Gordon and the Accreditors

October 8, 2014

Accreditation just gets “curiouser and curiouser” (to quote Alice in Wonderland). The New England Association of Schools and Colleges is pressuring Gordon College to drop its strictures against “homosexual practice,” and Gordon has bought time by agreeing to review the policy over the next year. In a mid-July letter to Gordon President Michael Lindsey, NEASC’s president Barbara Brittingham assured him that neither withdrawal of accreditation nor probation were on the table for the upcoming September meeting (a short-term assurance the College tends, understandably, to extrapolate to the more distant future), but one has to wonder whether the Association will be so laid back if Gordon’s journey of essentially-coerced, sensitive self-scrutiny brings it back to precisely to the good place it’s been all along.

It may seem that Gordon’s long-term viability as a convictional school is at stake, but I would suggest that the future of accreditors such as NEASC is really the issue. How can they survive while continuing to behave so badly?

Newcomers to the scene might well wonder what scruples over homosexual behavior in their midst has to do with Gordon’s heft as an educational institution, especially since the vast majority of humankind throughout history, and today, has found gay and lesbian sex to be perverse. When did the “love that dare not speak its name” become “the love whose critics dare not speak their names?”

Neophytes likely miss the point that academic accreditation, as practiced in America, has long since left its focus on serious scholarship and found the charms of social engineering and convenience-marketing more compelling.

Accreditors, who used to make sure that schools had substantial libraries, reputable, well-trained professors, and such now strain at minutiae, making manifestly wonderful schools jump through hoops of dubious provenance, passing judgment on scholars whose sandals many of these “education professionals” are unworthy to unlatch.

Alas, schools desperate for noses and nickels and have come a long way from the day when American president James Garfield could observe, plausibly, that an “ideal college was one with [Williams College president] Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other” (a favorite quote of my old philosophy chairman at Wheaton College, Arthur Holmes). The system now is little disposed to produce either the Hopkinses or the students who are apt for or inclined toward a profitable afternoon on said log. Instead, most colleges and seminaries willingly pay bureaucrats to satisfy the bureaucrats at the accreditation bureaus, while the dispiriting race to the bottom continues.

Then there’s the ideological bullying, such as that which Gordon is suffering. It’s not a new thing. Let me offer a little history.

Back in 1991, the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges pulled a similar stunt, this time to serve the feminist agenda. They menaced Westminster Theological Seminary for having a board made up exclusively of men, ignoring the seminary’s charter requiring ordination of its trustees and its belief that ordination should be limited to men. In other words, MSASC took sides in the egalitarian-complementarian theological/ecclesiological debate and threatened to punish the seminary for coming out on the wrong side of that issue.

Fortunately, President George H.W. Bush had appointed now-Senator Lamar Alexander as Secretary of Education, and Alexander expressed reservations over re-certifying MSASC to judge schools in their territory. It got their attention, and, accepting a face-saving tweak, they relented. Unfortunately, President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan shows no such interest in protecting biblically serious schools from PC harassment.

Such hostile forays into biblical communities are not limited to secular accreditors. Back in the mid-90s, the Association of Theological Schools revised their bylaws, and therein took a run at the complementarians in their midst. (I’m told they also tried to punish schools who drew lines against homosexuality, but the Mainliners failed to move this out of committee.) When they essayed an egalitarian clause, they got pushback from traditionalists, and so they permitted a qualifier. The resulting line stipulated that egalitarian standards were the ATS default position, but that an exception could be made for schools whose root, historical (read “knuckle-dragging, patro-tyrannical”) practice prevented them from cooperating in good (read “pathetic”) conscience.

While this was a helpful adjustment, I suggested, from the floor, that it should read something like, “The ATS position should honor long-standing, vastly-favored, biblical-based scruples supporting complementary gender roles in the Church, but if member institutions cannot bring themselves to accept them, they should be allowed to deviate toward egalitarian practice.” As I recall, it was not that well received, though, afterwards, I discovered that it heartened a number of rougher characters.

Now we have the silliness at NEASC, and there is little prospect of spiritual or even rational awakening in the halls of accreditation. They will continue to advance the “tolerance” agenda, so well described in Allen Bloom’s, The Closing of the American Mind. Where forced into tactical retreat, they will regroup, and emerge to fight another day.

What’s next? Will they assault Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, when someone cries, “These wahoos say Hindus are going to hell!” Talk about politically incorrect. And poor Gordon has also drawn the line against those engaging “sexual relations outside of marriage,” so they’d better brace themselves against the co-habitation enthusiasts, who might exclaim, in horror, “You mean to say that Oprah Winfrey could not have been admitted to Gordon when she was living with Stedman Graham!? Have you no shame?”

Meanwhile, Princeton University seems accreditationally safe even through they continue to employ a philosophy professor, Peter Singer, who suggests that bestiality may not be so bad. The same goes for Northwestern University, whose faculty includes a Holocaust denier and a sexologist who scheduled a couple performing a live, nude, conjugal act for his students. Apparently, a lot of leeway and lunacy is acceptable so long as it’s not “leeway and lunacy” based on Christian scripture – “foolishness to the Greeks” if you will.

From her bio, I read that NEASC’s enforcer, Barbara Brittingham, has served widely as an accreditation consultant in the North Africa and the Middle East – in Qatar, Oman, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates. One wonders whether she’s dared to suggest rules for the normalization of homosexuality in the Arab World schools she’s advised. Perhaps she’ll begin to notice that homosexuals are safer in cultures shaped historically by the Bible (and Bible-based schools such as Gordon) than in regions ignorant of or hostile to God’s Word.

President Eisenhower warned of the power of the “military-industrial complex.” Today, we must decry the anti-Christian-school power of the “government-education” complex, which seems determined to homogenize institutional belief and practice in a decidedly unholy direction.

Christianity Today reports that Gordon, which prides itself on its “history of respectful self-critique and of dialogue with individuals of diverse backgrounds” has formed a “discernment committee,” to the satisfaction of Ms. Brittingham. I’m afraid the discernment they’re seeking may not be so much biblically exegetical – congruent with the full counsel of the ‘IXTHUS’ spelled out in Greek on their seal – as diplomatically expedient. Me genoito!

I trust there are limits to how much we evangelicals will endure. We said as much in the Manhattan Declaration. And I hope the accreditors are listening.

Mark Coppenger

In addition to teaching at Southern Seminary, Coppenger is managing editor of the online Kairos Journal. Before attending seminary, he taught at Wheaton and Vanderbilt, where he directed a project for the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has authored, edited, or contributed to numerous books.  His articles and reviews … 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