Reflections on Obergefell One Year Later (Part 2)

June 30, 2016

Bryan Baise

Cultural Tumult, New Imperatives

The Obergefell ruling has reinforced for me what I had already sensed before: I can no longer take base assumptions for granted. For a while it seemed safe for me to assume that kids coming into college from Christian homes and cultures were cognizant of the shifting tides. Again, this assumption was entirely on my end and should in no way be taken as an indictment on anyone else. After Obergefell, my courses related to political and cultural engagement changed. Before I would help the students work through the reasoning behind same-sex marriage, why it was problematic, and where we can provide a response that is cogent and humble, but honoring to God’s design for marriage. While that discussion continues, I’ve added additional sections on the importance of religious liberty, freedom of conscience, and even constitutional interpretative schemes. We read—slowly—Obergefell’s majority reasoning together. We ask questions along the way, look for assumptions behind the majority opinion’s reasoning, ask questions about what effects this may take if extrapolated to other cultural issues. And so on. I don’t want students walking out of my classroom without a requisite framework to be able to work through difficult cultural and political issues. This is not an exercise in activating Socratic dialogue, but rather it’s pressing them to think deeper than the blogpost or podcast about key issues that will shape their future (American) ministry contexts.

It’s important for them to be cognizant that a potential decline of religious liberty affects not merely the culture at large, but their future ministry opportunities. This is not a scare tactic, but rather an honest assessment of what’s at stake in these areas. They need to wrestle with questions like: How will the future of tax exemption status affect their ministries? How has the redefinition of marriage along the lines of emotional attachment affected the culture before Obergefell? In what ways is this ruling a confirmation of that conception? Have evangelicals sacrificed their witness and been complicit in the rise of this new definition? How? These interrogatives, and more, are important for students to have answers for, but they also embody an intellectual honesty. It’s hard to admit that evangelicals have contributed to a decline in marriage culture, but it’s necessary. Same-sex couples may have pressed for the legal change of marriage, but we’ve not always championed the traditional definition and practice in a way that prizes it’s importance for human flourishing.

In short, the effects of Obergefell for me have been to ensure that I am shaping future leaders, teachers, and ministers on how their ministry context will likely look different. In some ways this is not a bad thing. Politics and evangelicalism have not always worked well together, and the former can easily overshadow the distinctiveness of the latter. But that is not the same thing as saying that the latter should not be concerned with the former. Rather, it will hopefully have a clearer, more prophetic, minority voice than in recent decades. This, I think, serves evangelicalism better.

It’s been a year since Obergefell v. Hodges secured the right of same-sex couples to marry. We’ve had a year of national and international tragedies and tumultuous elections. We’ve seen an old-guard moral majority, desperate to make up lost cultural ground, grasp at their last remaining chance for influence, and it is pathetic. A post-Obergefell emphasis on religious liberty, freedom of conscience, and the necessity of evangelicals speaking truth to power—no matter if there is an (R) or (D) by the name—is a welcomed change.

Kim Colby

Silverlining: How Obergefell Could Result in Stronger Christian Institutions

During the Obergefell oral argument, the United States Government’s lawyer acknowledged that religious colleges’ tax-exempt status and housing policies might be in jeopardy if the Court re-defined marriage. Other challenges loom on the horizon as a result of the Court’s re-definition of marriage, as well as the expansion of some state and local nondiscrimination laws to protect gender identity and sexual orientation.

But by providing the impetus for religious institutions to review their policies and practices, the Obergefell decision may have the unintended effect of strengthening religious institutions’ ability to defend their religious liberty. For example, in response to Obergefell, the Christian Legal Society (“CLS”) prepared three webinars and sample policies for churches, schools, colleges, and other religious ministries to use to review their policies and practices in light of new legal challenges. These webinars and materials are available at www.religiouslibertyguidance.org or through the CLS website at https://clsnet.org/religious- liberty-webinars.

To reinforce its religious liberty defenses, a religious institution should consider taking six practical steps:

1. Adopt theological statements that thoughtfully detail the institution’s basic religious beliefs concerning:

a. The institution’s core theological beliefs regarding marriage, human sexuality (including all sexual conduct outside of marriage between one man and one woman), and gender identity;

b. Where spiritual authority resides within the institution regarding theological questions that may arise — specifying the person, board, or other entity within the institution that ultimately determines the institution’s doctrines and application of those doctrines in various contexts, such as personnel issues, student conduct, housing, and facilities use;

c. Christian dispute resolution, if the institution believes that Christians should not take one another to court — explaining the religious basis for its belief in alternative dispute resolution and identifying the process to be used for dispute resolution; and

d. Explaining the Christian concepts of sin, grace, repentance, and restoration, which increasingly are foreign concepts to judges and juries, who may therefore mistake the extension of grace to an employee or student in one instance, but not in another, as evidence of discrimination.

In short, the more the religious institution defines its own theological beliefs, the less likely a judge will mistakenly attribute beliefs to the institution that it does not hold or find seemingly inconsistent applications of doctrine to be evidence of discrimination.

2. Embed these doctrinal statements throughout the institution’s organizational documents. A religious school should weave its biblical philosophy of Christian education throughout every policy it adopts and every subject it teaches. A religious charity should explain how its biblical philosophy affects every aspect of its ministry. A church should clearly articulate how its religious beliefs determine which marriage ceremonies it performs, and which it does not.

3. Train staff and volunteers to apply policies consistently. Staff and volunteers should be trained in the institution’s theological doctrines and how those doctrines underpin its policies. They should understand the proper application of the institution’s policies and know who has the authority to determine how those policies apply in particular contexts.

4. Apply policies consistently. Each specific application of a policy should be documented in writing and note whether a particular application involved the extension of grace or acknowledgement of repentance.

5. Consult legal counsel. Because state and local laws vary widely, good legal counsel, who is familiar with the laws of the state and locality in which the institution operates, is a necessary investment.

6. Cultivate a positive public image. Because our culture no longer comprehends the great good that religious institutions routinely perform in their local communities, as well as nationally and internationally, a religious institution should collect and publicize stories of its ministry to others.

Bryan Baise

Bryan Baise is the Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Apologetics and Program Coordinator, Worldview and Apologetics. Baise has served in various capacities before coming to Boyce. He was a college pastor for an upstart church plant before moving to Louisville and has preached in various churches and revivals across Kentuckiana. Baise has served on … 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