#MeToo reminds us that Christian ethics are timeless truths

November 30, 2018

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my wife and I watched the new A&E series, “The Clinton Affair.” Like the title suggests, this six-part documentary retold one of the most explosive political moments not only of the 1990s, but in American history.

The point of this essay is not to recount President Clinton’s many indiscretions when it comes to his lewd treatment of women and the tales of marital infidelity. Instead, it is to highlight how times have changed (however slowly) since the 1990s in regard to how women are treated and talked about—for the better—in the culture, and how this progress demonstrates the failure of our culture to hold to a timeless code of ethics.

As my wife and I watched the documentary, I was stunned to see how the media and entertainment culture treated Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky. Late-night comedians mocked Paula Jones’ accent, appearance, and socio-economic status. They made fun of her for being from Arkansas and for having a protruding nose. Other comedians and journalists made disgusting innuendos about Miss Lewinsky—political cartoons and jokes too inappropriate to even describe in this space. They mocked her weight and sanity. Jones and Lewinsky were both humiliated and scapegoated. Feminists turned their backs on both because their preferred politician was in the White House.

These women were scorned by the same voices and industries that now parade themselves as the moral guardians of society—especially in light of the #MeToo movement. Were any of the same types of comments made about women today, there would be immediate dismissals. Rightfully so. Few in the media or entertainment industry are willing to confess their complicity and wrongdoing in bringing shame to women—but that’s what they were doing in 1998, but shunning in 2018. How the media and entertainers treated Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky in 1998 makes them nothing but hypocrites by the standards these same voices expect today.

Let me be clear: I am immensely thankful for how society is getting honest about its treatment of women. I’m thankful that men who abused their power to sexually harass and intimidate women are starting to be held to account. This is actual progress. But we still have a long way to go.

And today’s progress sheds light on the fickleness of human or man-made morality. It highlights how people are okay with the popular morality of the crowd, regardless if the morality in question is fair or loving. What are the lessons in this? There are three I want to highlight.

1. Staying consistent

First, it was wrong to let media, journalists, and entertainers set the parameters for moral discourse in 1998. It’s wrong to let the same industries do this 2018. If they did not steward their responsibility well for how women were talked about then, I’m not sure why we should unquestionably defer to cultural elites today. When standards of morality are always in flux and evolving, it’s dangerous to let the crowd be the culture’s gatekeeper.

2. Morality is not relative

Second, the outrage generated today at the news of women being treated poorly demonstrates that morality is not relative. When an injustice occurs against women that twists our insides or disturbs our conscience, it’s a reminder that the sense of injustice and anger we experience is not culturally-conditioned; it’s not simply an evolutionary quark; it’s not simply a neural response. It’s real injustice, and real injustice demands not only our rage but our commitment to calling perpetrators to repentance. We do not tell predatory men to “live your truth” like we do on other moral matters where there’s not so easily an identifiable victim.

The outrage that follows injustice is a reflection of the moral code given to us by God. The Apostle Paul calls this innate sense of objective and universal morality the “law written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:15). God gives us a conscience to respond to this universal law. It is one of the greatest gifts of God because it guides us to truth and shows us error.

3. Christian ethics are timeless

Third, the inconsistency and hypocrisy of our cultural gatekeepers highlights one of the most important truths of Christian ethics: their universality and timelessness. This simply means that Christian ethics are true, and always true. If Christian ethics were true when God ordered the world in Genesis and showed us what these ethics look like in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, it means they are just as true today.

The culture can forge helpful moral movements like #MeToo, yet we don’t need the media or journalists or entertainers to tell us that treating women as sexual objects is wrong. All we have to do is look to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31)—something that even Christians have woefully failed at as stories appear highlighting our own hypocrisy. I’m glad the culture is playing catch-up with an objective morality that has been there all along.  

Real, ultimate, and true morality needs God to stand behind it—to authorize it, to enforce it, and to judge all other ethical systems by this standard.

Something as important and necessary as morality cannot be left to the whims and opinions of man. We see this to be true because a morality conditioned by the times we live in has shown itself to be untrustworthy. Our gatekeepers failed. They moved the moral goal posts in the right direction, but who is to say that it won’t shift in a problematic direction once again?

The same is not true for Christian ethics. True morality requires stability. If we fail to live up to our ethics, it is because we are sinners—not because we think morality shifts to fit the moods or preferences of a given culture. Christian ethics do not have an asterisk or qualifier behind their relevance or truthfulness. Real, ultimate, and true morality needs God to stand behind it—to authorize it, to enforce it, and to judge all other ethical systems by this standard. One of the great treasures of Christian ethics is their consistency and constancy. When morality has God behind it, it does not change; it just ends up being validated.

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Andrew T. Walker

Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. 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