Unconditional: Christian Love When a Child ‘Comes Out’

February 11, 2016

President Obama spoke of many things in his State of the Union message; his take on events and priorities, foreign and domestic, is very different than any conservatives would give them.

For example, he claims all Americans are “bound by a common creed,” yet he never defines it. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence explains what that creed is – that there is a God, that He created everyone equal in value and dignity, and that He is the author of our rights.

We by no means all share this creed. Many leading intellectuals, public and academic, as well as many political leaders and culture-shapers, consciously and vocally reject it, either overtly or through redefining elements of it. Many Americans are oblivious even to what our founding premises are, and perhaps especially among younger Americans, there is a deep suspicion of any assertion of absolute truth or knowledge of the divine.

Yet more than this or anything else Mr. Obama said, there was another passage in the speech that sparked not just disagreement but sadness. It was this:

“It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.”

It is reasonable to assume that, based on his own change of mind, the President was referring to Christian teaching on homosexuality. And herein lies the pain comment provokes: It shows a profound misunderstanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel proclaims that God loves us even as He cannot but exercise eternal punishment for our sins. Thus, His Son became a man to pay the penalty we deserve in dying on the cross. Good news, grounded in grim truth (our deserved judgment) and immeasurable love (that of a personal God for those made in His image and likeness).

Understanding these truths and imitating their model, the first impulse of any faithful Christian father would be to embrace a son who “came out,” not reject him. A Christian Dad would affirm his love for his son regardless of the young man’s attraction to the same sex and assure him that his love is not conditional.

The President’s assumption that somehow Christian teaching discourages such love demonstrates how deep Mr. Obama’s stereotypes of biblically orthodox Christians must be.

Mr. Obama seems to pit fidelity to Christian moral demands against the love of a father for his son. This is a massive misrepresentation of Scripture’s teaching.

The Bible teaches unconditional love. It also teaches unqualified allegiance to the God it describes. That God tells us that the only sexually intimate behavior He sanctions exists within the covenantal union of one man and one woman, for life. Thus, a loving father would not approve of his son’s sexual choices if, be they heterosexual or homosexual, they run counter to the revealed will of a Heavenly Father Whose commands are designed for our good, not our misery.

The son who identifies as gay might resent his father’s continued belief that “everything he’s been taught,” as long as it aligns with the Bible’s teaching, still applies and that, therefore, the father cannot countenance any behavior at odds with that teaching. Yet there is no love in affirming something God declares wrong and harmful, whether it relates to human sexuality or thievery or malice or deception or anything.

As the father of sons, were one of them to tell me he is gay, I would love him all the more. I would never affirm certain choices he might make, however, because I love him enough to tell him the life-giving truth of God’s Word, graciously but without compromise. If he were to walk away from me in anger, I would call him back. Were he not to return, I would mourn more than words can express.

The desperation of Christian parents whose children are wrestling with or have surrendered to same-sex attraction would be deeper than words can capture. It is understandable that out of compassion and a longing for their sons and daughters they would affirm their children’s relationships and even marriages.

It would sustain, unbroken, the chain of parent-child affection and prevent relational alienation. But are not love and truth so entwined that any attempt to disentwine them results in their mutual fraying? Truth without love is mere severity. Love without truth is mere emotion. One without the other disintegrates into meaninglessness.

To be attracted to the same gender and know that, in fidelity to God, you can never fulfill that attraction sexually would be so very wrenching. That kind of pain extends to single heterosexuals who, without a married partner, are called to the same celibacy and chastity as someone drawn to his or her same sex.

This does not mean the absence of intimate friendships but, instead, the constraint of sexual partnership. This is hard, but Jesus calls His disciples to die to themselves and follow Him. But even when the journey is so difficult as to seem impossible to complete, Christ promises that “His grace is sufficient” for us, and that His “power is perfected in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9). There is never a time when He leaves us without His help and His hope, the assurance of His presence and of renewed fellowship when, having failed, we turn back to Him.

Jesus also calls His disciples to compassion and community, to empathy and mutual prayer. Christians attracted to the same gender must be drawn into these with the fullness of Christian love. And all Christians must call one another to obedience to their Lord in whatever areas they struggle to submit to Him.

This is the nature of the Body of Christ. It is the definition of discipleship. It is how Christian fathers engage their sons, always.

Rob Schwarzwalder

Rob Schwarzwalder is a senior lecturer at Regent University.  His op-eds have been published in numerous national publications, ranging from TIME and U.S. News and World Report to Christianity Today, The Federalist, and The Public Discourse, as well as scores of newspapers and opinion journals. 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