How to Support Religious Liberty

July 18, 2014

Gordon College, a Christian college on the North Shore of Boston, is the latest Christian institution to come under attack for its commitment to live biblically. Numerous stories and opinion pieces in the Boston Globe have vilified the College for seeking a religious liberty to discriminate against homosexuals. Civic organizations and municipalities, public intellectuals, and even the governing accreditation agency are attacking the College’s conduct and hiring policies, which require members of the College community to reserve expressions of sexual intimacy for marriage, defined consistent with the Bible, Christian teaching, and Western tradition as the monogamous union of a man and a woman.

The administrators and board of Gordon College deserve approbation for standing firm amidst this firestorm. At a time when leadership is in short supply, their moral courage is inspiring. Many friends of Gordon College have rallied in support. They also deserve praise for their courageous words on behalf of the College and its religious freedom. Yet those of us who support Gordon College should be careful that our words do more good than harm.

To explain why Gordon College should enjoy religious liberty we must explain why its religious exercise deserves protection. Obedience to conscience and the exercise of faith are valuable exercises in themselves. But in this case, a claim for religious liberty without more can actually strengthen the case against Gordon College by bolstering the critics’ premise that Gordon College seeks a religious liberty to discriminate unjustly. From the perspective of the Boston Globe and other cultural elites, discrimination on the basis of sexual preference is the same as racial discrimination. In their view, defenders of Gordon College’s policy are indistinguishable from church-going racists in the Jim Crow era.

Both civility and pragmatic self-interest demand that we who support Gordon College and other Christian institutions make a real effort to understand and respond to the concerns of the College’s critics. Many people are convinced that Gordon College intends to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, which they understand to be an immutable characteristic and largely irrelevant to one’s ability to participate in the life of institutions such as Gordon College. Others understand that Gordon College does not intend to discriminate on the basis of an immutable characteristic. But they worry that the effect of Gordon’s policies will nevertheless be to discriminate unjustly and unlawfully.

It is unnecessary to accept the premise that Gordon College seeks a religious liberty to discriminate, either intentionally or in effect, against gays and lesbians. The premise is false. We can respond to those who attribute animus to us and assuage those who are skeptical but open to persuasion. Gordon College harbors no animus toward people with same-sex attraction. And though we should not minimize the challenges facing those people, the conduct policy’s primary effects are not to treat different sexual orientations differently. Rather, the policy is aimed at promoting the virtues of chastity and marital fidelity, and thus to strengthen marriages, which are essential to the flourishing of our communities.

Though we cannot expect to convince everyone that Gordon College should enjoy religious liberty, we can allay the good-faith concerns of many skeptics if we will state the reasons behind Gordon College’s policies. Those policies are grounded in a rich conception of human reasoning and human goods, which Jews and Christians have preserved and cultivated for millennia.

Our explanation can begin but not end with the distinction between what a person desires to do and what she actually does, a distinction that Gordon’s conduct policy assumes. We can affirm the unique nature of humans as beings created in the image of God, who govern their appetites according to reasons, and thus exercise dominion over the present as God exercises dominion over all eternity.

Yet that is not sufficient. In a state like Massachusetts that has redefined marriage in law to do away with the distinction between men and women, same-sex intimacy and marital intimacy are considered the same act, both legally and morally. If two men or two women can be married, as the laws of Massachusetts and other states say they can, then their actions are no different than the actions of a married man and woman. For a Christian College to refuse to hire a man who is “married” to another man is therefore to discriminate unjustly and unlawfully.

So the surest way to defend Gordon College’s policies is to explain Christian teaching about the good of natural marriage. Unless Christians can describe and defend the unique human achievement that is the committed union of a man and a woman, all other distinctions that Christians draw in the realm of sexual ethics might seem arbitrary or legalistic. And any attempts to distinguish between marital and non-marital conduct may appear to constitute irrational discrimination.

A winsome and persuasive defense of Gordon College begins with a winsome and persuasive defense of the natural good of marriage. Unlike the liberty to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, affirming the gospel of natural marriage is a valuable exercise of religious liberty.

The College should have freedom to affirm the truth about marriage: that marriage has an essential nature; that the monogamous union of a man and a woman is a unique human achievement; that humans are created male and female, each of which is half of a divine image-bearer, completed in the important respects of unity and procreative potential when joined together with the other half; that humans are distinct from animals in their capacity to govern their sexual appetites according to nature and reason; that intact, biological families make children better off.

The message of natural marriage is the gospel of the twenty-first century. In a society in which fewer young people are getting married and divorce remains high, the message of marital fidelity is radically good news. Marriage helps our neighbors to live better lives and to make better lives for their children. Study after study shows the benefits of intact marriages and biological families: children do better, adults do better, communities are better off when men and women get and stay married. Christians should invoke religious liberty to proclaim that good news and to act upon it.

This approach might change the dynamic of the conversation. In this light one can see that the critics of Gordon College are asserting (they cannot be said even to be arguing) that no institution which stands for the Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage–the one-flesh union of a man and a woman for life–can justly have a place in a society that respects the equal dignity of all human beings. This is beyond absurd. There are many, many reasons why Christians can be confident that we have the best conception of marriage on offer (first of which: If marriage is not the one-flesh union of a man and woman, then what is it?).

Worse than absurd, it is tyrannical. The very persistence of liberalism and liberty–indeed, even the very principles that ensure equal protection of the law for all–require that our intellectual and ruling elites remain committed to freedom to promote the common good in its various aspects. If they are going to use the force of law to drive out of civil society all individuals and institutions who affirm natural marriage, the rights of children to be connected to their biological parents, freedom of conscience, obedience to Christian duty, and much else, then liberal society is no longer possible, and the American experiment has ended in failure. We can therefore say with some confidence that all people–Christians and non-Christians; conservatives, liberals, and libertarians–should stand with Gordon in this moment.

Adam J. Macleod

Adam MacLeod is an Associate Professor at Faulkner Law, where he has taught since 2007.  During the 2012-2013 academic year, he was a visiting fellow in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, and since 2014 he has taught private law theory in the Witherspoon … 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