court acknowledged that the income-tax exemption is designed to assist organizations based upon the public benefits they confer.[16] The Court stated that “the exemption is made in recognition of the benefit which the public derives from corporate activities of [corporations organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, or educational purposes], and is intended to aid them when not conducted for private gain.”[17] In 1970, the Court observed that tax exemptions draw upon “an affirmative policy that considers [religious and nonprofit organizations] as beneficial and stabilizing influences in community life” and that states had found the exempt classification “useful, desirable, and in the public interest.”[18] In 1983, the Court similarly recognized that “[c]haritable exemptions are justified on the basis that the exempt entity confers a public benefit—a benefit which the society may not itself choose or be able to provide, or which supplements and advances the work of public institutions already supported by tax revenues.”[19] In 1990, the Court added that “exemption from federal income tax is intended to encourage the provision of services that are deemed socially beneficial.”[20]

Consequently, when governments exempt from taxes nonprofit organizations that confer public benefits, they advance social goals by easing the burden on organizations that are contributing to the good of society.[21] Conversely, removing tax exemptions and imposing taxes on currently exempt organizations would have the deleterious effects of hampering the ability of these organizations to provide benefits and depriving beneficiaries of services.

Religious and Other Nonprofit Organizations Ensure Institutional Pluralism in Society.

Nonprofit organizations, including tax-exempt organizations,[22] collectively constitute the voluntary nonprofit sector of American society, which is distinct from the government sector and the for-profit sector.[23] As one commentator has explained, the nonprofit sector provides balance in civil society, and it “is seen as being essential to the maintenance of freedom for individuals and a bulwark against the excesses” of the government and for-profit sectors.[24] Religious and other nonprofit organizations thus promote diversity among institutions in society, and tax exemptions promote institutional pluralism.[25]

In 1983, Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. embraced this institutional pluralism rationale and added a point about viewpoint diversity:

[Tax exemptions play an important role] in encouraging diverse, indeed often sharply conflicting, activities and viewpoints. As Justice [William J. Brennan, Jr.] has observed, private, nonprofit groups receive tax exemptions because “each group contributes to the diversity of association, viewpoint and enterprise essential to a vigorous, pluralistic society.” Far from representing an effort to reinforce any perceived “common community conscience,” the provision of tax exemption to nonprofit groups is one indispensable means of limiting the influence of governmental orthodoxy on important areas of community life.[26]

Institutional pluralism thus serves to limit government influence over beliefs, values, and activities in society. Additionally, Christian organizations, by recognizing divine authority and citizenship in another kingdom, offer a vision of sovereignty that challenges the authority claims of human government.

Tax Exemptions Immunize Religious and Other Nonprofit Organizations from Tax Liabilities, Thereby Safeguarding Organizational Viability and Ensuring a Robust Voluntary/Nonprofit Sector.

State and federal tax laws impose income, property, sales and use, and employment-related taxes on individuals and organizations, exposing them to various liabilities, including tax payments, fees, interest, and civil and criminal penalties. Consequently, tax exemptions immunize qualified organizations and purposes from tax liabilities.

By granting exemptions and immunizing organizations from tax liabilities, government helps to ensure that these organizations have the financial ability to operate, confer benefits, meet social needs, and improve society and that the nonprofit sector and society flourish.[27] In 1970, the Supreme Court recognized the constraining effect that tax liabilities have on nonprofit organizations. It observed that state property tax exemption laws are predicated on a public policy determination that those institutions that “exist in a harmonious relationship to the community at large” and “foster its moral or mental improvement” “should not be inhibited in their activities by property taxation or the hazard of loss of those properties for nonpayment of taxes.”[28]

The money that nonprofit organizations do not have to pay in taxes can be reinvested in the organizations and used to serve beneficiaries. Additionally, any surpluses (net earnings) may be used to operate and improve facilities, retire debt, and expand or improve services.

The historical, social, and policy reasons that have been discussed in Part 1 of this essay provide sound justifications for retaining tax exemptions for religious organizations. But constitutional reasons also exist, and these will be discussed in Part 2, along with several additional points regarding taxes and tax exemptions.

Note: This essay is adapted from his article “Religious Hospitals and the Federal Community Benefit Standard—Counting Religious Purpose as a Tax-Exemption Factor for Hospitals,” which was published in the Seton Hall Law Review in 2012.

[1] In this essay, the author will use the terms “religious institutions” and “religious organizations” interchangeably. These two terms are broad and encompass an array of religious institutions, including churches, synagogues, and mosques; religious educational organizations; religious social welfare organizations; and religious institutional health care providers. The term “church” is narrower than “religious institution” and “religious organization,” and the law applicable to churches provides some different rules than those that apply to religious organizations. This essay does not discuss the definitions or tests for determining what constitutes religion, whether an activity is religious, whether an organization is religious, or whether an entity is a church. Rather, this essay assumes that all organizations discussed herein are bona fide religious organizations.

[2] Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574 (1983).

[3] Transcript at page 38. For the official transcript of oral argument, see http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcript.aspx. The transcript citations herein reference pages of the Question 1 transcript.

[4] Transcript at 38.

[5] Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584 (2015).

[6] Id. at 2607.

[7] Sarah Pulliam Bailey, IRS Commissioner Promises Not to Revoke Tax-exempt Status of Colleges That Oppose Gay Marriage (Aug. 3, 2015), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/08/03/irs-commissioner-promises-not-to-revoke-tax-exempt-status-of-colleges-that-oppose-gay-marriage/.

[8] For thoughtful discussions of the various rationales for tax exemptions, see Nicholas P. Cafardi & Jaclyn Fabean Cherry, Understanding Nonprofit and Tax Exempt Organizations 51-60 (2006); Bruce R. Hopkins, The Law of Tax-Exempt Organizations 9-21 (11th ed. 2016).

[9] 2 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 106 (Phillips Bradley ed., Henry Reeve trans., Alfred A. Knopf 1945) (1835).

[10] From the colonial period onward, English legal sources have shaped the perspective of Americans regarding religious, charitable, and other exempt organizations and charitable purposes. One prominent English legal source, the Statute of Charitable Uses of 1601, recognized an array of charitable purposes that were deemed to benefit society in general and the poor in particular, including organizations to relieve the poor, maintain the sick, operate schools, repair bridges, ports, churches, and highways, educate orphans, maintain houses of correction, aid young people in trades and crafts, and redeem prisoners. See 43 Elizabeth I, c. 4 (1601) (Eng.).

[11] See Barrett Duke, Tax Exemption, Churches, and the Communities They Serve (Apr. 13, 2016), https://erlc.com/article/tax-exemption-churches-and-the-communities-they-serve; Marshall Griffin, Southern Baptists Serving Their Neighbors: Service Initiatives of Southern Baptist Churches, https://erlc.com/documents/pdf/ERL6020_ServiceInitiatives_p1_041316.pdf; Andrew Lewis, Some Positive Benefits Churches Bring to Communities (Mar. 13, 2008), https://erlc.com/article/some-positive-benefits-churches-bring-to-communities; David O’Reilly, A Study Asks: What’s a Church’s Economic Worth? (Feb. 1, 2011), http://articles.philly.com/2011-02-01/news/27092987_1_partners-for-sacred-places-congregations-churches. For information regarding charitable giving in the United States in 2014 and the categories of religious and charitable organizations receiving these gifts, see Giving USA, Americans Donated an Estimated $358.38 Billion to Charity in 2014; Highest Total in Report’s 60-year History (June 29, 2015), http://givingusa.org/giving-usa-2015-press-release-giving-usa-americans-donated-an-estimated-358-38-billion-to-charity-in-2014-highest-total-in-reports-60-year-history/.

[12] One federal court has explained that one reason for such exemptions is that the organization “performs a public service and benefits the public or relieves it of a burden which otherwise belongs to it.” St. Louis Union Trust Co. v. United States, 374 F.2d 427, 432 (8th Cir. 1967). Additionally, a report of the House Committee on Ways and Means observed:

The exemption from taxation of money and property devoted to charitable and other purposes is based upon the theory that the government is compensated for the loss of revenue by its relief from financial burden which would otherwise have to be met by appropriations from public funds, and by the benefits resulting from the promotion of the general welfare.

H.R. Rep. No. 75-1860, at 19 (1939).

[13] Bob Jones Univ., 461 U.S. at 587-92; McGlotten v. Connally, 338 F. Supp. 448, 456 (D.D.C. 1972); Robert E. Atkinson, Jr., Theories of the Special Tax Treatment of Nonprofit Organizations, in Federal and State Taxation of Exempt Organizations ch. 15 (Barbara L. Kirschten & Frances R. Hill eds., 1994); Hopkins, supra, at 9 (stating that the law of tax exemptions for nonprofit organizations “has little to do with any underlying tax policy. Rather, this aspect of the tax law is grounded in a body of thought rather distant from tax policy: political philosophy as to the proper construct of a democratic society”).

[14] Tocqueville, supra, at 305-06.

[15] IHC Health Plans, Inc. v. Comm’r of Internal Revenue, 325 F.3d 1188, 1195 (10th Cir. 2003).

[16] Trinidad v. Sagrada Orden de Predicadores de la Provincia del Santisimo Rosario de Filipinas, 263 U.S. 578, 581 (1924).

[17] Id.

[18] Walz v. Tax Comm’n of City of New York, 397 U.S. 664, 673 (1970).

[19] Bob Jones Univ., 461 U.S. at 591.

[20] Portland Golf Club v. Comm’r, 497 U.S. 154, 161 (1990).

[21] Hopkins, supra, at 11-17.

[22] The terms “tax-exempt organization” and “nonprofit organization” are not synonymous. Tax-exempt organizations are a subset of nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit status is a matter of state organizational and trust law. Tax-exempt status is a matter of state and federal tax law. To be exempt from tax, an organization must be a nonprofit organization and meet the legal requirements for qualifying for exemption from a state or federal tax, such as state or federal income, sales/use tax, or property tax. Consequently, a tax-exempt organization must be nonprofit, but a nonprofit organization is not necessarily tax exempt.

[23] Hopkins, supra, at 5-6.

[24] Id. at 5. See also Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n, 132 S.Ct. 694, 712 (2012) (“Throughout our Nation’s history, religious bodies have been the preeminent example of private associations that have ‘act[ed] as critical buffers between the individual and the power of the State.’”) (quoting Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 486 U.S. 609, 619 (1984)). In 1973, the Treasury Secretary testified that tax-exempt organizations “are an important influence for diversity and a bulwark against over-reliance on big government.” Dep’t of the Treasury, GPO Bookstore Stock No. 4800-00210 Proposals for Tax Change (1973).

[25] Hopkins, supra, at 11-12, 15-16.

[26] Bob Jones Univ., 461 U.S. at 609 (Powell, J., concurring) (quoting Walz, 397 U.S. at 689 (Brennan, J., concurring)).

[27] One legal commentator has observed:

[In providing for exemptions and charitable deductions,] Congress is not merely “giving” eligible nonprofit organizations “benefits”; the exemption from income taxation (or charitable deduction) is not a “loophole,” a “preference,” or a “subsidy”—it is not really an “indirect appropriation.” Rather, the various provisions of the federal and state tax exempt system exist as a reflection of the affirmative policy of American government to refrain from inhibiting by taxation the beneficial activities of qualified tax-exempt organizations acting in community and other public interests.

Hopkins, supra, at 16.

[28] Walz, 397 U.S. at 672 (internal quotation marks omitted).

Michael J. DeBoer
Michael J. DeBoer is an Associate Professor of Law at Faulkner University, Thomas Goode Jones School of Law. He holds degrees from Indiana University, Valparaiso University, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Liberty University.

Michael J. DeBoer

Michael J. DeBoer is an Associate Professor of Law at Faulkner University, Thomas Goode Jones School of Law. He holds degrees from Liberty University, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Valparaiso University, and Indiana University. 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