Deescalating the War on Women

September 12, 2014

Dear Pastor,

Perhaps you’ve read my recent post, titled “Turning the ‘War on Women’ to the ‘War for Women.’” In it I suggested that the “war on women” is a real thing—not the bigoted, misogynistic attack on female sexuality that secular (and some evangelical) progressives suggest, but a complex gender-charged disagreement about female (and fundamentally human) thriving and dignity.

Since you’re reading Canon and Culture, there’s a good chance you are and evangelical—committed to the inerrancy, veracity, and applicability of Scripture and trying to apply the good news into the grooves of life. You may, because of your theological or political commitments, have been labeled a bigot and a hater, or even physically threatened. I know I have. It is, I acknowledge, an uncomfortable position to be.

But, I’d like to charitably assume that you’re not a hater—that you may even be interested in deescalating this “war on women” chaos. Please listen as I suggest four ways that you can help.

Choose your words and ministry methods wisely.

Take a page from our Savior. Jesus Christ chose harsh words and strong action against spiritual leadership of his day. His anger disturbed the money-making status quo—the good ol’ boys who had turned a place of worship into a predatory market place. He also chose to caustically address the religious establishment as a “brood of snakes.” As a child, I’d always thought that the Pharisees would have had impossibly sardonic, smug, dour faces—that you could totally tell that these were the “bad guys” and they had rebuke coming. But whatever their faces actually looked like, these men were actually known and esteemed within the community as the righteous, the leaders. In contrast to Christ’s aggressive style with the (presumably male) religious leaders, he sat down and had a real conversations with and ministry to women. In the case of the woman at the well, he knewthe ugly brokenness of her past, the quality of her sexual rebellion against God’s norms. She had a shameful social standing and Christ risked his reputation as a teacher by starting a conversation with her.

This same Savior—when the religious leaders of the day foisted another adulterous woman upon him—had brief and gracious words for her (where, pray-tell, was the man she was caught with?). The Savior certainly did not accept or encourage her sin but released her to—“Go and sin no more.” He did, however, charge the church leaders to examine their own hearts—and only proceed to enact the Levitical judgment if, upon authentic review of their own hearts, they could say that they were without sin.

How well do you represent this Savior in your sermons, your counseling conversations, or especially your closed-door meetings with other members of your staff? Do your books, blog posts, and even your Tweets represent the Savior’s ethos as well as his logos? Do the Christian leaders that you promote or associate with similarly value the Savior’s grace and humility as well as his standards for holiness? Do you couch any loud and forceful calls to repentance in the larger context of the good news?

Civility is not effeminate. It is more than a pet peeve—a squishy niceness that is lauded by female (or effeminate), squeamish millennial hipsters who majored in English and likes a pretty turn of phrase. Civility is a respect for the person with whom you plead and debate. Civility is part and parcel of the Christian shepherd’s calling. The Word himself became flesh and dwelt among us—and when he dwelt among us, he used words wisely.

How, then, shall we speak? Or, to put a sharper point on it, what do we do with Pastor Mark Driscoll’s outbursts? Frankly, I don’t know. Pastor Driscoll’s name-calling tirades—and fresh revelations of caustic, anonymous blogging (though over 15 years old)—have certainly damaged my own ability to trust him as a pastoral voice, let alone as a man of integrity and Christian grace. Our Savior overturned the moneychangers’ tables, but he didn’t drop verbal carpet bombs throughout the temple, Jerusalem, Palestine and Samaria. Neither Samaritan woman’s water pot nor Mary Magdalene’s ointment jar were collateral damage.

Perhaps Pastor Driscoll is truly humbled, repenting and growing. I do not know his heart and am not near enough to him or his ministry to make that assessment. The mercy of the gospel is certainly strong enough to cover his verbal sins and I pray that his ministry becomes more thoroughly gracious and Christ-like. I do, however, suggest that conservative evangelicals accept or ignore caustic, misogynistic, uncivil, and unrepentant speech at their risk. Furthermore, and much more seriously, God’s glory and important truths about human sexuality and complementarity get discredited when they are so misrepresented.

Develop and articulate a theology of the body, of sexuality, and singleness that is robust enough to meet the stories of actual women in your church.

A second way evangelical pastors can help deescalate the “war on women” is by developing and articulating a theology of the body, of sexuality, and of singleness that is robust enough to meet the stories of actual women in your church. The progressive complaint about the Christian right’s “obsession with sex” seems unwarranted. In my estimation, conservative evangelicals must certainly continue to talk about human sexuality—partly because God made us embodied, sexual beings and partly because we, and our secular neighbors, constantly elevate sexual pleasure and fulfillment above most other earthly goods.

In this area, we would be wise to partner with and learn from our Catholic friends and their consistent, formal articulation of the worth and purpose of sexuality, the dignity of the human person, and value of learning from our bodies. But neither the evangelical academy nor ecclesiological leaders are likely to produce an evangelical Humanae Vitaeor Donum Vitae. In the absence of such church doctrine, we can’t afford not to listen to the thoughtful contributions of evangelical writers who publically wrestle with and apply biblical principles to questions about infertility, body image, virginity, and unwanted singleness.

While this may seem like a frenetic compilation of toxic “women’s issues” the full council of God remains relevant to our modern American context and to the concerns faced by the female half of the population. Are you prepared to offer sermon illustrations that shine truth and grace on these sticky modern issues? Are you willing to lean on godly, female advisors who have studied these concerns, and lived through their implications, in the light of scripture? For a more thorough review of the bioethical issues facing women, I recommend the Her Dignity project, spearheaded by the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.

Remember the woman herself: decry and actively oppose real actual abuse and offer restorative solutions.

Even the most profound, biblical, and eloquent theological expressions fall flat if we forget the human element, and have not love for the wounded women near us. We must, therefore, decry and act against the actual, real, happening-now abuse of women by churchgoers and even by pastors. To be faithful, you as a Christian leader can’t afford not to eliminate practical theological barriers like pornography use, infidelity, and sexual abuse in your own life and that of your own church. It is a most basic set of first steps but if you refuse to take them, your most well articulated theology (of the body, or otherwise) remains a charade. If you remain unconvinced of the widespread use of pornography among pastors, or its damages to performer, consumer, and family members alike, I recommend an honest and humble review of Covenant Eyes’, “The Pornography Statistics Pack.”

An authentic concern for abused women, or abused individuals more generally, demands an active, often vocal opposition to the abuser—especially when the abuser has assumed spiritual, Christian leadership over the abused. I find myself puzzled and grieved by the relative silence from conservative, Christian pastors and institutions when one of their own, or a friend of a friend has fallen into shameful, abusive sexual sin (whether the abused are children, women, or men).

Dear brothers, you may have wrestled and prayed behind closed doors about how to discuss or handle these scandals. You care about the public witness of the gospel, as you should. But consider this: every publically known abuse scandal that goes unanswered has the potential to empower another abuser. Every lustful manipulation of a woman, by a man who has assumed unbalanced, unbiblical, patriarchal control of her life, lies about authority and the nature of God himself. If even a fraction of the allegations lodged against Vision Forum’s Doug Philips are even accurate, I regrettably place him in this category.

The world is watching, but so is the church. So are your daughters. Do you, as a Christian man, believe that your daughters were given to you to control (an error, I believe, the Stay-at-Home Daughters movement may have embraced)? Or are they lent to you, so you can cherish and encourage them towards competent, gracious adulthood? There certainly remains a degree of Christian liberty in living out the implications of gender differences in family life. But the Spirit is nothing but grieved when purported Christ-followers use biblical truth as a cloak for manipulation and abuse. For pastors who remain skeptical about the prevalence or seriousness of sexual abuse, I suggest the profoundly well-informed, biblically orthodox research presented by counselor, psychologist, and Westminster Theological Seminary Professor, Dr. Diane Langberg PhD.

Look for ways to engage and foster female ministry partnerships.

Where do we go from here? I hope you’ll agree that we have simply begun a conversation. Perhaps it looks more like a can of worms, opened by some restless (and Reformed) chick. I pray that it doesn’t. I am grateful for the men who have invited me to write this piece. I am grateful for the (male) leaders in my church who have invited to join counseling sessions as an advocate for another vulnerable woman. I am grateful for the (male) pastors who have asked me for my opinions about life and ministry in an (male) elder-led church context. I am grateful for a (definitely, male) dad who taught me how to think and write and take care of myself. In short, I am thankful for many men, men who take their biblical leadership roles seriously, and find such leadership consistent with inviting input from women.

Our good and wise God created Adam and Eve. It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, even in the Garden of Eden. We’ve made quite a mess of the world since then, but I suspect that it’s still not good for Adam to be alone. How will you choose to not be alone?


Your sister

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