Our Faith and Our Nation

July 4, 2014

On this July 4, celebrating our nation’s birthday, how should Christians view America’s role in the world and their role in America?

In his The Case for Goliath, Michael Mandelbaum suggests an appreciation for America’s global vocation can be likened to Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. A bank clerk named George Bailey played by Jimmy Stewart glumly imagines his existence in a small town to have been worthless and, in a moment of despair, even exclaims his wish never to have been born. A bemused angel appears to grant him his wish, and Bailey walks the street and enters the homes of Bedford Falls to witness how life transpired without him. His parents, the woman he married, and various friends all have lived tragically in his absence. His brother drowns because Bailey was not there to save him. The pharmacist mistakenly confused poison for medicine, killing a child, because Bailey was not there as his alert employee. The town is under the control of a cynical land developer whose influence Bailey had countered, and the streets are filled with the fruits of his moral indifference: seedy saloons, gambling dens, burlesque theaters. Viewing the full panoply of his universe absent him, thanks to the angel, Bailey realizes that for all his failures and self-absorption, his exertions were not in vain. Without directly theologizing, It’s a Wonderful Life illustrates that no life that pursues good under God’s care is ever in vain.

How would the world appear absent America and its military, economic and cultural influence? Reflecting back on the last century, it can be surmised that Germany may have won World War I, which began 100 years ago this year, if the United States had not entered that war on the Allied side. In his new book Catastrophe 1914, British military historian Max Hastings persuasively argues that a Europe dominated by an undefeated German military dictatorship would have been undesirable indeed. Far more ghastly would have been a Europe, or world, dominated by Hitler’s Germany, had America not joined the Allies in World War II. After that war, the United States organized global resistance to an expansionist Soviet Union, when Communism still genuinely appealed to millions globally. Western Europe could have shared Eastern Europe’s plight of dreary occupation and police state socialism. South Korea would have succumbed to nightmarish North Korea. Eventually democratic Taiwan would have fallen to Maoist terror. Helping to ensure defeat for the great totalitarian threats of the 20thcentury, each of which was especially pernicious to Christianity, has made America’s role in the world especially unique and desirable in human history.

But there’s more. The global economy over which America presides, which began in the ashes of the last world war’s horrors, and expanded exponentially after the Soviet Union’s fall, has lifted billions of people out of extreme poverty, raised life expectancy and health standards to unparalleled highs, allowed rule of law and relatively decent government to govern billions who previously knew only arbitrary dictatorship, and facilitated a relative global peace over the last 70 years almost without historical precedent. In his new book, Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World, British member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan traces the unique liberties that the Anglosphere, now led by America, have fostered and perpetuated globally. These concepts of legal equality, free speech, property rights, freedom from capricious arrest, rewarding “production better than predation,” are quite unusual in history and culture, and they propelled America to global leadership. Hannan roots many of these liberties in Britain’s historic Christian and specifically Protestant faith, a faith now diminished in the motherland but whose energy and insights still bear ample fruit worldwide.

Despite the many blessings on our own land, Christians in America are understandably in a funk and sometimes ambivalent about their civic responsibilities. America is today, as it always has been, a sinful nation that fails God’s standards of holiness and righteousness in a million ways. Of late there is the legal institutionalization of sexual immorality, the collapse of traditional family and consequent millions of children without stable homes, the now 41 year old legalized abortion on demand regime, popular culture’s increasingly dehumanizing trashiness, public and higher education’s pervasive postmodern amorality, and the grinding imposition of the new secular zeitgeist even at the price of religious liberty, among other justifiable laments.

Every nation offers the Devil plenty of playgrounds, and ours is no exception. But we should not commit the egotism of believing our age is the wickedest. American history, like all of human history, is full of chicanery, injustice and vice. Just read the sermons of America’s great revivalist preachers, themselves always flawed, from the 17th century onwards. Our ancestors got drunk, visited brothels, had abortions, trafficked in human chattel, stole land, enforced segregation, abetted riots, practiced eugenics, and knew almost every vice known to fallen humanity.

Yet Providence has frequently and repeatedly deployed our nation for mighty works of righteousness, despite the constant unworthiness of our citizens. We should not be proud but grateful for America’s moral and material accomplishments, by God’s grace, and our nation’s continuing central role in human history. We have a duty to model lawful liberty and responsible prosperity to the rest of the world, which, however grudgingly, still often looks to the United States. America must continue to lead the global economy, promote humanitarianism, and preside over global security.

There are no appealing or even plausible alternatives to American leadership anywhere on the global horizon for decades to come. Many Christians are apprehensive about speaking of America as specially chosen, or exceptional. But every human individual and community is divinely chosen for particular purposes. The United States, with more influence over the world than any other country, now or ever, has commensurately large responsibilities that we cannot possibly deny or shirk. Such duties for our nation are both humbling and honoring. And to the extent that God presides over all human events, our nation’s special role is His gracious will for this time.

In the founding document for my organization, called “Christianity and Democracy,” the late Richard John Neuhaus naturally rejected that America is a new Israel offering redemption to the world. He readily acknowledged that God has no special covenant with America. But he said: “In this continuing quest to secure a freedom that is worthy of a humanity made in God’s image and likeness, we believe that the United States of America is, on balance and considering the alternatives, a force for good,” while readily admitting America is “far from having fully actualized that ideal in its own life.” And he made clear: “Because America is a large and influential part of creation, because America is the home of most of the heirs of Israel of old, and because this is a land in which his church is vibrantly free to live and proclaim the Gospel to the world, we believe that America has a peculiar place in God’s promises and purposes.” He emphasized that America “under God” means “under judgment,” with a special vocation that includes serving as the “primary bearer of democratic possibility in the world today.” Such a statement for him was not nationalistic but simply factual, and fraught with “grave responsibility.” Neuhaus likewise declared: “We are also mindful that this is the nation for which we are most immediately accountable.”

This last sentence is most important. Christians are often devoted to the abstract and the ideal while losing sight of the tangible immediate. Our God-given duties begin with those to whom we are most proximate and have the greatest influence: our family, friends, neighbors, church and the wider community that is our nation. American Christians in 2014 are specially called to serve our nation, to seek its material and spiritual health, to help it fulfill its global duties, and to strive to align it with God’s purposes of holiness, justice and peace whenever possible.

In his final book, American Babylon, Neuhaus explored the meaning of Christian service in the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God. “When I meet God, I expect to meet him as an American,” he wrote. Where God has placed us in time and space is inescapably and intrinsically a part of our divinely appointed identity. Jesus was and is eternally a First Century Jew. We are and will be Americans, although, as children of God, so much more, as He was so very much more. Neuhaus also quoted St. Augustine: “It is beyond anything incredible that God should have willed the kingdoms of men, their dominations and their servitudes, to be outside the range of the laws of his providence.”

Like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we are often blind to the full reality of our earthly role, but God has placed us in America for His glory. We don’t know or understand all the details yet about our significance as individuals are as a nation. But we can trust His ultimate purposes for us, and for our country, on its 238th birthday this July 4, are superlatively important and good.

Mark Tooley
Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century. You can follow him on Twitter at @markdtooley.

Mark Tooley

Mark Tooley is the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and editor of IRD's foreign policy and national security journal, Providence. Prior to joining the IRD in 1994, Mark worked eight years for the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and is a native of Arlington, … 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