Our 9 favorite episodes of Capitol Conversations

Celebrating 100 shows of the podcast

November 1, 2019

I was nervous the first time I joined the Capitol Conversations roundtable. No matter how comfortable I was with public speaking, it was uniquely intimidating to sit in front of a mic with the red light blinking. Matt Hawkins, the podcast’s original host, invited me to report on the ERLC’s efforts serving families amid the adoption crisis in Ethiopia. The podcast was produced each week to invite listeners into our advocacy work in Washington, D.C., but recently we thought it was time to try to do something more with the show.

We live in a strange cultural time in America, and Christians need better ways to be salt and light in the American political process. My colleague Steven Harris says often that what is needed is a new evangelical imaginative. Over time, this became an inspiration for the new direction of our podcast. We wrote it down like this: our podcast exists to foster a new evangelical imaginative for political engagement.

There is a growing need to reimagine what faithfulness to the commandments of Christ should look like as American citizens in the public square. Our fractured public witness is a sign that we need to rediscover the good news of the gospel. As Russell Moore puts it in the closing chapter of Onward, in our fight for doctrinal orthodoxy and public justice, we must “labor to preserve something ancient, something ever new, not just for us, and not just for our children, but for our future brothers and sisters in Christ, many of whom hate us right now.”

We want the conversations on our podcast to help evangelicals imagine a new way to engage in the public debates of our day. To do this, we discuss the news shaping our world with leaders from across the political spectrum working in ministry, media, government, and advocacy. We aim to offer listeners trusted analysis of news and public policy and then, in keeping with our pastoral commitments, connect the theological distinctives of the ERLC to political engagement in Washington.

Celebrating 100 episodes

Earlier this fall, Gary Lancaster (our audio engineer) and I saw we were nearing our 100th episode. We thought back to all of the incredible guests and wide-ranging conversations we hosted in the studio and around the country. We decided the best way to mark the milestone would be to invite Matt back as the podcast’s founder to join me for a countdown of our favorite episodes that reflect Capitol Conversations purpose.

Narrowing them down was harder than I thought. The long list of episodes offers a lot of content from which to equip a listener with a new evangelical imaginative, like the series covering the abortion debate in America or even one of our annual internship episodes, which is always a crowd favorite. Another way we use the show to equip those tuning in is by publishing the audio from our events like ERLC President Russell Moore’s interview with Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) on parenting and Moore’s teaching on Christian Ethics from ERLC Academy on the Hill.

We’ve had a great time thus far, and we’re just getting started. Here’s the countdown of our favorite 10 episodes from the first 100 of ERLC’s Capitol Conversations.

#9 | August Profiles: Justin Giboney on Christian compassion and conviction in politics, published August 2019 With Congress in August recess, we took a break from our usual policy-focused conversations to bring you interviews with leaders we admire who are shaping the world of Christian political engagement. In this episode, Harris sat down with Justin Giboney, founder of The AND Campaign. Giboney is an attorney and political strategist in Atlanta, Georgia.

#8 | Meet the staff of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, published June 2018 Staff from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) sat down with Hawkins to discuss their work and the most recent annual report from the Commission. Dwight Bashir is director of research and policy at the Commission. Elizabeth K. Cassidy is director of international law and policy at the Commission.

#7 | David French on the rise of alt-right white supremacist terrorism, published August 2019 At the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the messengers passed a resolution on the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy. When the United States was hit with more tragic mass shootings, first in El Paso, Texas and then in Dayton, Ohio, the shooter in El Paso claimed allegiance to the evil ideology of white supremacy as the motivation for his attack in the Texas border town. David French joins Pickering and Travis Wussow to discuss how this attack is connected with many others as this ideology is on the rise. At the time, David French was a senior writer for National Review.

#6 | Canon & Culture: episode with Syrian Christians Canon & Culture welcomes a Lebanese missionary to Syria and a Syrian missionary to the United States to talk about the gospel, the church in Syria, and the refugee crisis.

#5 | Kenneth Bae, the longest held U.S. prisoner in North Korea, on hope in a hard labor camp, published July 2019 Kenneth Bae is a Christian missionary and American citizen who knows all too well about North Korean oppression. Although it is difficult to enter North Korea, Bae hosted state approved tourism visits from China until the country’s security officials arrested him. After two years, Bae became the longest held U.S. citizen to be imprisoned in North Korea. He was released in 2014. Since being released, Kenneth founded the Nehemiah Global Initiative, which is devoted to remembering the 25 million North Koreans and helping North Korean refugees physically and spiritually to rebuild new lives in South Korea.

#4 | Northern Dreamer, Southern Dreamer, published January 2018 Hawkins welcomes Vanessa Gutierrez (Michigan) and Elisa Gonzalez (South Carolina) who share what it’s like to be “Dreamers” and DACA recipients.

#3 | Melissa Ohden on Surviving Abortion, published February 2019 Ahead of the Senate vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, Pickering and Chelsea Pattern Sobolik welcomed pro-life and adoption advocate Melissa Ohden to the roundtable to share her story. Ohden was born-alive after a failed abortion attempt at 7 months gestation. Her story is an awesome testament to God’s grace.

#2 | A conversation about Charlottesville, published August 2017 Hawkins, Wussow, and Harris shared a conversation as they process the tragic events that unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the bold revival of racism and anti-Semitism in America. Where do gospel-believing churches go from here?

#1 | A Story of Criminal Justice Reform: How the First Step Act Became Law, published February 2019 In the final days of the 115th Congress, a significant and bipartisan federal criminal justice reform bill was signed into law at the White House. The First Step Act, which sought both prison and sentencing reforms, enjoyed overwhelming votes in the Senate and House December 2018. Yet the bill’s journey to passage was as unlikely as the coalition of conservatives and liberals who supported it. Heather Rice-Minus of Prison Fellowship was one of the dedicated advocates whose work ensured that this bill became a law. She serves as vice president of government affairs at Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families.

Jeff Pickering

Jeff Pickering is the director of the Initiative on Faith & Public Life, a project of the American Enterprise Institute. AEI is a leading public policy think tank in Washington, DC and the initiative exists to equip Christian college students for faithful engagement in public life. Jeff moved to Washington … 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