Parents and politics

Navigating relational strain over political issues

February 3, 2021

There’s a conversation that I keep hearing about over and over again. I’ve heard one side from my friends and fellow millennials. I’ve heard the other side from parents and grandparents who’ve engaged me for my thoughts. The conversation is about the divide that is emerging, especially among evangelical families, over politics.

Honestly, I’ve heard others recount some version of this conversation more times than I can remember. (And apparently I’m not alone. See the reader question here.) Each time, it is always marked by frustration and typically lament. Most of the young Christians I know take no pleasure in fighting with their parents or grandparents about politics. Likewise, in my experience, most of the men and women in the generations above my own also regret the relational cost that these conflicts often bear.

Principles vs. practice

This issue is difficult and increasingly common. And there are no easy answers. By that I do not mean that there isn’t any hope. What I mean is that neither the Scriptures, nor the Christian tradition, offer specific instructions to us in this area. Politics is often a prudential exercise. Yes, there are bedrock principles that we can lift directly from the pages of our Bibles to inform our political perspectives. But the truth is that even these points of clarity do not carry us all the way from the level of principle all the way to application.

Let me illustrate the point. Probably the clearest “political” question of our day that is directly addressed in Scripture is abortion. The Bible is astoundingly clear about the sanctity of human life, about the dignity of personhood, and that life begins in the womb (Psalm 22:10, 139:13-16, Jer. 1:5). And because this is so clear, few of the evangelicals that I know, regardless of their generation, are tempted to equivocate on the issue. Christians who hold fast to the Scriptures will consistently oppose abortion. But even this very clear issue, raises further questions about which Christians are divided. 

Some argue that the only policies a Christian should support concerning abortion are those that would bring about the total abolition of the practice. Others, who are equally opposed to abortion, argue that Christians are free to support any policy that would reduce the number of abortions being performed, even if such a policy represents only an incremental reduction. And there are further questions beyond these. For instance, whether legislation to curtail abortion should also increase public funding to help single mothers or families in financial distress.

This is only one example of how Christians can find themselves at odds over the implications of a belief they hold in common. And in this case the underlying principle is exceedingly clear. So you can easily imagine what happens when the connections between policies and biblical principles are even less direct: Are Christians bound to vote for this candidate? Are Christians sinning if they vote for that candidate? Should Christians even belong to a political party? 

Understanding political decisions

Such questions lead me back to the ongoing conflicts between Christians of different generations. I won’t pretend to know the whole cause for this. But I am confident that at least part of the reason lies in the fact that political decisions are made on the basis of multiple factors including knowledge, wisdom, and experience.

Thinking through the factors that shape our political decisions can help us show more grace and understanding when fellow believers come to different conclusions than our own. In terms of knowledge, when these disagreements show up among evangelicals, it is usually not because we are appealing to different sources of authority. Across these generations, we use the same Bible. We read the same passages. And as I mentioned, Christians of all ages are generally agreed at the level of principle when it comes to recognizing significant moral and political implications within the Scriptures.

Thinking through the factors that shape our political decisions can help us show more grace and understanding when fellow believers come to different conclusions than our own.

This is where wisdom comes in. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. My favorite definition defines wisdom as “the proper application of knowledge.” And I think this is crucial for understanding these generational clashes when it comes to politics. Seeking to correctly apply knowledge is not just a matter of processing certain information; it is also a matter of experience. As we deliberate important issues and make consequential decisions, our knowledge is combined with our experience to help us choose the best path forward.

One fairly common thread in the many contentious conversations that have been relayed to me sounds something like this: “You haven’t seen what I’ve seen!” That’s actually more important than it first appears. All of us are shaped by our experiences. And because that’s true, it isn’t really surprising that some of these conflicts emerge along generational lines. To some degree, it makes sense that people who lived in the same culture through the same events would share similar assumptions or perspectives. It’s also not surprising that people who did not share such experiences may not share the same perspectives as those who did.

Reducing the tension

For Christians who have experienced these issues, here are several practices to consider that may help these conversations generate more light and less heat.

First, remember that politics should not disrupt Christian unity. Politics are deeply important. Political outcomes affect real peoples lives—our health, freedom, safety, even our ability to worship and practice our faith. But allowing politics, which is always a penultimate exercise, to create discord among believers is almost always a mistake. I say almost always because it is never acceptable for a Christian to jettison or violate the clear teaching of Scripture to advance a political agenda, and such error may warrant correction. But assuming this isn’t the case, it is surely a mistake to allow prudential matters to damage our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Second, remember that political decisions are rarely linear. Though it is often portrayed otherwise, addressing political issues as a Christian is more complicated than simply holding a ballot in one hand and a Bible in the other. Let me say clearly: when it comes to politics, the Scriptures are the very best tool we have at our disposal. But it’s important to acknowledge that each of us brings all kinds of assumptions and background knowledge with us when we approach any political issue. Assuming that all of the positions we hold, the party we belong to, and the exact candidates we support are the only legitimate (or biblical) options for Christians not only sets an impossibly high standard, but sets ourselves up as judges over the consciences of our fellow believers. And as pastor-theologian Kevin DeYoung reminds us, we must exercise great caution in attaching God’s name to our political pronouncements, lest we violate the third commandment.

Third, should political issues become contentious between younger Christians and their parents (or any older saints), I would encourage younger Christians to do their best to show deference and respect to their elders. Conflict between parents and their children is nothing new. After all, God addressed the issue in the Decalogue (Ex. 20:12). Age does not yield in infallibility. But younger Christians should seek to honor older saints, weighing their words carefully and assuming that their experience often brings benefits and insight. And perhaps both sides should have the humility to recognize that their own position could be in error, as well as the confidence to believe that the same Holy Spirit is actively guiding them both parties.

Finally, I would encourage any Christian to reevaluate the goal of these kinds of conversations. There is nothing wrong with political zeal. But I can only assume that less of these conversations would devolve into diatribes or shouting matches if Christians entered them seeking to learn instead of win. Browbeating another believer into submission may be cathartic, but is hardly praiseworthy. Rather than avoiding political issues entirely, Christians should engage one another with charity, seeking to learn and persuade instead of coerce or destroy.

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Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. 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