Pre-marital infidelity and the single Christian

March 27, 2014

Each week my neighbors and I engage in a curious ethical ritual. On Wednesday morning before we leave for work we set outside our doors an artifact that expresses our obligation to the welfare of future generations. We call these objects recycling bins.

Recycling is one example of an action that we take in the present to benefit a group in the future. The earth has enough space and resources that all current generations could be extremely wasteful without having a noticeably detrimental effect on the global population. Future generations, however, would likely suffer if we were wantonly careless in our use of resources. For this reason the recycling of waste products is viewed as an important, albeit minor, act of personal virtue. 

Although most people probably do not need to be persuaded that we have moral obligations to future generations, it would be useful to examine what form such an argument would take. Philosopher Jim Nolt outlines it as follows:

  1. We have obligations to all currently living people.
  2. Future people are in no morally relevant respect different from currently living people.
  3. We have obligations to all future people.

To the argument Nolt adds:

The moral irrelevance of time of birth is perhaps best understood by the realization that we are future people-to our predecessors. The distinction between past and future is, after all, not ultimate and absolute, but relative to temporal perspective. In that respect, it is like the designation, “foreigner,” which is relative to geographical perspective. Who counts as a foreigner depends on the country we inhabit. Likewise, who counts as a future person depends on the time we inhabit. All people are foreigners to people of countries other than their own. Likewise, all people belong to the future generations of their predecessors. [emphasis in original]

If this argument is true, then we have generic obligations (e.g., don’t despoil the planet) to future generic groups (e.g., people living in AD 2056). But could it be the case that we also have specific obligations to specific individuals in the future? For example, I believe that Christian men and women who are unmarried (and are not called to a life of chastity) have certain present obligations to the person who will be their future spouse. 

Shouldn’t this be obvious? After all, regardless of whether they come from a secular or religious worldview, people in the West generally share the idea that there is one specific person—a true love, soul mate, etc.—for each of us. Whether chosen by God or fate, this is the person we are supposed to share our lives with in a state of marital commitment. 

Setting aside the matters of providence and romance, we can take as a brute fact that for most people, that person currently exists somewhere in the world. When we meet them and begin to recognize that they are the one we plan to spend the rest of our lives with, our obligations become clear. But what about before this recognition occurs—or even before they come into our lives? There is at least one obligation, I would argue, that is recognized after we marry that should be binding on us even before we meet our future spouse: the duty to be sexually faithful. 

Although we may be separated, as Nolt might say, “relative to temporal perspective,” this person exists now and is not in any morally relevant respect different from the person we will wed. The duties of a husband to be sexually faithful, therefore, would extend not just from the present (when we cleave together in a one-flesh union) and future (throughout our marriage) but also backward into the past (the time prior to our marriage, or even before we meet). 

Obviously, not all duties are of this type. Some obligations that spouses owe to each other are previously required of other people, namely parents, while a smaller range of commitments are unique and exclusive to the matrimonial relationship. For example, a husband has an obligation both to provide financial support and to remain sexually faithful to his wife. The financial obligation is one that is initially born by her parents, and perhaps later in her life, by the woman herself. Naturally, the future husband is not expected to provide for her materially before they have even met. That is not a role or duty that is exclusive to marriage. The sexual fidelity obligation, however, is a unique duty that is not shared by any other person. The requirement for lifelong monogamy is specific to the marital relationship and should therefore be binding even before the spouses have committed themselves to each other. 

Consider the case of a man who is scheduled to be married on February 14 and has sexual relations with a woman who is not his fiancee on: 

(a) The night before his wedding. 

(b) The day of his wedding. 

(c) The day after his wedding. 

The action in each instance is the same but the term we’d use to describe the man would depend on when the event occurred: (a) would make the man a cheating cad, (c) and adulterer, and (b) either a cheating cad or an adulterer, depending on the time of day. Regardless of what we choose to call it, the consequence of the action is the same—the man has been unfaithful to his betrothed. Notice that though the “temporal perspective” changes the semantics, it doesn’t change the fact that the action is immoral.

Under this view, pre-marital sexual relations become a form of pre-marital infidelity, for we are being unfaithful to the one we will eventually pledge emotional and sexual allegiance. 

Why then do we not honor this obligation? As with most things in life, what we claim to believe is betrayed by our actions. Although unmarried people often claim to believe that they are waiting for their “true love” their actions show that they don’t really believe that claim—or that future love—to be true. If they seriously believed that their true love existed then how could they be sexually unfaithful to the one person who God has chosen for them? 

My recycling bin is a symbol of the obligation I feel I owe future generations. Unfortunately, I had no such token to give my wife that showed the obligation I owed her before we met. Instead, I had only a string of sexual sins that showed that before we met I treated the concept of “marital fidelity” as a useful fiction. 

I offer this confession to young people who have not yet lost one of the most valuable gifts God gives man or woman: the ability to give oneself completely to the person you love. If you want to show true love to your future spouse, then start now by keeping the Seventh Commandment. 

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is the author of The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He also serves as an executive pastor at the McLean Bible Church Arlington location in Arlington, Virginia. 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