The Christian and the presidential primary

February 8, 2016

With last Monday’s Iowa caucus, the nomination process for the 2016 United States presidential election officially began. On Tuesday, February 9, New Hampshire will hold the first official primary, with many states to follow in the coming weeks. While much media attention was paid to the Iowa caucus, the primary process is the most popular way for political parties to nominate candidates.

What are presidential primaries?

Presidential primaries are similar to caucuses in that the end-goal of both is to secure state delegates to nominate each political party’s candidate for President of the United States at the summer party convention. State political parties are also heavily involved in both caucuses and primaries, though the parties themselves run caucuses and the state governments run the primaries. The primary difference, however, is how people vote. In primaries, like New Hampshire, people show up to a polling location and vote for their favored candidate via secret ballot. In caucuses, like Iowa, people generally gather in group meetings and publicly express their support for a candidate. The majority of states now nominate their parties’ choices through presidential primaries.

Among the states, there are different rules for who may participate in the presidential primaries, as some are open primaries and some are closed primaries. Essentially the difference is whether voters must be registered party members or not. Open primaries allow unaffiliated voters, those not affiliated with a political party, to cast votes in the primary election. This is the case in New Hampshire. Closed primaries limit participation to registered partisans. This is the case in Florida. Of course, there are also variants in-between the traditional open and closed primaries.

Presidential primaries also differ in how the results are allocated to the candidates. For Republicans, several states employ a winner-take-all system, as the general election does, giving all of the state’s delegates to the candidate who receives the most votes. Many other states (and all the Democratic primaries) allocate convention delegates to the candidate proportionally, where candidates receive the proportion of the state’s convention delegates equal to the candidate’s share of the popular vote either in the state or the congressional district. Again, states have implemented several variations, including thresholds that must be met.

How did we get here?

The U.S. Constitution is essentially silent on the nomination process. In fact, Article II defers most of the presidential election process to the state governments. Because of this, the presidential primary process can be thought of as being extra-Constitutional—outside of the U.S. Constitution. The lack of centralized control has produced much variation among the states.

Historically, the U.S. has used four approaches to nominating presidential candidates. The first method was the Congressional Caucus, where members of the U.S. Congress selected candidates to be their party’s nominee. As the nation expanded, there were increasing complaints that this method was un-democratic and overlooked the preferred candidates in the states.

After 1824, the congressional approach disbanded, and it was replaced with National Nominating Conventions. In this system, state party leaders determined the nominees at national party conventions. This method lasted, more or less, until the middle of the twentieth century. In the early part of the twentieth century, however, the state convention method faced increasing criticism for being un-democratic and corrupt.

Several states added presidential primaries to the nominating convention system at the beginning of the twentieth century, introducing a Hybrid Nomination System. In this hybrid approach, rank-and-file partisans could vote for candidates, though the election results did not bind the party leaders who eventually made their decisions at the national conventions.

In 1972, the more democratic primary approach prevailed, resulting in the Modern Primary. States now allocate most of their delegates to the national convention via the results of popular elections, either primaries or caucuses. These convention delegates are then bound by the results of the elections. Each cycle the parties tweak the system, but the general rules remain the same.

What is the Christian approach to presidential primaries?

Americans are certainly blessed to live in a country where citizens are able to participate in how they are governed. For Christians, being a good citizen should be seen as a way to honor this blessing and love our neighbor. That said, participating in a presidential primary is best viewed as an opportunity, not a Christian obligation.

Many may want to participate in primaries so that there are better candidates to choose from in the general election. Decisions about who will be a nominee for president are quite important. Voting in a primary may also help bring attention to important policies or leadership qualities. Others, however, may in good conscious opt not to participate in presidential primaries. In closed primary states, for example, voting in the primary requires individuals to register with a political party. Some may rather not be identified with a party. In other states, the primary election may be so late in the cycle that voting is inconsequential.

Voting in the primary is not the only way that one engages in good citizenship during the primary season, as the process also allows voters, whether or not they cast a ballot,to vet candidates’ policies and character. Presidential primaries, in all their variations, provide an opportunity for Christian citizens to engage the political process. For this, we should be thankful.

Andy Lewis

Andy Lewis is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Cincinnati. He researches the intersection of politics, religion, and law in America, with an expertise in Evangelicals and politics, church-state relations, conservative legal activism, and rights politics. His research engages with the themes of representation and American constitutionalism, … 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