I’m Praying for David Saperstein

July 29, 2014

have been representing Southern Baptists in Washington, DC since April 2003. That’s when I became Vice President for Public Policy and Research for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. When I came to this city, one of the first members of the religious left that I met was Rabbi David Saperstein. I found him to be an intelligent, compassionate, deeply committed and effective advocate for his religious tradition, Reform Judaism. As such, David and I found ourselves on the opposite sides of the table on many issues. But one issue on which we seldom disagreed was the issue of religious freedom.

In fact, David has been advocating forcefully and effectively for religious freedom around the world longer than I have by decades. By the time I got to DC, the International Religious Freedom Act had been law for about 5 years. David worked closely with my former boss at the ERLC, Richard Land, to secure passage of that bill. It was not an easy task. The State Department under President Clinton was not immediately open to the idea of establishing an office for religious freedom at the State Department. Neither President Clinton nor the State Department were sure they wanted to deal with the often-complicated matters of religious conviction as they attempted to bring the world around to American values. David is a recognized champion of the successful effort to pass this bill. In doing so, he helped create the office he has been nominated to fill and the commission that advises the State Department and the president on international religious freedom, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). He and Richard Land both served on USCIRF. David was even the first chairman of the Commission, a seat now filled by the renowned Robert George.

Through all the years that I have been advocating biblical values in Washington, I have always known David to be a man of passion for religious freedom. Shortly after I arrived in Washington, I called together a group of long-time religious liberty advocates to consider the possible formation of a religious freedom advocacy group on the Hill. I, and others, believed that there were many issues that the right, center, and left could agree on and work together on to advance religious freedom around the world. What came out of that meeting was called the National Coalition for Religious Freedom and Human Rights. David opened up his building for the weekly meetings of our coalition, which at its height gathered more than 20 different groups together to talk about and strategize on matters of religious liberty and human rights. David often attended these meetings and was always available for counsel and help as we worked through various issues. That coalition is no longer in existence. The pressures of many other matters crowded in. It has since been replaced by a much larger group that continues to operate as an ideologically diverse group dedicated to religious freedom. The ERLC participates in that group along with David’s organization, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Religious persecution knows no neutral ground. Whether you are liberal or conservative, there is someone around the world who wants to do you harm. Consequently, the faith community broadly understood we had better hang together, or as the saying of our Founders goes, we will all hang separately. David Saperstein understands this. How could he not. He is Jewish, after all.

David is a friend. We disagree on many issues, social and theological. At times, he is bewildered by my positions. At times, I am bewildered by his positions, including some with significant implications for people of strong religious conviction. But for the task at hand, defending and advocating for people of faith whose places of worship are being obliterated and are themselves being driven from their homes, imprisoned, executed, and more, I believe David would be a tireless, eloquent, fair-minded, effective champion.

I’m not surprised the president chose someone from his own ideological community to fill this position. The law put it in the hands of the president to fill the post of Ambassador for Religious Freedom. If conservative Americans wanted to make sure this post would always be filled with someone who shared some of their key social and theological values, then more of them should have showed up at the polls and voted for a conservative to sit in the oval office. They didn’t.

I, for one, am interested to see how this actually works out if David is confirmed for this post. His predecessor, an avowed pro-life person, and also a good person was largely ineffective. This was not all her fault. The State Department is still not that open to the idea of the position and the way it interferes with their efforts to advance American values while largely ignoring one of the major drivers of values in this country and around the world—religious faith. It will be interesting to see if someone more aligned with the president’s values, and much more known and connected in this city can do any more with this position.

No one can deny more is needed. This position has already been vacant for more than eight months. Much of the world is on fire and religious hatred is fueling much of that fire. If David is confirmed, I will be praying for his success and will offer my assistance to help him succeed. If God will not coerce faith, then no one should. I will work with anyone I can to protect the God-given right of religious conscience, even the right to be wrong.

David must still get through a long and grueling process before he is confirmed. If it should become clear that his liberal social and theological views will render him incapable of advocating equally for all people of faith, then I will declare him unfit for the position. As I do so, I will also be one of the most surprised men in Washington, DC. The president had a lot of people to consider for this post. I had some in mind that I would have loved to see nominated. It wasn’t my choice to make. It was the president’s by law. I will be praying for Rabbi Saperstein and the Senate as they determine if David is the right man for a job that cannot go vacant a day longer than necessary. I wish him well. I have seen David champion the cause of the persecuted abroad tirelessly, and I hope he would do so again.

Barrett Duke

Barrett Duke is now the executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention. He is the former vice president for Public Policy and Research at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. 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