What Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s comments reveal about the state of religious liberty

January 22, 2020

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a Democratic nominee for president of the United States, has an impressive resume. He’s a polyglot, military veteran, ex-corporate consultant, Harvard graduate, and the mayor of a recognized city at a very young age. More than that, he has positioned himself as one of the seemingly moderate candidates in the Democratic field. 

Though committed to progressivism on social issues, he defends the free market when many vying for the Democratic nomination will not. The first openly gay Democratic candidate, Buttigieg has appealed to his Episcopalian faith as a basis for his progressive politics and made overtures of trying to build bridges with evangelical Christians. He’s at least friendly toward faith, even if evangelical Christians would disagree with his interpretation of Christianity (and we most definitely should).

Buttigieg’s comments about religious liberty 

But that mild-mannered bridge-building diplomacy appears to have come to a screeching halt in an interview he gave to Michael Gerson for a column Gerson wrote about Buttigieg in the Washington Post. In it, Buttigieg offers unvarnished honesty about the limits of an issue that conservative Christians value dearly, religious liberty. 

Summarizing Buttigieg’s views on religious liberty, Gerson writes that “on policy issues of particular concern to many evangelical Christians, Buttigieg gives little ground. His conception of religious liberty is minimalistic, making no provision for religious institutions such as colleges to admit or hire according to their traditional religious standards.” Gerson then quotes Buttigieg directly saying that “if you are talking about professional organizations that have HR departments, then yes, it is not enough to say religion inspires me to discriminate against you and expect government to let that go.”

The description of religious liberty as “minimalistic” is telling for what it portends: an ever-increasingly narrow conception of religious liberty that reduces the liberty of one’s religious life to what happens inside the four walls of a church. This vision for religious liberty could not be any more diametrically opposed to what America’s founders envision and what the Christian faith demands.

Gerson’s description of Buttigieg’s views, that he makes “no provision for religious institutions to admit or hire according to their traditional religious standards,” is one of the most brazenly hostile conceptions of religious liberty that one could hold. In fact, words fail to accurately describe just how illiberal and unconstitutional Buttigieg’s views are, because the consequences seem almost limitless when it comes to the essence of religion. If religion is supposed to guide all areas of our life, Buttigieg is exchanging this for a view of religion that treats religion as a mere sentiment, not a guiding force for how one understands such ultimate realities as ethics, truth, and goodness.

Defining religion down

If this defining religion down sounds at all familiar, it is. In October of 2019, former candidate Beto O’Rourke made similar suggestions that any religious institution that fails to embrace LGBT identities should forfeit its tax exemption.

Buttigieg and O’Rourke’s suggestions demonstrate a serious challenge for orthodox Christianity. No longer is disagreement allowable (something even President Obama acknowledged when he came out in support of same-sex marriage); it must be squelched in favor of the sexual revolution. It’s an assault on the very nature of religion since their understanding of religion sees it as something worth limiting if it’s deemed “discriminatory” according to progressive understandings.

Religion, by definition, rests upon pillars of belief. It’s those beliefs that individuals form institutions around that are directed toward a common goal. This is by no means limited to Christianity only. Whether a church, synagogue, or mosque, the adherents of a religion gather together to bring about a particular goal that their religion teaches them to advance. From the mission of a religious body comes the ability to extend that mission into other domains, such as social services and education (to name only a few). This is why the Constitution has granted American civil society the ability to create institutions that embody a religious identity and religious purpose, even if those institutions are not strictly a congregation.

Buttigieg’s position undercuts the very fabric of religious identity. If a religious institution cannot hire or admit on the basis of its religious identity, its identity and mission has lost the animating force behind it, which means the very purpose of its existence is called into question. And all of this seems okay with Buttigieg if it means advancing the cause of LGBT rights. Because in the progressive worldview, it is more important that one’s sexual preferences be protected than the protections afforded to persons and their relationship to God.

The attacks against religious liberty seem to know no limits. We should be thankful that Buttigieg is being honest about his contempt for religion that disagrees with his own, for it allows us to work to prevent this illiberalism from any greater ascendance. The unmasking of secularism’s hostility to religion is becoming full-scale at this point, and anyone with a concern for religious identity, religious liberty, civility, and pluralism should be alarmed by the arguments being advanced by this major candidate for president of the United States.

Andrew T. Walker

Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. 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