The Way that Religious Liberty Ends

December 8, 2015

Walk down any street in America today and you can find a person who doesn’t own a Bible, has never attended a church, doesn’t pray, and has never enrolled in even an undergraduate course in religion, but who feels no qualms whatsoever about declaring authoritatively to you what Jesus would or would not do about some pressing modern issue. At the end of that street, of course, you’ll likely find a church with a preacher in it who has never served in the military and speaks only English but will gladly declare to you what ought to be the finer details of American international diplomacy. I’m tempted…greatly…often…to be that second guy. But I know how often I have to bite my tongue when I encounter that first guy, and sometimes that reins me in just a little when I want to spout off about the latest item on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

In particular, I find that some aspects of our immigration policy are complicated and difficult for me to understand fully. How ought we to reform our immigration laws— laws that almost no one defends as they are presently written and enforced? If we open our gates wider for legal immigration, should we award most of those opportunities to Central Americans and Mexicans when there are teeming masses of Africans, Asians, and Eastern Europeans who are merely farther away, but not any less needy or desiring? How much of the problem will, for example, building a wall solve as opposed to locating and deporting those who have entered the country legally but have simply refused to leave on time? Are Syrian Muslim refugees the ones with the greatest need, or ought we to be giving more attention to the plight of Libyan Christians fleeing the Muslim Brotherhood or Nigerian Christians who are fleeing Boko Haram? Does it help or harm Syria’s chances of overcoming ISIS if the population abandons the nation to them? I don’t know the answers to these questions, and to speak frankly, if I’m going to do what God has called me to do, I don’t have time to find the answers to these questions.

That’s why I don’t write more than I do about immigration and foreign policy. I’m trying to learn to say less about matters outside of my particular passions and training. And yet, my comparative ignorance notwithstanding, I find that I cannot remain entirely silent about immigration questions. About the highly complicated parts, I’m still determined to listen more than I speak, but when we talk about immigrants, refugees and other folks, the Southerner in me recognizes as “furriners,” some of what we’re saying is really not that complicated and is certainly not right. For example…

It is not American to give up our essential liberties every time we’re frightened.

 Benjamin Franklin famously wrote “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” What liberties are more essential than the religious liberty enshrined in the First Amendment? None come to mind. Why, then, are we so ready put religious liberty on the auction block even in the face of comparatively small dangers?

In an interview with Stuart Varney, Donald Trump expressed a willingness to let the government close down mosques in order to fight Islamic terrorism. Trump supported the registration of all Muslims with the government (requiring people to register their religious beliefs with the government is something Baptists explicitly opposed and successfully abolished in seventeenth-century England). Then on December 7th, Trump called for the United States to impose a religious test for immigration and even tourism, banning all Muslims from entering the United States.

Trump has to this point dominated polling for the Republican presidential primaries, so we know that his hardline willingness to end American religious liberty is not unpopular. Indeed, Public Policy Polling found that 27% of Republican primary voters want to shut down every mosque in the United States, with another 35% of the Republican electorate willing to think the matter over. Stop and let that sink in for a moment: 62% of the voters in my political party (the party of small government!?), are at least open to the idea of empowering Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry to decide which religious viewpoints are dangerous to the United States and then shut down all of the religious groups who espouse those viewpoints. What’s more, although padlocking our meetinghouse would no more shut down FBC Farmersville than imploding one of Trump’s casinos would end gambling and fornication, some people out there actually seem to think that bulldozing mosques would hamper rather than accelerate the spread of Islam.

Folks, there is nothing complicated about this: Anyone who needs more than a nanosecond to decide that it would be a bad idea for the government to be empowered to shut down all of the mosques in the country is not worthy to be called an American, much less to lead America. In fact, these people don’t deserve to be called Republicans, either. Let us see what the intellectual fountainhead of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln, thought about this sort of thing:

As a nation we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the [Know-Nothing political party gets] control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

So this is the way religious liberty ends. Democrats dislike it because it is inconvenient for the sexual revolution. Republicans dislike it because it interferes with hating Muslims. And thus the nation goes about selling its birthright for such fetid porridge as a bowl of hatred, fear, and lust. Americans would never do such a thing. Are we really Americans? In the next few years, I suppose we will find out.

But the more important question for us to consider is this one: Are we really Christians? I’m not talking about whether you’ve received the gospel and are going to Heaven; I’m talking about whether you are Christlike—whether you are a Christ-ian—a “little Christ.” Jesus’ own select group of apostles included both a Roman collaborator (Matthew) and a man sworn to overthrow Roman rule (Simon the Zealot). Jesus brought into his circle people with vastly different political and religious viewpoints and then transformed them. Within thirty years of its founding, the church was a transnational, transracial, transcontinental family of believers. Would such a Savior as this say the kinds of things Donald Trump is saying? Trump is absolutely convinced that Jesus would support just this kind of thing.

But we all know how much time Donald Trump has spent in church.

Bart Barber
Bart Barber is the pastor First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas.

Bart Barber

Bart Barber has served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, since 1999. He is married to Tracy (Brady) Barber. Bart has a B.A. from Baylor University in their University Scholars program, an M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a Ph.D. in … 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