Men, you must prevent domestic violence

August 7, 2014

When your job is to talk and you talk as much and as bombastically as Stephen A. Smith, you’re bound to say some things that get you into trouble. Usually Smith doesn’t care one bit. But last Friday the ESPN commentator made some comments about domestic violence that has him back pedaling and trying to explain himself.

For context, Ray Rice, a running back for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, received a two-game suspension in connection with a hotel video that shows him dragging his unconscious girlfriend from an elevator. The woman in question and the authorities reporting to the scene allege Rice knocked her out on the elevator. Following review of the video, the Ravens issued Rice’s suspension. Smith’s comments come in the wake of the suspension.

What did Smith say? To be fair, Smith got some things correct. He was unequivocal in repeatedly saying men “have no business putting [their] hands on a woman.” He expressed empathy and a protective concern for the women in his life—his mother, sisters and others. He suggested that a two-game suspension was not severe enough.

So why did the internet erupt last Friday following Smith’s comments? Why were his comments described as a “rant” and Smith himself as going “off the rails”? (see here) Well, it’s not because Smith was actually ranting. Anyone familiar with ESPN’s First Take can identity a Stephen A. Smith rant—he does it all the time. And we’ve seen Smith nearly come undone. But this was Smith delivering a sober and, for Smith, measured reply. He was serious and, from what I can tell, intended to send a message about the complete inappropriateness of men battering women.

The controversy stems from Smith’s comments about women needing to take measures to not provoke abuse or put themselves in situations with potential to end in abuse. Rambling and searching for words, Smith said:

“What I’ve tried to implore the female members of my family, some of whom you all met and talked to and what have you, is that again, and this is what, I’ve done this all my life, let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions, because if I come, or somebody else come, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know, if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you. So let’s try to make sure that we can do our part in making sure that doesn’t happen.”

That’s one daddy of a run-on sentence, full of asides and qualifications, so it’s difficult to interpret precisely what Smith means. But here’s my best guess. He’s attempting to say three things, I think:

  1. He’s always encouraged the women of his family not to “provoke wrong actions” from men (i.e., abusive actions).
  2. If a man abuses a woman, then the response of law enforcement and family members will always be after the fact, that is, too late to prevent the abuse.
  3. So, he believes women should do “their part in making sure” abuse ‘doesn’t happen.’”

I think Smith means well. I really do. Yet I think he demonstrates some dangerous ignorance regarding the nature and dynamics of domestic abuse.

Stephen A. Smith plans to make more clarifying comments on today’s edition of First Take. Here are four things I think he missed the first time, and that I hope shape his comments this time:

We cannot qualify the basic message.

Had Smith simply stopped with his opening statement—men “have no business putting [their] hands on a woman”—period—end of sentence—then he would have delivered a clear, unmistakable, and most necessary message. That message got lost because there are no acceptable qualifiers for it. It stands alone. It should be shouted repeatedly into a culture among professional athletes that all-too-often turns the blind eye to gladiator men smashing around beautiful women.

But any time you add a qualifier like “women should do what we can to prevent abuse,” you shift responsibility from the abuser to the abused. You blame the victim. Rather than focus on the perpetrator of the crime—and that’s what battering is!—you saddle the already entrapped, manipulated and hurting woman with responsibility for herself and for the one beating her.

Domestic abuse is not a “women’s issue.” It’s a men’s issue.

I wrote about this a little while back (see here and here). It’s related to the blame-shifting mentioned above. The battering of women and children would decrease dramatically if (a) men owned this as our problem and (b) those men who do not batter would hold accountable the men who do. But too often we speak of domestic violence in terms that leave men blameless. We say, “Debbie was beaten” rather than “Joe beats Debbie.” In the first sentence, our usual way of speaking, “Joe” doesn’t even appear in the picture. And that’s the major problem. The abuser vanishes in the shadows while good men stand by quietly and women are left with “the problem.”

Men must prevent domestic violence.

Smith rightly calls for prevention. We need to do everything we can to prevent abuse. But the “we” who needs to do something is men—not women. So many people seem to forget or know very little about battered women’s syndrome. When we’re ignorant of even the most basic description and dynamics we end up doing things devastatingly harmful for the women and children who experience it. Taking five minutes to read the Wikipedia entry would be a very helpful first step in educating ourselves for prevention. Men must prevent domestic violence because the women and children trapped in the repeated cycles of abuse-reconciliation-blame-abuse-reconciliation are overwhelmed with the grooming and abuse much the way war veterans with PTSD are overwhelmed with the effects of war.

Putting women in abusive situations will cost someone their life.

Asking women to take preventative measures while involved with an abuser costs too many people their lives. Women make up about 75 percent of persons killed by an intimate partner. But sometimes the victim is the male perpetrator when women take desperate measures to defend themselves, another effect of battered women’s syndrome. We can’t afford to be uninformed about the global problem of men battering women—especially if our comments are as high-profile as Smith’s.

Lessons for the local church

As I thought about Smith’s comments over the weekend, my mind went quickly to my role and the role of Christian men in our churches. Let’s not forget that many of the battered women in our communities are in our churches, worshipping alongside us, pretending everything is okay, hiding brutal bruises, and making excuses for their abusers. Sometimes the abusers are husbands who are also involved in our churches. And, worst of all, sometimes the abuser is a church leader.

Domestic violence shelters can no longer be the only safe places for abused women and children. The safest place should be the family of God.

But it’s not. And our churches won’t be safe until we get in the fight on behalf of our sisters. Churches aren’t safe because Christians pretend blindness, remain ignorant, and sometimes provide disastrous counsel. How many times have we heard leaders and Christians tell an abused woman “God hates divorce” or some such thing? How often have church leaders made women the villains when men were abusers? How often have women be ostracized or shunned while men continued their service in the church?

We’ve got work to do, brothers. It’s time for godly Christian men to make domestic abuse and intimate partner violence a men’s issue. It’s time pastors preach and teach on this issue in an uncompromising, courageous and visionary way (here’s an example). It’s time we end our complicit silence and speak up for our sisters. We’ve asked women to support black men in a thousand ways for hundreds of years. But truth be told, men haven’t even begun to return the love, support, protection and hope women have given us! We’ve taken their support and turned our backs when and where our sisters have needed us most. We need to repent. We need to call a moratorium on all our “save the black man” activities until we show some strength in saving, protecting and nurturing some black women!

Personally, I can’t blame Black women for debating whether they should continue marching and protesting in support of Black male causes. I pray the debate (see hereherehere for example) leads to some necessary repentance and action among us brothers. The Lord knows that when guys are knocking women out in hotel elevators and worse in private homes, our sisters need us to step up for them. May He give us strength to do so.

This article was originally published on thefrontporch.org.

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