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Articles

Speaking truth into a broken world

The pursuit of spiritual maturity and wisdom

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September 16, 2020

Over the weekend, news broke that two law enforcement officers in Los Angeles were targeted, seemingly at random, as a gunman ran up to their parked vehicle and opened fire. Sustaining life-threatening injuries, the two officers were transported to a nearby hospital. And following the shooting, reports surfaced that a crowd of protestors had gathered outside of the hospital’s emergency room. The crowd apparently blocked the entrance to the emergency room as at least some present screamed and chanted obscenities, including vile expressions of their desire that the officers involved would perish. 

The news was chilling, but the heinous and wicked nature of the attack was solidified after video of the shooting began to circulate online. It was unquestionably a senseless act of violence. But the insanity of the moment was further compounded by the reports that others, with actual knowledge of the incident, then called for the death of the two victims of such brutality. Those actions reflect, in a staggering fashion, the moral cancer infecting American culture today. 

Devastating brokenness

Sadly, this was hardly the only reminder of our world’s devastating brokenness in recent days. For several weeks, much attention and criticism has been directed toward “Cuties,” a new film acquired by Netflix telling the story of a young Sengalese girl torn between two worlds–her family with its traditional Muslim culture and her dance troupe of preteen girls. Originally released in France and highly acclaimed, the film won an award from the Sundance Institute in February. And according to its defenders, “Cuties” aims to reflect the pressures on young women growing up in a hyper-sexualized culture. 

But ahead of releasing the film on its streaming platform, Netflix advertised “Cuties” in a way that played-up and glamorized the sexuality of young adolescent girls. The promotion of the film was obscene. It not only objectified the young women featured, but made an illicit spectacle of underage girls that was tantamount to soft core pornography. Whatever the film’s supposed virtues, the sensual and provocative images of children “dancing” across the screen was rightly met with public (and bipartisan) outcry. Senators Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz condemned the film along with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard who claimed “Cuties” would “certainly whet the appetite of pedophiles.”

To return to California, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a controversial bill, Senate Bill 145, into law. That bill updated certain statutes related to offenders convicted of sex crimes in the state, specifically of statutory rape. Under the new law, judges in the state may now exercise discretion as to whether or not an offender must go on the sex offender registry in certain cases involving same-sex sexual activity. Defenders of the bill argued that it merely ended a form of discrimination in California’s judicial system by allowing judges to exercise the same kind of discretion regardless of the sex of the victims and perpetrators. But entirely overlooked by supporters of the new law was the fact that the legal “parity” created by this law simply extended the bad law already on the books in California. Expanding protections for adults to sexually exploit and prey upon children is no kind of justice.

These are but a few examples of the moral decay on display all around us. And the truth is, it doesn’t matter what direction you look. The effects of sin and signs of brokenness are everywhere. So how are Christians supposed to live faithfully in a world that celebrates violence and sanctions the sexual exploitation of children? Each day Christians in the United States face myriad problems of unbelievable complexity. What are we to do when the problems are overwhelming and solutions are hard to come by?

Spiritual maturity

Learning to live faithfully in a fallen world requires the development of spiritual maturity. And this is where we find some good news. Through Jesus, God is in the business of redeeming this fallen and broken world. Not only that, but living in this time between the times is not a new problem for the people of God. Since Jesus ascended into heaven, his people have been left with the task of bearing witness to him through our lives, words, and deeds. But each generation of Christians has had to fight to faithfully bear witness amid all kinds of pressures and circumstances–amid every kind of sin and brokenness and evil. And if we are to face these problems, we must prioritize the work of spiritual formation.

Christians should not be surprised when our world displays its brokenness. But we should never forsake an opportunity to show the world a better way.

It isn’t always clear what the best response is to any particular manifestation of evil. When Disney partnered with China’s communist government to film the movie Mulan–a government which is actively persecuting and potentially perpetrating genocide against Uighur Muslims–after the same company threatened to cease filming operations in the state of Georgia over a pro-life law being considered there, Christians were rightly outraged. But what is the best response? Refuse to see the film? Boycott Disney? What about Netflix? Is ignoring “Cuties” enough? Should we also cancel our subscriptions? And what if our government is itself perpetrating evil?

The point is, answers aren’t always easy or obvious. Addressing such matters requires tremendous wisdom and spiritual maturity. But God has equipped us to prepare for these moments. This is part of the reason Christians have the church, the Scriptures, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the new covenant, we don’t face any of these difficult issues alone. 

For believers, the Spirit of God lives within us and guides us through these challenges. Not only that, but God has not left us to guess by what kind of standard we are to live. He has provided us with the written Word as a revelation of himself, his work, his nature, and his plan of redemption. He has also brought us into his body, the church. As believers, we belong to something much bigger than ourselves. We are children of God and we stand together not only with our brothers and sisters in this age but in every age. We not only learn and benefit from the wisdom and experience of our contemporaries, but throughout church history we see a long line of Christian witnesses from whom we can learn so much about navigating life in a world that is under a curse.

None of us can solve every problem. Nor will we ever successfully eradicate the presence of evil from our world. Only Christ can do that– and has promised to do so upon his return. But until then, we can still work to oppose evil and injustice. We can speak against acts of violence and oppression. And we can speak up for the vulnerable and for those without a voice. Christians should not be surprised when our world displays its brokenness. But we should never forsake an opportunity to show the world a better way.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester serves as Director of Content and Chair of Research in Christian Ethics. He holds an M.Div from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Th.M. in Public Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Josh is married to McCaffity, and they have two children. 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