Turning the “War on Women” to the “War for Women”

July 16, 2014

Wikipedia, that encyclopedic shaman of our Internet age, defines “War on Women” as “an expression used in United States politics that characterizes certain Republican Party policies as a wide-scale assault on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights.” As a committed political and theological conservative, former staffer for three (GOP) Members of Congress, and proud carrier of two X chromosomes, I take umbrage with this characterization.

Look no further than the Planned Parenthood Federation, to reveal the ugly details of the War’s leading players. Touting itself as “America’s most trusted provider of reproductive health care,” Planned Parenthood actually generates more than half of its $320 million of annual revenue from abortions—facilitating a mother’s decision to end the life of her unborn child. While touting itself as a leading advocate for women’s health, Planned Parenthood has repeatedly covered up statutory rape, done abortions on minors without notifying parents or authorities, and resisted informing women about the risks inherent to abortion—including miscarriages, psychological harm, and increased rates of suicide. The stories continue to roll in.

One need not have a Masters degree in Women’s Studies to believe that something is amiss. And one need not hold a Masters of Divinity to suggest that a Christian anthropology offers a hopeful, authentic alternative to the modern extremes of this gendered warfare—either a radical feminism or the radical conservatism one sees in a fundamentalist Muslim context. A Christian anthropology explains that the strife over sexuality and relationships has a long and colorful history arching back to the Garden of Eden. God brought Eve to Adam as his match, his complement, and his teammate. But after Adam and Eve questioned God’s goodness, rebelled, and ate the forbidden fruit, God specifically offered Eve a warning that her pain would be multiplied in childbearing and her desire would be for her husband. Daughters of Eve, and the men near them, have been dealing with the painful implications ever since.

In some sense, the entire post-fall human experience is marked by conflict and aggression. But the antagonism, strife, and brokenness of sexuality and the abuse and objectification of women form a subset of that conflict. This “War on Women” is a minefield and this little essay holds no pretense of ending that war. However, I hope this discussion disables (or detonates) just a few of the mines. As flawed and explosive as the War label may be, the church of God ignores, dismisses, or exaggerates this conversation about women its own peril. To avoid getting caught in the cultural crossfire, I suggest that Christian leaders pay attention to the several myths.

There is a myth that exists in conservative circles: the girls are all OK. There is no war on women. I start here for the pastor or church leader who has read my introduction but dismisses the “War on Women” and its motivating emotions and factors as a fantastic figment of the feminist imagination. But, consider this. Even in the some of the most affluent, intellectual, and doctrinally sound congregations sit women who have been raped, physically and verbally abused by fathers, boyfriends, and husbands. I am a member of one such church and my sisters have told me their stories. Many of us also know the milder forms of discrimination and objectification—being ogled or groped as we make our way down the city sidewalk. At times we know or suspect that our double-X chromosome has served as the primary reason we have been denied employment, promotion, or inclusion into important decisions—even in a secular work environment. Of course, we have also been privileged and protected because we are women. The “War on Women” meme may have been coopted by progressive feminists. But the fact remains; we women have experienced life differently than have our brothers.

Dear pastor, have you considered that women in your church bear the burden of the culture’s sexual saturation and delayed marriage differently than do the men in your congregation? Have you considered that practice of sex-selective abortion threatens to exacerbate these tensions in years to come? Have you grappled with the verifiable linksbetween pornography, abuse, and the sex trafficking? Have you acknowledged that today’s women not only also wrestle with Eve’s promised “pain in childbearing,” but increasingly with the pain of delayed, deferred, and denied childbearing—and are bombarded by a vast array of ethically suspicious methods to address the challenge?

Not every pain requires a sermon; not every problem requires a program. But wise pastoring and counsel requires both an intellectual awareness of the cultural trends, but an authentically sympathetic ear to the women whose stories and struggles contribute to those trends. Pastors need not feel threatened by our stories, but they must know some of our stories to shepherd effectively and carefully apply truth. The grief, vulnerabilities, and burdens are real. Our brokenness and abuse can color our trust of authority, fuel our longing for justice, burden our relationships, and blind us to the good news of the gospel. This good news is certainly powerful, active, and objectively true—convicting and healing, even when the speaker’s life experience does not match his congregants.

If you hear me advocating for a victim culture, you haven’t heard me very well. Women gain very little from the myth that all women are equally victimized by a patriarchal regime. The claim simply doesn’t hold water and the recent social media conversation #YesAllWomen seems instructive. As women, inside and outside the church, many of us care deeply about a systemic bias that still exists against women’s education, safety, and economic opportunity—especially in other cultural contexts. We are, perhaps, wired to experience more solidarity, empathy, compassion, and collaboration than are our brothers. But our most effective campaigns and conversations (on social media or otherwise) will avoid conflating possible discrimination with acute abuse. As one leading lady in American history noted, “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” Christian leaders are often called to address both: to advocate for changed cultural circumstances (the pursuit of justice and abolition of sexual slavery) and to motivate a change in individual disposition.

How then should Christian male leaders weigh in on these conversations? Feminist standpoint theory will generally question the validity of the male perspective and question the existence of objective truth. However, as misguided as feminist standpoint theory may be, Christian theology should never require the gnostic separation of intellectual reality from bodily presence and physical reality. After all, Christians are invited into renewed relationship with the living God. We are also told “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15, NIV)

But while our Savior tells us that he is able to empathize, his servants sometimes fail to do so. The Christian church in America can afford to learn from its botched conversations and address sensitive topics like sexual abuse and rape with greater humility and empathy. While one may think that the current agitation for free contraceptives is ridiculous and selfish (and I believe that it is), one can choose to respond in a way that challenges and engages the selfish feminist singleton, or dismissively comment that allshe needs to do is keep her knees together, and her problem is solved for free. The later response fails to engage the woman as a person who longs for relationship, has sexual impulses, is surrounded by lies about human sexuality, may have been abused by men, and (like all human beings ever created) is tempted to place her own needs and desires in the center of the universe.

Rather, a Christ-like leader will actually sit down with the woman, like Jesus did with the adulterous woman at the well. He will seek to understand her story. He will care to discern how the raw and ragged edges of her story affect her ability to understand and follow the Savior.

So, what will you say the next time you get that angry phone call or read that anguished email—“I can’t believe that you think I shouldn’t get an abortion. Do you have any idea how this rape has turned my life upside down?” Perhaps, as we minister to others, we can acknowledge our own emotional and experiential limits: “I have never been in your situation. I find it difficult to understand all the pain that you must be going through.” We then, have the opportunity to walk towards the angry and broken woman in front of us—to share the reality that Savior feels her pain and offers authentic hope. We can, and must, pursue justice within the legal system. We can share our concern that an abortion—a chosen act of violence towards an innocent party—will not solve or undo the victimization. We can point to other brave individuals who have chosen a difficult but brave and redemptive path and known great blessing as a result. We can, and must, open our hearts, homes, families, and wallets to make it clear that we the church is ready to help.
This is only the beginning. Our conversations must continue. Our humility must grow. To stay engaged in this conversation, look out for my next installment, I offer several ways that the church can de-escalate and reframe the “War on Women.”

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