We Must Not Be Silent

October 10, 2014

“I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world,
and upon all oppression and shame…
I see the wife misused by her husband—
I see the treacherous seducer of young women…
All these—All the meanness and agony without end,
I sitting, look out upon,
See, hear, and am silent.”

                                           (Walt Whitman, I Sit And Look Out)

You don’t have to be a radical feminist to be pro-women. But that’s exactly what a new generation of social activists would have women believe. More than any other time in the movement’s 100+ year-history, contemporary feminism has come to encompass whatever its individuals decide it should, even to point of self-contradiction. In September 1968, a group of self-ascribed feminists protested the Miss America pageant, calling it a “cattle auction.” In August 2014, self-ascribed feminists praised Beyoncé when she performed with the word, “FEMINIST” in the background, along with hyper-sexualized poses, stripper poles, and moves that one writer described as belonging to Penthouse. Feminism has come full circle and the irony is inescapable: Women can now objectify themselves and call it empowerment.

But another aspect of the social revolution has also come full circle. It is one that evangelicals must not ignore, one in which we must not be found silent. It is easy, perhaps even understandable, to dismiss an ideology because of its tenets and results. And when that happens, it is even easier not to acknowledge the validity of the observations that ideology has made. Unfortunately, I fear that we in the Church may be doing just that when it comes to contemporary social feminism. And unless we make a course correction, we will lose a generation of women.

Women like Emma Sulkowicz, a visual arts student at Columbia University. For her senior thesis, Emma opted to haul around her dorm mattress wherever she went. Forbidden to accept anyone’s help, the weight is hers and hers alone. But this is more than an avant-garde expression of modern art; Emma’s project is her protest. Two years earlier, Emma was raped by a fellow student on her dorm mattress. Even after reporting the incident, her attacker, who is accused by two other female students of sexual assault, remains on campus. Until he is expelled or leaves, Emma will bear the visual reminder of her trauma for all to see, expressing the unseen weight she must carry. The weight of the mattress, the weight of the passerby’s quizzical stare, and the weight of her emotional burden are hers to bear.

They are hers and hers alone. And she will not be silent.

Emma is not alone in her project of protest. Women are breaking their silence and taking to social media, finding solidarity in their common experiences and igniting their outrage toward social activism.

The organization, “Hollaback,” for example, is a platform for sharing experiences of sexual harassment and even battery. One young woman described how a man sexually assaulted her when she got up from her bus seat on her way to work, and how difficult it was to file a report with the police. A New York City artist began the “Stop Telling Women to Smile” project, revealing the subconscious sense of obligation for women to smile at men, on-demand, for fear of further harassment or even aggression. As one woman bitingly described, encountering an unfamiliar man on her way to work who says, You’d be prettier if you smiled, or What’s the matter, baby, why don’t you smile? feels, in her words, “rapey,” as she defensively smiles in hopes that she will be left alone. Women may be an equal presence in the workforce, but they still feel threatened on their way to work.

Within the multi-cultural blogosphere and Twitterverse, women are using the ubiquity of the Internet to express international solidarity. Across the globe, they joined women of Turkey, with the hashtag, direnkahkaha meaning, “Resist, Laugh.” The trend was in response the Turkish deputy prime minister’s statement that women should not laugh in public out of propriety. It sparked a protest of Turkish women tweeting laughter-filled selfies, attracting the participation of women around the world, including actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson. This summer, women lifted up a chorus of dissent against cultural misogyny and violence against women in the #YesAllWomen campaign in the wake of a deranged killer’s chilling words of hatred. Their outspoken complaints, through online communities and social media, have formed a collective protest. As Ealasaid Munro of the Political Studies Association observes, “The internet has created as ‘call out’ culture, in which sexism and misogyny can be ‘called out’ or challenged.” Just think of Robin Thicke’s publicity-stunt-gone-wrong, when the #AskThicke Twitter conversation turned into a public pushback for the singer-songwriter’s objectification of women and the hit song many describe as a “rape anthem.” No social issue is beyond the reach of the new “call out” culture. Pro-women individuals have banned together under the umbrella of social feminism, identifying any and all injustice against women as their cause to combat.

It is theirs and theirs alone. And they will not be silent.

Today’s female college freshmen have never have so many advantages, largely thanks to their feminist foremothers. They are the recipients of unparalleled opportunities in education and the workplace, opportunities that would have been denied them 50 years ago. As a female theology student, I’m well aware of the irony that women in my discipline were practically unheard of before the very social movement with which I disagree. But there’s an even greater irony, one shared by every woman regardless of her self-ascribed titles: No matter how many glass ceilings women break through, their social status remains fragile.

For all its social advances, humanity’s core still remains unchanged. For all its social activism, “rape culture,” street harassment, and misogyny still has not been “educated out” of society. For all its social initiatives, women still face oppression and abuse, worldwide. And it is here that today’s young women find themselves at a serious disadvantage: The belief that true transformation is still just a social change away. That women have achieved unparalleled independence yet still contend for basic safety and public value is a sobering cultural commentary.

But not an unfamiliar one.

Throughout the book of Judges, among the newly formed nation of Israel, the status of women took an all-too-familiar decline. The strength and dignity of a Deborah, the prophetess sought out for her wisdom and valor, digressed to a nameless, degraded concubine, thrust before violent men in her weakness. The narrative of violence against women revealed that the nation had spiraled into chaos, becoming a society in which a woman could find no refuge.[1] She was safe neither outside her home, nor inside her home.

For the biblical narrator, the progressive abandonment of women in Israel reflected the nation’s progressive abandonment of God. Princeton Theological Seminary’s Jacqueline Lapsley explains: “It implies an integral relation between violence against women and more general violence…The state and treatment of women in Judges indexes the health of Israel’s social and religious life in the same book.”[2] The more the country denigrated into chaos, the more women found themselves in vulnerable situations (Judges 5:17-21, 9:53, 11:29-40). As the nation plummeted into spiritual decline, so did the presence of godly leadership among its men. And in the absence of godly men, women were left unprotected. To communicate the increasing peril women faced, the writer of Judges decreasingly identified them. Far from indifference, the narrator is highlighting the horrors of the nation’s sin.[3] He presents the unnamed, unidentified concubine as a dehumanized object. She was anonymous, as anonymous as a young woman on a bus on her way to work. This act of violence against a woman was an indictment on the nation. The degree to which the nation followed the Lord directly indicated the degree to which they protected and valued women.

The rape of the concubine remains one of the most difficult passages in Scripture to stomach. But it is also remains one of the most instructive cultural diagnoses. This gruesome act of violence was a direct reflection of a nation’s overall condition. That women in our cities are threatened on a public sidewalk, is a direct reflection of ours.

For this generation of women, we must not be found sitting, seeing, but silent. As long as young women continue to find recognition of their value – and a chance to have a voice – through the suggestion of social feminism, they will continue to be attracted to, and influenced by, the solutions it proposes. We have been faithful to speak out against the results of these solutions. We have been bold to defend the gospel-portraying paradigm of biblical marriage and gender identity, as well as the sacredness of all human life.

But we must speak out against devaluation of women with the same urgency. We must take up the indignation of the single woman assaulted on a public bus and the outrage over a college student whose attacker still roams her campus. We must care enough to speak up on their behalf and no longer be silent.

We stand on the precipice of an opportunity to speak out for women on the very issues that have led so many to identify with a secular worldview. But if we fail to speak on their behalf, we will not only fail to reflect the God in whose estimation they are of consummate worth, but we will fail to reach young women who will find solidarity among those who do. You don’t have to be a radical feminist to be pro-women. You just have to see, hear, and refuse to be silent.

Unless we, as the Church, add our voices to the chorus of dissent, the tenants of secular movements like social feminism will continue to thrive. Unless we consider every woman’s value our duty to defend, yet another generation of women will advocate social solutions for spiritual problems. But this need not be our cultural trajectory. We have the God who ascribed to women unsurpassed worth, the God whose Law is full of protective measures ensuring their security, the God whose image they bear (Gen 1:27-29, Num 5:11-31, Num 27, Deut 21:10-14, Deut 22:25-29).

That women in our culture are unvalued, objectified, and dehumanized is an indictment against us all. As the people of God, we will be held accountable for the treatment of women among us. Their dignity is our responsibility.

It is ours. And ours alone. And we must not be silent.

[1]Karla Bohmbach, “Conventions/Contraventions: The Meanings of Public and Private for the Judges 19 Concubine,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament no. 83 (1999): 97.

[2]Jacqueline E. Lapsley, “Whispering the Word: Hearing Women’s Stories in the Old Testament,” (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 65.

[3]Lapsley , Whispering the Word, 65.

Katie McCoy

Katie McCoy serves as director of Women’s Ministry at Texas Baptists (Baptist General Convention of Texas). She holds a Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where she previously served on faculty. Read More by this Author

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