What Ancient Hebrews Can Teach Today’s DC Interns

June 12, 2015

The prophet Daniel is best known for surviving a night in the lions’ den—as an octogenarian no less. Much earlier in his life, Daniel survived three years in a different kind of lions’ den: an internship in the Babylonian royal court. His courage and conviction in that setting offer useful lessons for young people thrown into a contemporary capital: interns in Washington, D.C.

Daniel and his cohorts came to Babylon, the capital city of the hegemonic Babylonian empire, by a different route than D.C. interns; rather than arriving in triumph as the conquering heroes of their high school academic and social circles, these Hebrew teenagers came as hostages of a conquering foreign power.[1] Yet in other ways, these two groups share much in common. The Babylonians selected their captives carefully, choosing “youths in whom there was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court.”[2] They were, in many ways, similar to the undergraduate and graduate students who descend on Washington every semester: bright, intelligent, idealistic, yet also young, naïve, and impressionable.

These young Jewish men (historians estimate 50 to 75 of them[3]) were to be taught “the language and literature” of the Babylonians[4] in preparation for government service in the provinces. After their arrival, the young Hebrew men encountered a capital party scene characterized by excess and decadence. They were daily fed the “king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank.”[5] It was as though every meal was an open bar at a steakhouse, sponsored by a special interest group.

The Hebrew interns encountered a culture of indulgence and idolatry, fueled by imperial power and coerced tribute. Interns in Washington, D.C., today can find a strikingly similar environment. Hill interns achieve pop star status by embracing such a lifestyle—google Monica Lewinsky and Chandra Levy. In the words of one news report, “It’s a stylish life for an intern at Capitol Hill; so much so, the nightlife is often the talk of Washington DC.”[6] Life for many interns is “coffee, copies, and copulation.”[7]

The Hebrew “interns” faced an equally daunting challenge. The Bible tells us that four of the young Israelite men refused the sumptuous feast from the king’s table—four out of more than fifty.[8] Daniel and his three friends (we know them best by their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, the three who survived the furnace after refusing to bow to an idol[9]) rejected the stylish but sinful life for a life in line with their principles.

This is yet another iteration of a clear Biblical principle: you become who you hang out with.[10] We know that Daniel and his three friends all had Godly names, suggesting they came from devout families.[11] And they grew up in Israel during Josiah’s reign, an age of great awakening prompted by prophets and the rediscovery of God’s word.[12]Transplanted to Babylon, they were stripped of their spiritual support structures. But they still had one another.

So find friends who share your values and your desire to get the most out of D.C. There are great churches in town. They know you’re only here for a few months, you don’t know lots of other folks, and you’re looking for fellowship and fun. They all have numerous opportunities to plug in, connect, and explore. Take advantage of them.

Washington is an awe-inspiring town filled with interesting people and innumerable things to do. Monuments and museums are only the beginning of what the city offers the curious, adventurous, and fun-loving. Plus, virtually all of it comes at the ideal price for a cash-strapped intern (free!). The Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center, jazz in the Sculpture Garden, or a bike ride on Roosevelt Island with your friends can be far more fun than yet another night of pitchers of Miller High Life and BBQ wings on Pennsylvania Avenue SE.

Back to Daniel and his crew. Daniel did not want to defile himself with the king’s food for various spiritual reasons,[13] so he went to the king’s chief of staff. The Bible tells us, “God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials.”[14] This approach suggests that you should pray for the people in your office, to show you favor, to be your friend and mentor (equally, we who work with interns should pray for them).

Notice also that Daniel went to the king’s chief of staff. Interns should respect but not fear the senior staff. In my experience, senior staff members rarely begrudge the occasional honest and earnest inquiry from an intern. Notice that Daniel, not the chief of staff, initiated the contact. Senior staff, especially in a place like Washington, are busy people with jam-packed inboxes. Rarely will they just stop by your desk, invite you into their office, and start a conversation. However, even more rare is the senior staff member who will spurn an email from an intern that politely seeks a half-hour appointment to discuss convictions and career. A short, respectful e-mail works nearly every time, and a hand-written “thank you” note afterwards will sometimes seal a mentoring relationship that could last an entire career.

In this case, the chief of staff turns down Daniel’s request out of fear of the king.[15] So Daniel turns next to his immediate supervisor. Daniel asked the supervisor to test them for ten days, feeding them nothing but vegetables and water rather than the royal food and wine. The supervisor consented, and “at the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food.”[16] So he permitted them to continue this diet for the remainder of their time in his custody.

The lesson is simple: if you can be reasonable, your internship supervisor can be flexible. If you want to do something particular, such as watching oral argument at the Supreme Court one morning, for instance, virtually every supervisor will assent—they understand that you want to get the most out of your short time in D.C.

This verse concerning the young men’s appearance prompts another observation: looking sharp is important in D.C. Particularly in the warm summer months, one cannot miss the scantily-clad female interns roaming the marble halls of Washington. Clothing choices reflect and perpetuate the hook-up culture. Though you don’t need to wear a Brooks Brothers suit every day, you will be treated like an adult and professional only if you dress like one.[17]

Our model Hebrew “interns” also prompt some reading recommendations. Daniel and his three friends were faithful, and God blessed them with “knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom.”[18] Interns who wish to grow in knowledge and understanding of how Washington operates should read the publications that the staff read, such as Politico’s morning e-mail newsletters like Mike Allen’s Playbook,[19] The Huddle (for Congress), and Morning Score (for campaigns and elections).

As the first chapter of Daniel draws to a close, so does the educational phase of the young Israelites’ residence in the royal palace. Finally, they reach the last day of their internship and get the “grip and grin” moment with King Nebuchadnezzar himself. The king chatted with all the young Israelite men, “and he found none equal” to the four we have been following.[20] “So they entered the king’s personal service.”[21]

Of course, not all D.C. interns get a job out of the experience, though certainly many do. According to one staffer, “When it comes to getting a job in Washington, I really can’t think of a better method than interning on the Hill.”[22] Stay in touch with your office—send a Christmas card, intern next for the district office, or set up a lunch visit on an upcoming trip to Washington for a conference or vacation. If you made a positive impression, people will remember you, and probably help you out in the future.

Daniel and his three compatriots all faced further challenges over the course of their careers in government. Daniel eventually rose to be prime minister of the Babylonian empire, and his three friends were made governors in Babylon.[23] Just as the four Jews’ experience in the Babylonian court prepared them for their later trials of furnaces and beasts, so the modern intern’s experience can be a test that prepares them for challenges throughout their careers. Young people who seek to emulate Daniel’s example, to make the most of Washington while staying true to themselves, may take inspiration from a gospel song by the American hymn writer Philip Bliss[24]:

Standing by a purpose true,
Heeding God’s command,
Honor them, the faithful few!
All hail to Daniel’s band!

Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known.

[1] Daniel 1:3. See also Isaiah 39:5-7 (“Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, ‘Hear the word of the LORD of hosts, “Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house and all that your fathers have laid up in store to this day will be carried to Babylon; nothing will be left,” says the LORD. “And some of your sons who will issue from you, whom you will beget, will be taken away, and they will become officials in the palace of the king of Babylon.”’”) and II Kings 20:16-18 (same). All translations quoted are from the NASB unless otherwise noted.

[2] Daniel 1:4.

[3] John MacArthur, “An Uncompromising Life,” Oct. 21, 1979, http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/27-03_An-Uncompromising-Life.

[4] Daniel 1:5.

[5] Daniel 1:5a.

[6] Nona Walia, “India shining at Capitol Hill,” The Times of India, August 17, 2004, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/delhi-times/India-shining-at-Capitol-Hill/articleshow/817496.cms.

[7] Carrie Lukas, “Coffee, Copies, and Copulation,” National Review Online, July 18, 2005, http://old.nationalreview.com/comment/lukas200507180808.asp. See “2005 Capitol Hill Intern Study,” the polling company, inc., July 2005, http://www.iwf.org/files/77c932bbf15c696398ce0a734ac7054e.pdf.

[8] Daniel 1:14.

[9] Daniel 3.

[10] See, e.g., Proverbs 12:26, Proverbs 13:20, Proverbs 27:17, 1 Corinthians 15:33.

[11] MacArthur, supra note 3.

[12] W. A. Criswell, “The Captives in the Court of Nebuchadnezzar,” February 11, 1968, http://www.wacriswell.org/PrintTranscript.cfm/SID/2136.cfm.

[13] See Matthew Henry, “Daniel 1,” Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible,” http://www.searchgodsword.org/com/mhc-com/view.cgi?book=da&chapter=001.

[14] Daniel 1:9.

[15] Daniel 1:10.

[16] Daniel 1:15.

[17] Betsy Rothstein, “The bad rap of Capitol Hill interns,” The Hill, June 21, 2005, http://thehill.com/capital-living/23860-the-bad-rap-of-capitol-hill-interns. See also Belle, “A Guide to Capitol Hill Intern Style,” Capitol Hill Style, June 1, 2009, http://capitolhillstyle.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/a-guide-to-capitol-hill-intern-style/ (“Many of the men on Capitol Hill refer to the summer months as ‘intern season’ because the majority of twenty-something interns tend to dress like New Jersey teenagers at a nightclub looking to get laid.”) and Dlat, “Hill Intern Hotties: Nominations Needed,” Wonkette, June 20, 2006, http://wonkette.com/181975/hill-intern-hotties-nominations-needed (“Summer spells hotness for D.C. — and we’re not just talking about the weather. Yes, that’s right: it’s intern season on Capitol Hill.”).

[18] Daniel 1:17.

[19] See Mark Leibovich, “The Man the White House Wakes Up To,” New York Times, April 21, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/25/magazine/25allen-t.html.

[20] Daniel 1:18-19.

[21] Daniel 1:19b.

[22] Eric Yoder, “Capitol Hill internships can kickoff careers,” WashingtonPost.com, June 25, 2004, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A49884-2003Dec9.html.

[23] Daniel 2: 48-49. They received promotions after their experience with the furnace. Daniel 3:30.

[24] Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions 80 (2nd ed., 2002).

Daniel Suhr

Daniel R. Suhr is an attorney and counselor licensed to practice law in Wisconsin. He holds a J.D., cum laude, from Marquette University Law School and an Honors B.A., cum laude, in political science from Marquette University.  Daniel's legal writings are published or forthcoming in the Texas Review of Law & Politics,Georgetown Journal … 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