Is Your Church Prepared to Handle a Challenge to its Religious Liberty?

December 15, 2017

Editor’s Note: We wanted to let you know about this really important new initiative from our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom. We are grateful for the way they come alongside churches and ministries to help defend and protect religious liberty.

“The team at Alliance Defending Freedom have consistently proven themselves to be the kind of convictional and talented advocates that Christians and churches are in need of today,” says ERLC President Russell Moore. “I have no doubt that Church Alliance will benefit ministries across the country by establishing such a partnership between local churches and attorneys committed to safeguarding our most fundamental liberties.”

What would you do if a situation arose in your church that directly threatened the religious liberty of the church?  Would you know what steps to take to proactively protect your church’s religious liberty?  If someone filed a lawsuit against your church simply for exercising your religious beliefs, would you know how best to defend against it?

Churches face an increasingly difficult culture and some have even found themselves in the middle of legal situations where the religious liberty of the church hangs in the balance.  At the time I am writing this article, Alliance Defending Freedom is assisting over fifty different churches on religious liberty issues that have the potential to turn into litigation.  And we currently have over a dozen cases in or close to litigation where we are working to defend the constitutional rights of churches.  These are churches from across the country.  They are big and small in size and from all denominations and theological tribes. The fact situations in all these cases are varied, showing that religious liberty issues can arise in unexpected places. And this is just one snapshot in time.

As an attorney who has litigated on behalf of churches and pastors for the last ten years, and has litigated religious liberty cases for the past eighteen years, I can say without hesitation that churches need legal help in today’s world to protect their religious liberty.  It is not a matter of if churches will face legal challenges to their religious liberty but rather where and when.

It is not a matter of if churches will face legal challenges to their religious liberty but rather where and when.

These times call for creative new initiatives to respond to a dynamic and challenging legal system. Seeing a need to reassess the Church’s role in stewarding religious freedom, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) recently launched a new project called the Church Alliance. Through the Church Alliance, ADF is able to offer direct and focused legal help to churches to protect their religious liberty Given today’s context, membership in this alliance of churches is well worth the consideration and deliberation of your church leadership.

Here are five reasons we have launched the Church Alliance:

1. Americans are losing sight of the importance of religious liberty. Many who reject the beliefs of Christians consider adherence to biblical teaching to be a mask for “discrimination” or some other darker motive. The culture is asking religious freedom to take a backseat to sexual autonomy. In some cases, especially when the Gospel is in direct opposition to the culture, our first freedom is being told to take a hike. Those who advocate for sexual liberty believe that if they bring enough social and even legal pressure to bear on the Church, that the Church will abandon its “discriminatory” ways and become truly affirming and tolerant.  For many in this camp, bringing a legal challenge against a church requires no more thought than suing a secular business.

2. Over the last few years, ERLC and ADF have partnered to distribute the Protecting Your Ministry legal guide to thousands of churches across the country. Many churches have requested help to review their documents to make sure they are protected from a religious liberty standpoint. Now, among other services, the Church Alliance is offering member churches a religious freedom audit and document review. Our ministry of preparation and protection is affordable due to the generous contributions of believers across the country.

3. The Church Alliance isn’t just preparing churches for the cultural issues that we see in the news. Although it was largely created for this shift in the legal landscape, it is also helping with less-spotlighted practical legal matters that involve the religious freedom of churches. Whether it’s purchasing land for a new building, helping plant a church, starting a new ministry, requesting access to government property, or a host of other routine church matters, religious freedom experts are now coming alongside church boards and pastors to help you navigate potential pitfalls.

4. The Church Alliance program is working to ensure that churches remain free to preach the full counsel of God’s Word, without fear of government interference or inhibition. The heartbeat of the program is to work to keep the legal doors open for the Gospel so that it can be proclaimed freely and lived out fully.  Let us help you as you are bold in your ministry context.

5. The Church Alliance is for the protection of all churches. While church leaders may consider joining the Church Alliance purely for the services we offer their churches, those who join are stewarding religious freedom in a much broader sense. What we have seen time and time again is that what happens to one church affects all churches, and joining this alliance allows ADF the opportunity to respond.

Christians in every American generation have valued religious freedom and even served as stewards of that freedom. They have kept the government accountable and ensured that our first freedom is properly understood as a God-given right.

Pastors and churches in particular have helped secure the freedom that we have enjoyed since our country’s founding. The Church Alliance is a continuation of this long-held tradition of the Church. But it is also the beginning of a new era of religious freedom protection, launched from an obvious and growing need.

Consider making this program an agenda item for your church’s next board meeting. We ask churches like yours to join us in this mission and be the stewards that we are called to be. For religious freedom – for the Church – for the Gospel.

Learn more, request additional information, or become a member at www.ADFChurchAlliance.org.

Erik Stanley

Erik W. Stanley serves with Alliance Defending Freedom as senior counsel and director of the Center for Christian Ministries. He oversees all litigation efforts to maintain the autonomy of the church and to ensure its freedoms are protected under the First Amendment. Stanley received his Masters of Divinity from Liberty Baptist … 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