Is the Gay Rights Movement the Rightful Heir to the Civil Rights Tradition

February 11, 2015

“How do you respond to people who locate the gay rights movement within the civil rights tradition?”

When a friend asked me this question in a Sunday School class that I was teaching a couple weeks ago, I was fighting the clock, and felt slightly frustrated because I could not, on the spot, figure out how to answer him concisely. So I rambled through a desultory answer. I hate doing that.

Ten minutes after class was over, the concise answer crystallized: It all depends on your anthropology. If you have no distinction between humanity created and humanity fallen, you will have a hard time maintaining the distinction between ethnicity and sexual orientation from the standpoint of the civil rights tradition. If you have little to no concept of Genesis 3 in your anthropology, then, yes, homosexual rights absolutely belong in the civil rights tradition.

I couldn’t help but tweet it: “Does gay rights = civil rights? Depends on your anthropology. If evolutionary materialism, yes. If both Gen 1 AND 3 true, not necessarily.” (And you can insert any number of things in the place of evolutionary materialism: moralistic therapeutic deism, positive thinking spirituality, Oprah-esque self-actualization, etc.)

The civil rights tradition of the 1960s, to a Christian way of thinking, is grounded in the fact that all people are made in God’s image. Think of Martin Luther King Jr’s claim: “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” Ethnicity, on this account, is a basic and created element of the human person. Ethnicity belongs to Genesis 1, you might say. It belongs in the “creation bucket.”

Yet historic Christianity affirms this and also acknowledges that other basic facts about human beings grow out of Genesis 3, things that belong in the “fall bucket.” And not just external things, but the deepest things: our very nature has become corrupt. A good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bad, Jesus said. And apart from being born again, all of us have a bad nature (even though we remain capable of good).

Historically, many Americans, whether Christian or non, had more room in their anthropology for something like the fallenness of human nature. Just think of James Madison’s mixed anthropology in the Federalist Papers. Yet best I can tell, the general public’s anthropology today is far less mixed. We prefer to think of humans as basically good, even if, yes, they might do bad things from time to time.

Suppose then that your anthropology has no room for Genesis 3 and the idea of a pervasively corrupt human nature. How will you respond to someone oriented to same-sex attraction? You have no choice but to affirm it as natural, created, and therefore good. “Natural”—by nature—is basically always good. “Natural” cannot be bad. Why? Because you have no Genesis 3 in your anthropology, not really, anyhow, even if you give lip service to it.

So let’s revisit the MLK quote above. If you read it from the perspective of someone with a strong concept of Genesis 1 and Genesis 3 in their anthropology, homosexuality does not necessarily belong in the civil rights tradition. It might, of course. Matthew Vines, for instance, has both buckets. He simply places same-sex orientation in the creation bucket, as in, “God created me this way.” I disagree with that, but, fine, my argument here is not with him. Rather, I want you to try reading the MLK quote above from the perspective of most (I assume) Americans today, people who really only have a Genesis 1 bucket and little to no concept of a pervasively corrupt human nature. From this perspective, the MLK quote absolutely requires same-sex orientation to be placed inside the civil rights tradition. In fact, it would be positively immoral not to affirm such an orientation as good and worth protecting.

Here’s the big lesson: if an anthropology only has a category for humanity created and not for humanity fallen (whether you can articulate that to yourself or not), there is no reason why homosexual orientation should not be protected by the civil rights tradition. You will find it nearly impossible not to affirm homosexuality as morally good. Therefore when someone like a Christian comes along and does not want to affirm same-sex marriage, or does not want to acknowledge sexual orientation as a special category for civil rights purposes, equivalent to gender or ethnicity, you won’t be able to comprehend what they are saying. It cannot but seem mean-spirited and discriminatory. After all, a person’s sexual orientation, to your way of thinking, is a Genesis 1 reality, not a Genesis 3 reality. Remember, you have no category for Genesis 3.

In fact, we can go a step further: “Without a distinction between man created and man fallen, the civil rights tradition can be employed to justify nearly every desire.” That was my follow up tweet. Here’s where conservatives start to make slippery slope arguments, where progressives cry foul, and where history, I dare say, sides with the conservatives.

In 2012, for example, conservatives would say things like, “If two men can marry, why not three men, or ten men, or a man and a horse, or who knows what else?!” Progressives would cry foul because they weren’t asking for these things, and, perhaps, the yuck factor still hindered them from considering these other permutations. But by 2014, the court decisions and feature articles in national magazines—sure enough—began to toy with these other ideas (see here, here, and—don’t read—here).

And such slippage is inevitable because the foundations have fundamentally shifted. When an anthropology has little room for Genesis 3 or humanity fallen, then every desire, every orientation, every possibility, no matter how crazy, deranged, or off-the-wall, gains access to a Genesis 1 status. Everything can be blanketed with the moral covering of “I was created that way.” You personally might not be able to imagine pursuing some other permutation, but other people might, and you’ve destroyed the moral foundations for telling them not to. You have nothing left to say.

Here’s the sad irony of it all: the civil rights tradition, once a force for so much good and born out of judeo-Christian ideals, becomes a force for new discriminations, particularly against Christianity, when placed in the hands of the LGBT lobby. My last tweet of that particular morning: “The civil rights tradition, if joined to an anthropology of humans as basically good, will lead to new forms of discrimination and injustice.”

The civil rights tradition, when it’s wed to a worldview that depletes the Genesis 3 bucket of all its content other than the mere idea of discrimination itself, must be put to work discriminating against anyone who wants to place more things in the Genesis 3 bucket. The tradition must fight against the religious person who maintains more substantive ideas about “humanity fallen,” and who dares to suggest that a person’s deepest desires or loves or ambitions might actually a property of the fall, and not creation. Such a claim, by definition, is irrational, because the landscape of this rationality, again, has no category for Genesis 3, not really.

What’s the solution? I’m not sure. I’m sympathetic to the argument that Christians should better figure out how to employ rights language, as the right-to-life movement did. But that has its own problems, and my goal here really is just to help Christians understand the landscape. Our civilization’s movement away from the nominal (and, yes, hypocritical) Christianity which so long defined it, means we no longer have the same access to Genesis 3 and the idea of a corrupt human nature. And without that, the civil rights tradition will be used in all sorts of ways its originators never intended.

If nothing else, it gives us another reason to share the gospel. The Holy Spirit is pretty good at giving people categories they don’t already have!

Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan Leeman (PhD, University of Wales) is the editorial director for 9Marks and an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington, DC. He has written for a number of publications and is the author or editor of a number books. He is also an occasional lecturer at Southeastern Baptist Theological … 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