Gender, Marriage, Hell’s Gates, and Your Church Documents

July 21, 2016

The gates of hell will not prevail against the church, but lawsuits can be awfully expensive, distracting, and even detrimental to the work of a local congregation. A little over one year ago, on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges held that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry. We saw it coming, but there was nothing like waking up to our newly transformed legal reality.

Churches presently enjoy a number of significant protections, but there is reason to believe that churches will be vulnerable to a variety of legal challenges in the years ahead, as anti-discrimination laws are updated following Obergefell. Thankfully, there are some simple things we can do to protect our gospel work against some charges of discrimination.

I’m writing this as a pastor on staff at Desert Springs Church, where our elders recently completed a four-month process of research, discussion, and writing. Our purpose was to make explicit in our employment, wedding, and membership documents what is assumed in our commitment to Scripture concerning gender, marriage, and sexuality.

Our aim was twofold: to shepherd our flock well, clarifying our teaching and strengthening our congregation’s unity on these matters; and, second, to protect our church against “easy” lawsuits claiming discrimination while strengthening our position should we encounter a legal challenge. Challenges may come, but the good news is that the more explicit a church is about what they believe, the stronger their defense against an accusation of discrimination. Churches that try to be faithful but discrete will actually be more vulnerable.

In this process we were helped immensely by a critical resource put out by Alliance Defending Freedom and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Lawsuits. This guide is written for churches, schools, and ministries, and addresses issues specific to each type of organization.

Here are the four things we did:

First, We Updated Our Statement of Faith

Our Statement of Faith, to which all of our members subscribe, is purposefully limited to basic Christian orthodoxy. As we say, it’s about as wide as the door to the kingdom. But we decided to make explicit in our statement what is assumed in our commitment to Scripture on the specific issues of gender, marriage, and sexuality.

We believe that God created human beings in his image in two embodied sexual kinds—male and female (Genesis 1:26-27). We believe that God designed men and women to unite in marriage, which is complementary, involving one of each sexual gender, exclusive, and permanent (Genesis 2:18, 24; Matthew 19:4-6; 1 Corinthians 7:39; Hebrews 13:4).

Whereas convictions about lying, murder, and stealing remain assumed and yet our members are accountable to the Bible’s teaching on these matters, our present context requires us to make matters concerning sexuality and gender explicit. In as much as “we believe that the Scriptures … [constitute] the only infallible and sufficient rule for life and godliness,” we believe their clear testimony concerning gender, marriage, and sexuality. While we could say more than these topics, we concluded that we could not say less in the context of our Statement of Faith.

Second, We Published an Expanded Statement on Gender, Marriage, and Sexuality

It seemed appropriate to provide our congregation with a fuller explanation of what the elders believe and teach on the basis of our addition to the Statement of Faith. The assignment of this writing project fell to me, and the following statement is the result of that effort. The statement is divided topically into six parts.

Concerning Gender. We believe that God created human beings in his image in two sexual kinds—male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). Gender is a part of God’s good creation and is bound to its roots as a biological reality. It is identifiable at birth and is to be evident in the course of everyday life in expressions of masculinity and femininity.

Concerning Marriage. God designed men and women to unite in marriage, which is: complementary (involving one of each sexual gender), comprehensive (involving all of life, including physical sexual union), exclusive (monogamous and faithful), permanent (until separated by death), and a generative union (designed for and oriented toward the bearing and rearing of children) (Gen. 2:18-25). Through this union, a husband and wife picture for humanity the relationship between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:22-33).

Concerning Nature. A part of God’s benevolent design, marriage is basic to human flourishing and arises in cultures across history from realities that are discernible in creation (Rom. 1:18-27): the anthropological reality that men and women are different and complementary; the biological reality that they unite to create new life; the sociological reality that children deserve to be with the mother and father that created them. Only a man and a woman can unite in marriage since only a man and a woman can unite in a way that honors the nature of human sexuality.

Concerning Sexual Sin. Sexual intimacy is the exclusive privilege and responsibility of a husband and wife (1 Cor. 6:18; 7:2-5; Heb. 13:4). Because of Adam’s sin, every human being is born sexually perverted, creatively and destructively seeking sexual fulfillment in ways that ignore the Creator, reject his design, and distort his intent. Any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, incest, and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God (Matt. 15:18-20; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).

Concerning Redemption. While all people are sinners, God offers redemption to all who confess and repent of their sin, seeking His mercy for forgiveness through Jesus Christ. By means of God’s Spirit and his Word, in the context of the church, real transformation is possible for sinners of every kind, even though final glorification (and total victory over every sin) awaits us in the new creation.

Concerning Public Witness. All persons—regardless of what they may believe or practice—are worthy of kindness, dignity, and respect because they are made in the image of God. Love for God and people requires that Christians speak clearly about these things and that they do so in a manner consistent with the compassion and conviction of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Anyone familiar with the work of Ryan T. Anderson will recognize his influence over the paragraph “Concerning Nature.” This statement is helpful for our own membership, but will also be useful for anyone interested in visiting our church. While this statement is not binding in the same way as the paragraph we added to our Statement of Faith, this public statement helps us shepherd our membership while adding more strength to our position if challenged in court.

Third, We Updated Our Employment Policies

While churches and non-profits have historically had the freedom to hire according to their beliefs and the moral commitments of their faith, there is reason to believe that this may become more complicated should the definition or scope of “religious” work be narrowed in the future. There are indications that the government may distinguish between explicitly religious roles in a church and roles that are not spiritual in nature. Such roles, presumably, would not be protected in the same way.

For this reason, we made a few things explicit in our hiring process and employee handbook that have been assumed. For example, all employees are now required to sign the church’s statement of faith. All employees are expected to provide spiritual counsel from the Scriptures over the phone or in person as needed. And all employees are expected to exercise leadership, from time to time, by praying in staff meetings. In other words, every employee of our church represents Christ in their role and does so in concrete ways.

Fourth, We Updated Our Facility Use and Wedding Policies

Concerning the use of our facility, we wanted to avoid any scenario that would require our church to refuse or deny a request on the basis of any consideration tied to marriage or gender. Whereas previously we accepted and evaluated a variety of requests for our facility, today our facility is only available for ministries of our church or for ministries we formally partner with. For example, our elders have officially recognized the local Crisis Pregnancy Center as a strategic ministry partner and our facility is available to them as needed.

Weddings require a similar approach. Denying requests on the basis of sex could be considered a form of discrimination, therefore, we have adopted a new policy on performing wedding ceremonies. Our staff will only perform wedding ceremonies for members of our church. This eliminates the opportunity for charges of discrimination since members are required to adhere to our doctrinal statement. Likewise, our facility, property, and services are not available for other weddings or events. With these new policies in place, ministers in our church retain the freedom, as persons licensed by the state to perform weddings, to accept personal requests for weddings off site.

Yes, Christ will build his church, but sometimes that will include dealing with membership documents and facility policies. Churches and ministers would all do well to consider what steps can be taken to protect our ministries. This is what we did to protect our church, and it is our hope that it may help you protect yours.

Trent Hunter

Trent Hunter serves as pastor for preaching and teaching at Heritage Bible Church in Greer, South Carolina. He is the author of Joshua (Crossway, 2016) and Graphical Greek: A Quick Reference Guide for Biblical Greek. He is also an instructor for the Simeon Trust workshops on biblical exposition. He is married to Kristi, and they have three children, … 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