Love Is Our King: De-Institutionalizing Enmity

April 9, 2014

Our culture does not want us, as Christians, to love it. Our culture wants us to hate it. That makes us the bad guys, and our culture wants us to be the bad guys. Loving our culture—really loving it—and proving that we love it in the face of deep presuppositions to the contrary may well be the single hardest challenge we face.

Nothing else we do in the public square will work if we don’t do everything from a position of love that challenges the deeply embedded assumption that we hate our culture. We must fight, and fight hard, for the great pillars of a morally sound culture: human life, religious freedom, marriage and family, the rule of law, an entrepreneurial economy, and a democratic republic. But any and all such victories will be short lived if, simultaneously with these struggles, we fail to challenge and root out the assumption that we hate our culture.

Love is our king. It doesn’t matter how many pawns, rooks, and knights we capture if we won’t defend our king.

In our culture, enmity between Christians and non-Christians has been institutionalized. You don’t have to do anything to create the expectation that Christians and non-Christians hate each other. That’s the default expectation.

It is one of our most urgent tasks to de-institutionalize enmity. We must go out of our way to challenge the assumption that we hate our culture. We must go out of our way to prove we love it. Rightly or wrongly—and it’s really a little bit of both—the burden of proof has been placed on us. Instead of complaining, let’s accept that burden and meet it. When our culture says we hate it, let’s prove our culture wrong.

I’ve experienced the institutionalization of enmity firsthand in a deeply painful way. Not long after I was converted, one of my closest friends in the world renounced me. This person had counseled and encouraged me through the darkest times I ever saw. She had been in my wedding party. It felt a little like she was a sister. But now she didn’t want to have anything to do with me —not if I could no longer “be okay” with a certain aspect of the way she lived her life. It’s been about ten years now since she told me she never wanted to hear from me again.

What makes this story really surprising is that she and I had never seen eye to eye on things before. We had argued over almost—almost—everything. Politics, religion, philosophy, you name it. We argued as friends argue; there was never any question that these differences would come between us. But there was one thing about her I had always accepted, and when my views changed—because of Jesus—she cut me off.

The point is that there was nothing about either me or her that forced us into this position. I have asked myself time and again whether I said or did something that could have come across like it was me rejecting her as a person, rather than me changing my mind about how people in general should live their lives (which was the kind of thing we’d always disagreed about before). But I honestly don’t think there was. Nor do I think she, on her end, lacked the emotional strength to stand up for herself in an honest way—as if my withdrawing approval for this aspect of her life was such a crushing blow that she had to tell herself I was a bigot to avoid facing it.

No, this happened because of deep structures in our culture. All day, every day, she had been immersed in a culture (especially in the subcultures to which she belonged) where it is simply assumed that there is no such thing as honest disagreement about this issue. There is only hatred, period. And on my part, I lacked the wisdom to anticipate this problem and take steps to preempt it.

As I hope should be obvious by now, this is about far more than politics and courts. True, the Supreme Court recently declared, as a binding precept of constitutional law, that all people who support natural marriage do so exclusively out of hate. That is an unusually dramatic example of the institutionalization of enmity. But, in this as in everything else, the law is the caboose of the culture. It is not the first thing to change, but the last.

Here are some specific things we can do to de-institutionalize enmity without giving up our views on issues that divide us from our neighbors—including active advocacy for our views in the public square:

Speak with Respect: When we talk about our neighbors and our culture, we must talk about them in a way that shows we view them as beautiful creatures whose intrinsic dignity we respect and whose flourishing we are actively seeking. No matter how depraved they may become in some respects, we must avoid speaking with an attitude of snotty superiority toward our neighbors outside the church and the culture to which we belong. Arguments like this and this, while their positions on the core issues may be formally correct, are communicated in ways that also send the message “I look down on you.” (See here for more.)

Religious Freedom in Law and Culture: We must clearly state, over and over, that religious freedom is a core, non-negotiable value for us. This means not only the protection of the law, but a culture in which people of diverse beliefs are accepted as civic equals. We want to find a way to build a society in which those who are and are not Christian can all live as respected, loved equals. This does not mean moral anarchy without shared values; it does mean that the process of building on shared values includes legal and cultural respect for diverse beliefs. This is essential both to our identity as Americans and our identity as Christians—especially for evangelicals.

Don’t Be Shocked, Shocked: As a consequence of our commitment to religious freedom, we should not speak in a way that implies it is somehow surprising or shocking that people advocate values and practices other than our own. Language that seeks to stigmatize people because they advocate what they believe (e.g. “promoting the gay agenda”) is inconsistent with our own best commitments. We sound like Prefect Renault closing down Rick’s Café: “I am shocked—shocked —to discover that non-Christian values are going on in here!” Given that diversity of beliefs is a persistent fact in a fallen world, we should welcome a boisterous public square in which many views are advocated rather than pining for the mythological good old days when everyone agreed on everything.

Speak the Language: We must avoid speaking the language that makes sense to us and start speaking the language that makes sense to our neighbors. This does not mean compromising our positions; it does mean connecting our positions to the words, symbols and stories that are meaningful to our culture. We must describe the moral and social benefits of our positions in language that our culture recognizes as beneficial. This is the only way to show that we love them.

Create Stories: Human beings are narrative creatures in addition to cognitive creatures. They do make sense of their world by thinking about it logically, and that’s why arguments are important. But they also make sense of their world through stories. We need to speak to this area. In particular the question of motive—do Christians really love their neighbors and their culture or are they just seeking power over their neighbors?—is one that arguments can’t address. The only way to make our arguments plausible is to tell stories that establish, in effect, “I live in the same story you do; here’s a part of the story you haven’t seen yet.” Doing this in an effective way will require a major expansion of our effort beyond merely political activism (though that must continue as well). When people hear stories from political activists, they have their guard up. We need more Christians in Hollywood.

Don’t Define Ourselves as a Minority: For the moment, we are in the minority. We need to recognize that fact and stop talking as if we were the spokespeople for American culture. At the same time, we also must avoid defining our core identity in terms of being a minority; that would be just another form of the same mistake. If we want to de-institutionalize enmity between ourselves and our culture, we must avoid defining our identity in terms of opposition to the majority. Even the status of a “loyal opposition” is not quite a firm enough ground to stand on. The effort to define Christians as aberrant begins with defining us as abnormal. We are currently the minority report on many important public issues, but we are not sociologically abnormal. Let’s not defect from mainstream identity.

Love By Serving: How do I love my neighbor? Not by feeling warm and fuzzy feelings toward him. I love my neighbor by exerting effort to benefit him. The Bible’s vision of Christian life for all believers is one of diligent, generous and fruitful service to neighbor. A pastor of mine once said that Christians should live in such a way that everyone around them says, “I can’t imagine this place without you!” How many of our churches teach that effectively? Once Christians become known as the people who work hard and go out of their way to make the world a better place, our neighbors will believe that we love them—because that’s how love shows itself.

Love is our king. Our opponents have spent the last two generations defining us as haters, and it doesn’t matter how many other battles we win if we allow that definition to stand. But we can’t reverse that definition by redoubling our efforts to defeat our adversaries. That would be just a little too ironic. We must overcome evil with good, hatred with love.

To show that we love our neighbors, all we really have to do is love our neighbors. That may well prove the hardest challenge of all! In the end, though, it’s the only one that counts. 

Greg Forster

Greg Forster serves as the director of the Oikonomia Network at the Center for Transformational Churches, and is a visiting assistant professor of faith and culture at Trinity Graduate School. He has a Ph.D. with distinction in political philosophy from Yale University. He is the author of six books, most … 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