The challenge of ministering in a politically polarized nation

May 14, 2018

America has always held a kaleidoscope of ideas, values, and religious concepts. Today’s post-Christian nation may seem more complex, but haven’t we always been a complicated people? This is especially true when it comes to politics.

Some pastors have sacrificed gospel literacy at the altar of political expediency. And others have been so reticent they have become culturally irrelevant. Their congregations are woefully equipped to handle the intricate social issues facing our culture. Knowing the exact balance of political engagement is a delicate art form that few pastors master well.

Multicolored realities

Our current political climate makes public engagement challenging. The American vision is filled with vast ideological differences between those living in conservative red states and liberal blue states. Over the past 15 years, I have had the privilege of ministering in both Bible-Belt red states and progressive blue states. Let me be clear; pastoral ministry is difficult regardless of your context. Our enemy is not Republican or Democrat, and he seeks nothing more than to bring division. Nevertheless, the various ideologies of our individual context bring unique challenges for the entire church across our land.

For instance, those who minister in red states are challenged with the monumental task of convincing people that moralism is not the same thing as the gospel. It is commonplace in many red state congregations for patriotism and piety to become one in the same. And those who minister in blue states are challenged with the task of convincing people that objective morality actually does exist and is good for the entire community. In many blue states, the idea of a universal moral standard is viewed as an attack on individual civil rights. It is standard in many blue state congregations to equate liberty with license.

Blue state blues

Our electorate is so polarized that people cannot separate politics from every aspect of life—religion means politics, and politics is a religion for many.

I minister today in the Northeastern United States. In my region, any moral claim that finds kinship with a political agenda is immediately met with hostility. I remember sharing the gospel with a young man around the time of the 2012 election. After months of evangelizing, sharing life, and serving side-by-side, the young man boldly stated, “I am not willing to become a Republican!”

I was shocked because not once in the course of our conversations had politics or the presidential election come up. For months, this young man believed the call to “surrender all” was a charge to switch political parties. Our electorate is so polarized that people cannot separate politics from every aspect of life—religion means politics, and politics is a religion for many. Ministering in a blue state now requires acumen, precision, and sensitivity to untangle the gospel message from perceived political agendas and party affiliations.

Red state sorrows

At the same time, ministering in a red state comes with unique challenges. In conservative red states, pastors must help church members love their neighbors who might lobby for gender fluidity, abortion, and radical egalitarianism. Calling a congregation to love those with different ideologies can be professionally dangerous. The command to love your enemy is a bit more palatable if your enemy at least shares your political views.

Many may even perceive that crossing the aisle to love your political adversary may be the same as endorsing his or her political positions. Today’s tax collectors and sinners are as close as the other side of the ballot. Loving a political opponent is not the same as endorsing his or her political position. Nevertheless, when emotions run strong, the distinction can be blurred. Ministers in red states face the challenge of helping people see his or her political opponents as creatures made in the image of God and not enemies to defeat.

Brotherly love across multi-colored lines

Red state pastors who step into the political sphere are certainly not wrong. Neither are those who publicly endorse political candidates. Christians should support and applaud legislators who create laws that coincide with divine law. But brotherly love must also consider how these endorsements will affect brothers and sisters ministering in other parts of the country.

Ministers in blue states often encounter a backlash when denominational leaders in red states go “all in” with one particular candidate, especially when that candidate’s character is questionable, or worse yet, explicitly contrary to Christian ethics. When religious leaders publicly endorse a candidate, perhaps they ought to consider how this endorsement might affect Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the country. Our evangelical witness is much better off when we focus our energy on an apologetic for the culture and not apologizing for the sins of the candidates we endorse.

At the same time, red state pastors may need to encourage blue state pastors to become more active in the public debate. Religious liberty is a bulwark that protects all free people from tyranny and oppression from an overreaching power of the state. But it is easy for church leaders to simply cede their place in the public dialogue when they find themselves in the lonely position of the minority.

There is no doubt that religious leaders are viewed with a great deal of suspicion all across our nation. Nevertheless, faithful men who will engage their local public square with courage, charity, and shrewdness may actually do much to build trust and rebuild the credibility of the clergy. Evangelicals have an image crisis in blue states in particular. And perhaps faithful and consistent public service in the pulpit and in the public square may help rebuild our tarnished perception. Billy Graham taught us many things, but perhaps the most important lessons for ministers today is the power of a long-term faithful witness. Few can argue with the power of integrity lived out in the public sphere.

The Christian ethic of sexuality, marriage, care for the marginalized, and radical generosity are compelling regardless of the color of your state. And it is a joy to explain to my unbelieving friends why Christians are pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, and pro-religious liberty. Many times political conversations actually open the door to gospel conversations about grace, mercy, and justice. We may end up agreeing to disagree (which happens more often than not), but the power of civility and charitable dialogue not only strengthens Christian witness but the common good of our communities.

The hyper-polarization we live under will not go away soon. But perhaps evangelical engagement that is gentle, thoughtful, and considers brothers and sisters ministering across our nation might accomplish the goal of evangelism. Pastoral ministry in a red state requires thoughtful consideration for how my influence may help or harm brothers pastoring in the other parts of the nation. Pastoral ministry in a blue state will demand courage and boldness to engage hostile debates in sometimes very lonely environments. There is much uncertainty about how the church should engage our polarized multicolored nation. But a good starting place is to consider how my actions or non-actions might affect those living outside my voting district.

Dan Trippie

After ministering in the Southern US, Dan Trippie returned to his hometown of Buffalo, New York in 2008 to plant Restoration Church. Dan has traveled to seven countries for mission and church saturation endeavors, as his desire is to see gospel-centered churches planted throughout the world, especially in Western New … 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