In Higher Education, California is Becoming Anti-Choice

August 9, 2016

My earliest memory of California was a visit I took as a high school senior to the campus of a secular private university where I had received a sizable scholarship. The visit did not go well. The university thought I, an evangelical kid from Kansas City, would enjoy being hosted by upperclassmen who lived in a fraternity house. A naive 18-year-old Southern Baptist who loved DC Talk and was president of my public high school’s anti-drugs club, I found myself enduring the company of students who seemed interested only in alcohol-centric partying and drunken high speed joyrides down Sunset Blvd.

My campus visit to Wheaton College (IL) a few months later offered a stark contrast to this. Instead of a frat house full of kegs and bongs, I was hosted in a dorm full of Five Iron Frenzy CDs and Dallas Willard books. My campus tour included attending chapel and a class where the history professor opened in prayer. My visit culminated in a worship night that sealed the deal. Wheaton was the place for me.

Was my decision to attend Wheaton partially influenced by a desire to attend a “safe” college where my Christian identity and values would not be marginalized? Yes. But it was also influenced by a desire to learn in a robustly Christ-centered and academically rigorous environment; a place where my faith could deepen rather than merely survive four years of college.

Thousands of students each year make the same decision I did, for some of the same reasons. I know this because I interact with students at Biola University, a sort of “West Coast Wheaton,” constantly. I teach a freshman seminar class that affords me the delightfully nostalgic privilege of seeing in the eyes of newly arrived students a bit of myself, 15 years ago: eager, nervous, passionate for Jesus and excited for the opportunity to develop a more intellectually robust faith.

Christian higher education was a gift in my life as a Wheaton student, and it continues to be a gift as I serve on staff at Biola. That is why I am so dismayed by California Senate Bill 1146, which threatens to undermine the very distinctiveness of schools like Biola by legislating them into secular practice. The bill has been vigorously opposed by dozens of institutions in California, including Protestant and Catholic schools, as well as the national Council for Christian Colleges & Universities and various other organizations and faith leaders.

Catholic Archbishop of L.A. Jose Gomez and African-American church leader Bishop Charles Blake issued a joint statement on SB 1146, saying the bill “contradicts the state’s noble tradition of seeking to expand educational and economic opportunities for all Californians.”

Indeed, the real victims of SB 1146 are students, whose ability to attend a private religious college often depends on state financial aid like Cal Grants. SB 1146 would jeopardize this aid for students who wish to attend a faith-based institution that maintains its faith-driven convictions and policies on sexuality and moral conduct. Supporters of the bill either ignorantly assume no student would truly choose to attend a university like this; or they knowingly wish to punish students who align with these “discriminatory” institutions.

Backers of SB 1146 say the bill’s main point is to protect LGBT students who find themselves as students of a religious college whose values and policies affirm traditional sexual ethics. As a safeguard for students who may inadvertently find themselves in this predicament, SB 1146 maps out extensive disclosure requirements so that a religious college’s policies and positions are crystal clear to any prospective student (though they have never been hidden). If this is all SB 1146 were about, California’s faith-based colleges would not be fighting it. These schools are more than happy to be clear about their convictions and conduct standards. The problem with SB 1146 is not that it requires religious schools to disclose their religious policies, but that it would make it impossible for these schools to implement the policies without being subject to lawsuits. It would also make it impossible for many low-income, minority and first-generation students to afford to attend schools that practice those policies.

Ultimately SB 1146 is an assault on choice. It would remove from the marketplace of higher education the option of a distinctly faith-based university whose policies on student conduct, admissions standards, and housing and hiring are (scandal!) based on said faith. Removing choice in this way is un-American and unnecessary. The fact is, there exists and always should exist a multitude of options in this country for people to choose an education that best serves their needs.

As Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Blake state:

It is important to remember that no one is compelled to attend a private religious college or university. Those who do so make a deliberate decision because they are seeking an academic environment and community in which they can live, learn and serve with others who share their beliefs, values and aspirations.

Those who desire this sort of community should be free to choose it, just as atheist students should be free to choose a school where they may avoid being baited into debate by the kid from God’s Not Dead. An atheist shouldn’t pretend that Wheaton or Biola is their only option for a college education, just as the gay couple shouldn’t pretend that the conservative Baptist baker is their only option for a wedding cake.

The recent ChristianMingle.com court case, which resulted in the Christian dating site being forced to tailor its settings to include gay and lesbian options, is another example of this. There are dozens of other dating websites LGBT singles can use to find their perfect match. Rather than forcing a company whose religious identity is foundational to its brand (literally in its name) to function in a secular way, why couldn’t the courts simply provide the plaintiffs with a list of the many similar dating websites that don’t claim a particular set of convictions on sexual ethics?

My wife Kira has Celiac and thus lives a gluten-free lifestyle. It’s not always easy to find restaurants that accommodate this allergy, and sometimes it is downright frustrating when a restaurant we might otherwise want to try is ruled out as an option. But Kira accepts this and doesn’t demand that Panera Bread suddenly purge itself of bread (literally in its name) so as to become a perfect lunch spot for her. She doesn’t sue the popular artisan donut shop because they won’t make the browned butter bourbon donut gluten-free. No, she simply finds the bakeries and restaurants that do have ample gluten free options, and goes to them. She recognizes that fluffy croissants full of gluten are beautiful things for those (like me) who can enjoy them, just as gluten-free buckwheat crepes are a delicious treat for GF folks. It’s OK that there are establishments that only cater to one or the other. The food scene as a whole thrives when experts in one culinary niche or another are allowed to focus on doing a specific thing well rather than trying to be all things to all appetites.

The same goes for a pluralistic society. America is stronger when it is comprised of a diverse array of communities that are allowed to be meaningfully different from one another. Mandating homogeneity of belief and behavior, which SB 1146 does in higher education, weakens a democratic society. Note that one can affirm this principle without resorting to an “all are equally valuable options!” relativism. I can believe that a religion is false and dangerous, or that a diet of chocolate croissants is bad for people, without wanting to legally remove them as options.

I wouldn’t want a world where schools like Wheaton were the only available options to high school seniors. But neither would I want a society where schools like Wheaton were not viable options for weird students of sincere Christian faith.

America is a country where the freedom to choose weird options has always been protected. This has been especially pronounced in California, long the pluralistic incubator of America’s most gloriously niche communities and lifestyles, whether gluten free bakers, gay Republicans, all-male cowboy-philosopher colleges on cattle farms (Deep Springs College), or Christian liberal arts colleges with 30-foot murals of Jesus-as-a-Russian-Jew(Biola).

Proposed laws like SB 1146 are a step backward for American pluralism and Californian openness. As if inspired by a dystopian science fiction novel, the backers of the bill seek to enforce a top-down uniformity of acceptable belief and behavior on students of faith in California. To students like I once was, who desire to attend a college that believes the Bible is true and that obedience to Jesus is more important than authenticity to the self, SB 1146 simply says: “You need not apply.”

Recently, ERLC released a statement, signed by a diverse coalition of religious leaders, calling for the defeat of this legislation in California. You can add your name to this list here.

Brett McCracken

Brett McCracken is a senior editor and director of communications for The Gospel Coalition. 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