What to watch for: The cultural and political events that may shape 2016

January 4, 2016

The ERLC seeks to educate and equip the church about today’s ethical, cultural and moral issues. We thought it would be helpful—at the start of a new year—to give a rundown of some of the events and topics that have the potential to shape our culture for many years to come. As you think about these issues, bookmark erlc.com for late-breaking news and commentary, consider signing up for The Weekly newsletter, and join us at one of our 2016 events.

Religious Liberty

2015 was a challenging year for religious liberty. 2016 will be equally challenging. The most important and largely unknown factor at this point is how the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision will affect religious liberty in the public square and also concerning private institutions.

Activists, lawmakers and judges have increasingly been reading “Sexual Orientation” and “Gender Identity” into protections against sex discrimination. This has tremendous implications for the future of Christian higher education, as schools that receive federal funding could be considered discriminatory according to Title IX under federal law.

Also, with the introduction of the Equality Act, religious liberty advocates will need to be extra vigilant. The Equality Act is the most sweeping anti-conscience legislation ever enacted. Its effect would touch all areas of public life and would result in those with traditional beliefs about sexual morality and gender as being equated with racists.


In perhaps the most important event of 2016, Americans will elect a new president. The importance of this cannot be understated. From the sanctity of unborn life, to the protection of marriage and family, the economy, and war and peace, who Americans elect on November 8, 2016, will have incredible impact for the future trajectory of America. Right now, it’s too early to tell who will be each party’s candidate, but it is a good time to begin to educate yourself on the issues most important to you and your family. ERLC has published numerous issues briefs on topics that may be addressed in the upcoming election.


The ERLC will soon issue an in-depth legislative agenda for 2016, so stay tuned. In the agenda, we will outline legislative activity in Congress of particular interest to Southern Baptists. It is not exhaustive, but gives a good idea about what we’re watching and anticipating. In the meantime, below are a few items from 2015 still in play in 2016 and some recent additions we’re monitoring

Supreme Court

There are several important Supreme Court cases that we will be keeping our eye on next year because of the ramifications for our country.

Little Sisters of the Poor et al. v. Burwell: A number of cases dealing with the Obamacare HHS Mandate or “contraceptive mandate” will be heard and decided by the Supreme Court in 2016. These cases deal with the question of whether the Department of Health and Human Services has the constitutional power to force religious nonprofits to provide abortive contraception to their employees.

Whole Women’s Health v. Cole: This case is a challenge to Texas’ HB 2, which created two new requirements for abortions in Texas: (1) physicians performing abortions are required to have hospital admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic; and (2) abortion clinics in Texas must meet the public health standards for ambulatory surgical centers or hospitals. A number of abortion providers in Texas challenged HB 2, and this case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court to be heard early this year.

LGBT discrimination suits: Now that the Supreme Court has created a constitutional right for same-sex couples to be married, look for cases to start working their way up the system on these topics: (1) religious nonprofit hiring cases; (2) wedding service provider cases; (3) local, state, and federal tax exemption cases for organizations and churches that hold to a traditional view of marriage.

Racial reconciliation

2015 was a difficult year for race relations in America. Police shootings from Michael Brown to Eric Garner to Tamir Rice to Laquan Mcdonald awakened the national conscience to systemic injustice in many American cities and the difficult challenges of the urban core. The tragedy in Charleston both offered a model for Christian forgiveness and provoked a discussion about the symbols that, to many, represent the inhumane institutions of Jim Crow and slavery. 2016 will undoubtedly continue to see stories that provoke national conversations on race. Here is hoping that the evangelical church will be the place where gospel-centered conversations can serve as a model for society and reflect, in some way, the diversity of the Kingdom of God (Revelation 5,7).

Terrorism and ISIS

2015 saw fear grip the Western World as ISIS spread its murderous ideology across the Middle East, seizing large tracts of land and resources, and also initiated attacks in places like Paris and San Bernardino, California. Global intelligence firm Stratfor predicts that ISIS will be weakened this year, but not defeated. As ISIS grows weaker in the Middle East, will the organization seek to maintain relevance through an increase in terrorist activity outside of the territory it controls? For Americans, the question will be: will elected officials take the threat of radical Islam seriously in a way that both preserves the liberty of Democratic institutions and also fulfills a Romans 13 duty to rightly bear the sword to protect the innocent?

Persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa

The situation for Christians in this region is worse today than a year ago. And while most experts believe that the so-called Islamic State will be weakened in 2016, few believe the organization will be defeated this year. Will the Obama Administration and international community be able to advance policies that protect Christian populations that wish to stay in the Middle East and evacuate those that wish to leave? This is a key issue to watch, especially early in 2016.

The Syrian Civil War & the Syrian refugee crisis

The main driver for the Syrian refugee crisis, the Syrian Civil War, will likely not end in 2016, despite efforts among outside powers to broker peace. The flow of refugees has slowed during the cold winter months, but refugees will begin fleeing again in the spring and summer. What kind of welcome will they find in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon? In Europe? In the U.S.?

Continued rise of anti-semitism

In 2015, we saw a dramatic rise in anti-semitic activity, from assaults to vandalism to anti-semitic slurs and chants at BDS and pro-Palestinian rallies across the Europe and the U.S. As Islamophobia and nationalism increase in the U.S. and Europe, so could anti-semitism continue. May 2016 be a year that Christians stand with our Jewish neighbors

Sanctity of human life

In 2015, Planned Parenthood was on the defensive, due to the courageous investigative work of The Center for Medical Progress. The release of their sting videos pulled back a curtain on the macabre practices conducted at abortion clinics around the country, forcing even staunch pro-choice advocates to admit the grisly nature of abortion. These videos also awakened the evangelical conscience, motivating a new generation to fight for justice wherever human dignity is compromised. 2016 could be a consequential year as conservative legislatures around the country continue to weight further restrictions on abortion, as the Supreme Court hears Whole Women’s Health v. Cole and as Americans elect a new President. This year, ERLC and Focus on the Family are hosting the first ever Evangelicals for Life event on January 21st and 22nd in conjunction with the March for Life.


These are just a few of the cultural and political events we expect to shape 2016. Of course, there will be other, unanticipated moments that fill up our social media feeds and dominate the news. The ERLC will continue to serve you this year by helping you apply the gospel of the kingdom to these issues.

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