Use Your Tools, Don”t Throw Them Away

May 20, 2015

My grandfathers were men of tools. One was a plumber and builder of houses, the other an interior craftsman and designer at a department store. I have the head of the latter’s hammer displayed on a shelf in my home office.

These men worked hard all their lives. I cannot imagine either of them going to work and one day saying, “I think I’ll quit using my screw-drivers, wrenches and hammers and see what I can do without them. Maybe if I just smile nicely the pipes will fit themselves.” It’s an absurd proposition.

We, too, are a people of tools, only tools not made of iron or copper. Rather, the tools Christians employ as they participate in public life are moral and political.

Our fundamental rights are endowed to us by God. They are possessed within our very nature as persons. They are, thus, natural rights from which we cannot be alienated. To sustain them, we must use the tools of personal and cultural persuasion whose possession and articulation are commensurate with “the works of the law” written on every heart (Romans 2:15). All men everywhere have a conscience and are imbued with reason. Appealing to them in personal relationships and cultural involvement is essential to the proclamation of the Gospel and the advocacy of truth, honor, and ordered liberty in society and in government.

The Constitution affords us still more tools: the rights captured by the Bill of Rights, rights of religious liberty, speech, press, freedom to assemble, and so on. Unlike the persecuted early church, we do not live in catacombs but in the daylight of a republic founded on the blood and treasure of generations whose sacrifices demand not just our passing gratitude but our daily participation in and upholding of that which they bequeathed us. A nation unlike any other, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

To let the political tools entrusted to us corrode into the rust of history is to show contempt to those who, under God, handed them to us. And to the God Who gave us the life and liberty and peace and prosperity we should treasure.

Those tools should be used for, among other noble endeavors, the protection of life and liberty, marriage and family. To abandon such tools is to abandon human dignity in our time.

Yet that’s essentially what some Christians are calling for their fellow believers to do when it comes to the standing for marriage, the unborn, and religious liberty.

Writing in The American Conservative, Rod Dreher calls for “a limited, strategic withdrawal of Christians from the mainstream of American popular culture, for the sake of shoring up our understanding of what the church is, and what we must do to be the church.”

I appreciate Dreher’s desire for a time of reflection and recalculation, but the withdrawal he envisions not only would simply open space for the advocates of abortion-on-demand, the full legal and social mainstreaming of homosexual behavior and marriage, and religious liberty suppression to gain enormous ground.

As theologian Owen Strachan writes in The Stream, if the relentless Left has its way, “religious groups simply may not have the chance to set up ‘monastic communities.’” Moreover, Strachan writes, “In conversion, God calls us out of privacy and into the polis. This is where the true glory of Christianity most shines: even as our neighbor seeks to silence us, we do not strike back. Out of love, we leave our isolation, and seek to bless even those who persecute us.”

As the late theologian Carl Henry once wrote me in a personal letter, “Not to oppose a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Mao would be an act of Christian lovelessness.” Analogously, not to oppose the redefinition of marriage, the slaughter of the unborn and the predation of their mothers, and the collapse of the religious liberty which is the ground of all of our other freedoms would be Christian lovelessness, as well.

To relax our opposition to such and revert solely into acts of personal compassion would relieve social pressure, unvexate our cultural status, and produce emotional relief. It would also be faithless, loveless, even passively ruthless.

Such withdrawal is also premised on a false understanding of confessing Christianity in America. Orthodox Christian faith is not a monolith whose leaders cohere in a common theological monastery, and Protestants disavow organizational unity or ecclesiastical hierarchy.

That being said, a substantial element of what Dreher envisions has already happened. Witness The Manhattan Declaration and the recent Evangelical and Catholic ecumenical letter “The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage,” among other initiatives designed to define convictions, coalesce around them, and then prescribe courses of action. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the broad Evangelical coalition Together for the Gospel regularly address critical cultural and political issues in a thoughtful, principled, gracious way.

Finally, what about the claim that Evangelicals should disengage for the sake of the Gospel?

Writing in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” site, Ryan Gear, lead pastor of “One Church, an open-minded evangelical church in Chandler, Arizona,” asks, “Can anyone disagree that, over the past 30 years, culture war politics have, at least partly, co-opted the cause of Christ among evangelicals?”

Yes, I can and do. This is a buy-in to the media-driven narrative that Evangelical political action has been grating, divisive, and unthoughtful – a narrative as false as it is common. That Pastor Gear and so many other younger Evangelicals have accepted this proposition whole indicates a lack of knowledge of the Christian conservative movement and also, perhaps, a certain disinclination to stand publically for hard things exactly when such standing is needed.

I recommend that Pastor Gear look at the ministries listed on the “ServantMatch” site of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, not to mention connecting with other believing churches in his area and seeing what they are doing to share the Gospel and “do good unto all men.” These things are active reproofs to his assertion.

All Christian leaders will be quick to add that none of us is always perfectly modulated in tone or precisely right in every judgment. If these are the standards, no Christian should ever say anything about anything at any time. But our mistakes and sometime sins, once repented of (privately and, as needed, publically), must not be allowed to dissuade us from following our Savior wherever He takes us – including a forum of public contempt.

Engagement with culture and politics is a matter of fidelity to the truth of God’s Word. It isn’t easy, and in a post-Christian culture will only get harder. “It is a painful and difficult discipline to hold together conviction and forbearance, but this is a tension we are increasingly called upon to navigate,” writes Brad Littlejohn in Mere Orthodoxy. “Such a posture requires patience, a sense of the penultimacy of the political and a confidence in the lordship of Christ that can accept the loss of a battle today in the knowledge that one is on what will finally be the winning side.”

Ultimately, the weapons of our warfare are spiritual: The Word and the Spirit enflooding the Christian’s life and pouring out in words and deeds of “grace and truth” bring down strongholds of evil and hurt. Going forward unfilled with these greatest of all “power tools” assures discouragement and failure.

My grandfathers built the lives of their family and the heritage my scores of uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, and I enjoy with the tools they employed skillfully. They were exhausted at the end of every work-week. They could not always see if their projects would succeed.

But they kept using the tools at their disposal. So should we.

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