Obergefell v. Hodges: Fear Not

July 8, 2015

“Fear not.”

If that phrase is good enough to open angelic messages, my little essay probably deserves no better. Jesus used it to preface prophecies about the end of the world; I doubt that today’s circumstances call for excessive dourness.

But that’s not to say that nothing momentous happened when the Supreme Court unilaterally redefined marriage.

Each time a commercial airliner departs a runway, the passengers in the back experience the rushing noise of the wind and the forces of takeoff—either exhilarating or terrifying depending upon your opinion of manned flight. Likewise, the sexual revolution of my lifetime has been marked by building momentum, increasing volume, and intense feelings for everyone taking the ride.

Up front in the cockpit, however, takeoff is a much more technical, mathematical process. Pilots, to be sure, still generally enjoy the thrill of flight, but the physics and engineering of a takeoff rather than the aesthetics demand their attentions. Careful monitoring of the gauges prompts a number of staccato “callouts” on the flight deck:

“Airspeed alive.”

“80 knots. Crosscheck.”



“Positive rate.”

“Gear up.”

Of these milestones in the flight, “V1” is perhaps the most cryptic (to the observer who is not a pilot) and most important. For each takeoff, the pilots calculate the velocity (V) at which the airplane is moving so fast that aborting the takeoff is no longer possible. When he hears the co-pilot announce “V1,” the pilot takes his hand off of the throttles. Stopping is now out of the question. Whatever problems develop after V1, the pilots are going to have to try to remedy them in the air.

The landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v Hodges represents the V1 moment of the sexual revolution. If some modern-day triumvirate rivaling Whitefield, Edwards, and Wesley were to bring upon us a Third Great Awakening, it still would be too late to prevent this nation’s social experimentation by way of the removal of sexual taboos. Sure, God could do it, but it would take His doing more than even bringing revival to our land. It would take a revolution. Just as the pilots’ options and strategies change at the V1-moment, followers of Christ must acknowledge a changed universe of possibilities in the aftermath of this decision.

Advocates for same-sex marriage think that they have taken us into the future. Actually, we’ve regressed into the past in some significant ways, and history will be a great teacher for us in the days to come.

Legally, they’ve taken us back to the 1780s in terms of the fight for religious liberty. As in the 1780s, today most Americans are sympathetic toward the general idea of religious liberty. We are not back in the 1600s, some people’s lugubrious prognostications notwithstanding. As in the 1780s, the government’s will to pursue religious dissenters is probably not very strong. But just as in the 1780s, today the legal status of religious liberty is precarious. No, I do not have a law degree. I am a mere pastor, historian, and theologue. Nevertheless, when four Supreme Court Justices, including the Chief Justice himself, tell us that this decision imperils religious liberty in our nation, the idea is not a mere overreaction. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.” And, indeed, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s writings make little effort to prove him wrong. When the five-justice majority can find nothing to affirm in their majority opinion about religious free exercise that couldn’t have been covered under freedom of speech, what was a concern grows into an unmistakable destabilization of religious liberty.

Thankfully, a destabilization is not a loss. No matter what happens in upcoming elections, same-sex marriage is not going away anytime soon, but because the religious liberty questions that arise out of this ruling are untested and will be decided by future courts, upcoming elections could make a significant difference on these questions of religious liberty. Justices Scalia and Kennedy are nearly eighty years old. Justice Ginsburg has already passed that milestone. Justice Breyer is not far behind. Four justices are sympathetic toward religious liberty concerns. The next President of the United States will decide whether that number grows to the needed five or slips down further to three. To say so is not some political hack’s insistence that you must Go Out There And Vote REPUBLICAN!! Indeed, the author of today’s opinion was a Ronald Reagan nominee, so blind party allegiance is no likely solution.

Instead of committing themselves to doctrinaire party politics, the leaders of John Leland’s generation carefully and winsomely engaged the political world to lobby on behalf religious liberty for everyone. They walked away from that engagement with a pretty important accomplishment: the First Amendment. We ought to follow their examples.

We don’t do this frantically. We will serve the Lord with gladness no matter what becomes of American law, but we have an opportunity to make our nation a kinder place. This is not an act of self-preservation; religious liberty is a gift of love given to others. We can give it by making certain that the next president is someone committed to the fixed enshrinement of a full-throated religious liberty in our nation. The various candidates’ campaigns may not have much to say about that, but we owe it to our children in the faith to find out where they stand on these issues before we cast our ballots.

Socially, the advocates for the sexual revolution are quickly taking us back to first-century Rome. There and then we knew we were a minority, which we’ve always been whether we recognized it or not. Our church rolls contain many unregenerate members. That situation is about to change. A red-hot commitment to Christ is about to become the only reason why anyone would join one of our churches. We are becoming the ultimate “alternative lifestyle,” and the aftermath of today’s decision could be freeing for us, if we will allow it to be.

In order to be the liberating moment it needs to be, we must let it do more than just keep us where we are. I’ve read today from many brothers in Christ declaring that they will stand firm. Respectfully, standing firm is not what we need to do. The spot the American church occupied yesterday is not a good position to defend today. Like an ambushed soldier, we need to move—and move quickly—to some defensible piece of high ground. We need a twenty-first-century Christianity that is identifiably and radically trans-racial at the local church level like the first-century church. We need a twenty-first-century Christianity embracing the first-century positions on divorce and extramarital sex, not just from the pulpits, but also in the lives of individual Christians. We need a twenty-first-century Christianity that has conquered the greed and materialism of the twentieth century without lapsing into the unbiblical asceticism that plagued the fourth century, for example. We need a twenty-first-century Christianity featuring more stories of scandalous love than stories of scandalous love-affairs.

We need these things because we know something that the Supreme Court has failed to realize: The further our neighbors run away from God’s plan, the less—not more—happiness they are going to know. Not all those who find despair at the end of sin’s trail will know what to do about their plight, but if we will faithfully live out a first-century type of minority Christianity, many of them will see the contrast between the darkness and the light and will come to a joy they’ve never known.

A few years ago Southwest Airlines took me on a memorable journey into Houston’s Hobby Airport. Never have I known such turbulence (and I, holding a private pilot’s license, have spent quite a few hours in small planes). Upon disembarking, I looked up to the TV in the concourse and saw that the airport was under a tornado warning related to the cell through which we had just flown. Some flights make you not want to fly any more. This journey into the progressive whirlwind of marriage-can-mean-anything and meaningless-sex-as-ultimate-meaning will not forever endure. Jesus has promised us that He will work it—even it—together with everything else for the good of we who love God and are called according to His purpose.

A group of Moravian missionaries once found themselves on a terrifying journey, not in an airplane but in a vessel on a stormy sea. Everyone else panicked, but they serenely prayed. Most of the crew paid them little mind, and small was the audience in those cramped maritime quarters to witness their demeanor. Only one man’s life felt the impact of it, really, but that young man’s name was John Wesley. Seeing their radical faith and their dogged obedience, he recognized something that was missing from his own life. Could it be that God will use these times of tempest to raise up more great evangelists like him through our faithful testimony in the years to come? When the bedraggled passengers disembark this journey that will have served them so poorly, will we stand ready to welcome them into something that actually DOES restore human dignity: the gospel of Jesus Christ? If so, no matter what else attends it, that’s certainly no cause for any follower of Christ to have fear. As J. D. Greear tweeted today, “Love does win, and He has a name.”

Bart Barber

Bart Barber has served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, since 1999. He is married to Tracy (Brady) Barber. Bart has a B.A. from Baylor University in their University Scholars program, an M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a Ph.D. in … 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