Redefining politics: The real center of political engagement

September 20, 2017

For many Americans, November 8th was an important day—whether for good or ill. Millions exercised their right by voting for the next President of the United States. For several months, we witnessed political ads, watched debates, and argued over candidates on social media (at least I did, regrettably). Many Americans were engaged politically on every level.

However, as strong as our feelings and ideas can be, we need a reminder that the center of political engagement isn’t found at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the steps of the Capitol, the Courtroom of Justices, or the halls of Congress. Every four years we convince ourselves that it is, especially this past year. And as an American citizen, I believe that the election of President is important. However, Washington D.C. was never intended to be the center of our world.

Being political: Life together

We are right to be concerned about politics. Aristotle who argued that as humans we are political animals. But we need to understand what it means to be political. Being engaged in politics is more than just voting for President every four years on the second Tuesday of November or campaigning for a candidate. Being political actually has to do with our daily interactions with others.

We need a reminder that the center of political engagement isn’t found at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The modern word ‘political’ is derived from the Greek politikos, ‘of, or pertaining to, the polis (the city).’ A general understanding of politics is simply the organization of public life. Webster states that one of the definitions of politics is “the total complex of relations between people living in society.” Christian philosopher Scott Moore argues, “Politics is about how we order our lives together in the polis, whether that is a city, community, or even family.” Rod Dreher states, “In the most basic philosophical sense, politics is the process by which we agree on how we are going to live together” (see The Benedict Option).

In the same way, being political is much more than labeling yourself a liberal or conservative. At its most basic level, it is about how individuals relate to each other and live together. In this case, nearly every choice we make is “political” because it affects those around us, whether family, friends, or neighbors. In a sense, we engage in politics every day by the way we interact with each other (or choose not to interact). We don’t simply exist as individuals doing our own individual thing. That is contrary to the very idea of society and to experience. Rather, we are individuals who engage in community.

Practical Christian politics: Loving others

If being political is about relating and living with others, as Christians, we must view our political engagement through a Christian worldview. The foundation of the Christian tradition—to love God and neighbor—is by application, political. To love your neighbor is to care about someone other than yourself and to be focused on the complexity of relationships between people living in a society.

The virtues of daily political and social engagement for Christians are found in the Bible. Jesus taught his disciples to “do unto others as you would have them to unto you . . . love your enemies . . . give to those who ask.” He also taught his disciples the proper use of money and the value of personal virtue. These statements are found within the context of the Sermon on the Mount—Jesus’ Kingdom Manifesto. Jesus was providing his disciples a way to think “politically” about their daily engagement in society and with their neighbors. As a result, this is God's way for us to flourish. As Dr. Jonathan Pennington states, "God’s saving work, his redemptive activity, his goal for humanity and all creation is precisely this: that we flourish fully even as he himself flourishes perfectly, completely, and with overflowing abundance."

Being political is simply being the type of people God wants us to be, loving him and loving others. This is all driven by the telos, the ultimate goal of the Christian faith—the resurrection of a New Creation that is to come. That is to say, we engage politically with those around us because of the future goal of the world. The present is impacted by the future. The goal motives us to live now. And the “not yet” drives the “already.”

The center of politics: Daily life and the local church

Since political virtue and engagement is not derived from Washington D.C., we must redefine our politics. The center of political interaction between neighbors is found within our local context. As such, the center of political engagement is found around the table at the local Dairy Queen and the Garden Club planning meeting. It is revealed in the exchange at the local food bank as you serve your neighbors. It is shown by speaking up for the broken in your community.

The political center of America is experienced in community functions downtown on Market Street. It is experienced as moms encourage one another at the coffee shop and as dads come home from work greeted by warm hugs from their three-year-old. The engagement takes place everywhere, whether that is at the local PTO, school board, or Rotary Club. Political virtue is revealed in rallies as local law enforcement and community leaders discuss racial equality.

Kingdom politics are experienced as you speak the good news of the kingdom to a close friend. Our political core is found on Sunday mornings as we worship the Galilean King. Kingdom political engagement is about love, service, humility, courage, and compassion. This type of political engagement ought to be strived for. It is here that we must redefine what it means to be political.

And as Christians, this engagement has another meaning—we engage with others as representatives of God’s Kingdom. We believe that Jesus is the Lord of the universe, and all of history is bending toward him, including our daily lives. Through the Spirit’s power, as we live and relate with others, we show the alternative political sphere—one that is ruled by Jesus. Local political engagement, moving through the simple rhythms of life—with the Father, Son, and Spirit—has significant eternal effects on those we interact with daily.

Though his reign is veiled now, one day leaders in Washington D.C. and the Supreme Court will give an account to the True Judge, Jesus. America and her presidents will simply be an endnote at the back of God's sovereign history book. His Kingdom will reign forever and ever. The local church is a foretaste of this present reign of Christ. This means that we are rehearsing for the Kingdom to come every Sunday, and this is political.

Michael Cooper

Michael Cooper was captured by Jesus at the age of 17. He and his wife Kailie have been married since June 2012, and they are the proud parents of two little girls. He has a B.A. in Biblical Studies and a M.A. in Theological Studies from Criswell College. He is currently … 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