Obergefell One Year Later: The Difficult Path for Millennials

July 13, 2016

Before ‘Obergefell’ became forever linked to a landmark Supreme Court decision, it was the surname of Jim Obergefell. In 2013, Jim boarded a small, medically-equipped plane with his partner, John Arthur. John was dying of ALS, and the couple hoped to marry before the disease fully consumed him. However, in order to do this, the Ohio couple had to travel to Maryland, as their own state did not perform or recognize same-sex marriages. Several months after returning from their 10-minute wedding on a Maryland Tarmac, John passed away. As a result of the state’s marriage laws, Ohio refused to acknowledge Jim’s status as a widower. Financially, there was little to gain (some $255 in Social Security benefits). Jim simply wanted his home state of Ohio to dignify his relationship with legal recognition. But this event precipitated the legal battle that would fundamentally change the definition of marriage in America.

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 in favor of Jim Obergefell, effectively establishing that state prohibitions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. To rule otherwise, so Justice Anthony Kennedy concluded, would mean “condemning” gay and lesbian Americans to “loneliness.” In his concluding paragraph, which Slate praised as “one of the most beautiful passages you’ll likely read in a court case,” Kennedy declared, “Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there.”

Many analyses of Obergefell have pointed out contradictions in the ruling and fallacies in the cultural logic that legitimated it. This is good and necessary. Yet as millennial Christians, we do not find these arguments compelling. Not because they lack validity or coherence, but because such arguments fail to address the “truthiness”—a word Stephen Colbert invented to satirize our generation’s hyper-subjectivity—of Obergefell. In an interview Colbert explained, “It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It’s certainty. … It’s not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true.”[1] For our generation, addressing Obergefell in a compelling manner requires understanding its emotionally subjective nature.

As millennials, we find ourselves swept up by the story of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur; we are moved by Jim’s steadfastness and commitment to John throughout his suffering and death. Even though we are unmarried, Justice Kennedy’s rhetoric warms our hearts. Who hasn’t wrestled with loneliness? Who doesn’t long for the kind of “I am yours and you are mine” relationship vowed in marriage. And yet as Christians committed to the truth of Scripture, we can grant neither that God consecrates same-sex marriages nor that marriage is the solitary structure in which the Lord meets our need for community.

A year after Obergefell, Christians are at a crossroads of Christ and culture. Christians must once again decide if we will maintain our faith commitments even when they are in conflict with the values of our neighbors, friends, and family. While some professing Christians choose to believe or not believe certain passages of the Bible to privilege their personal understanding, this practice is predicated upon a kind of relativism which necessarily denies the objective nature of Scripture. The subjectivity of picking and choosing which passages to accept and which to ignore is both damaging and futile. Such attempts result in the creation of false gods (that tend to resemble one’s own image). Instead of equivocation, Christians should embrace the fact that the culture is changing and prepare for the uphill journey ahead.

First, those who wish to uphold the sanctity of marriage—as defined by God at creation—must be prepared for social estrangement. There may come a time when orthodox Christians are considered just as hateful and dangerous as the people of Westboro Baptist. This will, perhaps, introduce hardship for Christians as we have, in the past, easily found approval with our unbelieving neighbors. But even as we are socially marginalized, Christians can rejoice that our “backwards” beliefs progressively anticipate the future of the world under Christ’s reign.

Second, as same-sex relationships continue to gain acceptance, Christians must be prepared to stand by the Word of God. We must maintain our beliefs when confronted with America’s new reality. We will be told that same-sex marriage is no different than traditional marriage, that same-sex relationships are just as loving and healthy as heterosexual ones. And in the future, if not already, people we are close to, including family members, will profess same-sex attraction. These scenarios and others like them will present emotional challenges to our commitment to biblical truth. Yet we must not allow them to lead us to deny God’s truth by affirming same-sex marriage. Instead, let them direct us toward a more loving and understanding way of engaging this issue and approaching our same-sex attracted friends and family.

Lastly, Christians should not react to the changing culture by closing our mouths. We are called to proclaim the gospel in its fullness. We proclaim the hope of salvation generously and joyfully to all people, no matter their race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. If we honestly believe that the gospel is true and that it has the power to radically change lives, we must confidently announce the Good News that Jesus has come to save the lost.

In a post-Obergefell America, Christians will be expected to voice approval of same-sex marriage. But we are called to tell the truth about marriage, which reflects the truth of the gospel. And we will. For someday we will stand in God’s eternal kingdom with brothers and sisters, including those who struggled with same-sex attraction, singing praises to our great and glorious God.

[1] http://www.avclub.com/article/stephen-colbert-13970

John Partin

John Partin was a former policy intern for the ERLC.  He is currently a legislative correspondent at the United States Senate and Missions Intern at Edward Road Baptist Church. He studied Political Science at North Greenville University. Read More by this Author

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