Six cultural trends from the Bay Area and why they matter for churches

July 21, 2015

Unlike Las Vegas, what happens in San Francisco doesn’t stay in San Francisco.


These and other cultural fixtures started in the San Francisco Bay Area. Living in this part of the country for the past five years has afforded me a unique perspective from which I’ve observed several cultural trends that are likely to spread across America. Ready or not, here they come. In what follows, I briefly outline six cultural trends and explain how churches need to prepare, adjust or otherwise evolve.

First, postmodernity is a red herring too many Christians are still pursuing. Reports of the death of metanarrative, absolute truth, or certainty are greatly exaggerated.  The reign of technology, absolute acceptance of scientific naturalism and the universal demand for the acceptance of homosexuality in San Francisco reflects a thoroughly modern zeitgeist.  

Local churches should brace for a battle of ideas where pastors need to be adept at philosophy, theology and rhetoric. Shallow exposition, trendy topical sermons or mere dialogue will not suffice. Never before has there been a greater need in America for the unapologetic practice of preaching the Word (2 Timothy 4:2) and for pastors who are trained to teach sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9).

Second, race lines are blurring. Often, a person’s race is a complicated story with no easy (or desired) categorization. Increasingly, people are more likely to self-identify as mixed race or biracial. While much of the country still thinks in terms of “red and yellow, black and white,” the future of race is blurry and complicated.  This case is made convincingly by authors Jennifer Hochschild and Vesla Weaver in their book Creating a New Racial Order: How Immigration, Multiracialism, Genomics, and the Young Can Remake Race in America (Princeton University Press, 2012)

It is clear to me that churches need to stop thinking in bifurcated racial categories that do not reflect the reality of multiracialism. Moreover, churches need to think more about the difference between race and culture. Too often, when talking about wanting to be multicultural, churches are really talking about race; as in, “Our church wants more people whose skin color is not like our own.” But it’s relatively easy to worship with people who have a different skin color but who like the same music, eat the same food and are otherwise culturally homogeneous. It is far more challenging to embrace a person of a different culture, even if you share their pigmentation.  

Third, it is increasingly obvious that secular progressivism is a rigid ideology and it will not stop until it achieves total conformity. I realize this seems like an audacious claim, but from my vantage point it is totally defensible. Secular progressivism is a system of belief that seeks to advance culture through the elimination of the influence of religion or religious dogma, and perhaps specifically, the influence of historic Christianity. Bay Area culture welcomes vague and secular spirituality.  Based on my observations, it seems that secular and naturalistic spirituality will always be welcome because it welcomes sin and exalts self, whereas historic Christianity does just the opposite by calling sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  

Secular progressivism is a fascist ideology because it seeks to use the government to punish those who dissent. In this way, leftist ideologues are increasingly intolerant and authoritarian -both hallmarks of fascism. The church should prepare itself for an assault of personal freedom and for Draconian retaliation from governing authorities against religious conviction, such as the currently proposed bill (H.R. 2450) which would “prohibit, as an unfair and deceptive act or practice, commercial sexual orientation conversion therapy, and for other purposes”; a similar law already “protects” minors in the state of California.

Fifth, either what the Bible says about gender matters, or it doesn’t. It seems to me that local churches in the Bay Area that compromise on gender in regard to women in ministry eventually compromise on gender in regard to sexuality. It stands to reason that if Paul was wrong in 1 Timothy 2 about women not teaching men, then he could be wrong about homosexuality in Romans 1.

If churches are going to insist upon the trustworthiness of Scripture when it speaks to gender as it pertains to sexuality, then these same churches must be ready to insist upon the trustworthiness of Scripture when it speaks to gender as it pertains to the role of men and women in the home and in the local church. Compromise on one issue seems to inevitably correlate with compromise on the other. Practically speaking, churches have a compromised mantle from which to decry homosexuality while they have women teaching or exercising spiritual authority over men.  

Sixth, and finally, agnosticism is much more common than atheism. It is rare to encounter an atheist in the Bay Area. In my weekly evangelistic outings with students of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, and in numerous conversations at coffee shops or other social settings, it has been exceptionally rare to encounter a person who thinks “There is no god.” More frequently, I encounter people who aren’t sure whether or not god(s) exist.

While much apologetic literature is aimed at the new atheism (Dawkins, Hitchens, et al), churches need to spend time preparing to minister to agnostics. Churches should provide training for Christians to engage in evangelistic conversations with people either dismissive as to the question of God’s existence (an agnosticism grounded in apathy) or convinced that there is insufficient evidence one way or the other (an agnosticism grounded in conviction). Either way, agnostics tend to reason neither in terms of “Aye” or “Nay”, but rather, “Meh.”

A friend of mine saw the 2015 blockbuster San Andreas (Warner Bros.) while in Columbus, Ohio for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. At some point during the mindless onslaught of CGI destruction, in which much of the state of California is destroyed, he reported that people in the theater began to applaud. It’s far more likely that, in the future, Californian cultural trends will move across the U.S. than it is likely that California will sink into the ocean.  

From where I sit, the future is now.  

Adam Groza

Adam Groza (Ph.D.) is a vice president at Gateway Seminary and associate professor of Philosophy of Religion. He is a contributing author, along with Ben Arbour, to the book Idealism and Christian Philosophy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016). Ben holds a Ph.D. from the University of Bristol and is the author of … 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