Why Christians should be kind in our turbulent time

Civility, politics, and the kingdom

September 10, 2020

In the midst of 2020, listening to someone extol the virtues of civility brings to mind images of Don Quixote tilting at windmills. In the best of times, we’re still residents of a fallen world under the curse of sin. But in addition to the usual consequences of sin that encumber our lives, this year we are navigating life in the midst of a global pandemic, a national reckoning over racial justice, and the final sprint leading up to November’s presidential election. Suffice it to say, this is a tense and contentious time. But even amid all of the chaos and tumult, this is the right time for Christians to raise the banner of civility.

Christianity as counterculture

For a long time we’ve been told that Christianity is a “countercultural” faith. Indeed, what is more countercultural than a political ruler who claims authority not by force but through a message of peace and whose rule is ushered in not through triumph but through death? Jesus taught us a new way to conceive not only of politics, but of victory, power, and strength. He redefined for us what it looks like to win, and what it looks like to rule. Because, in his kingdom, the last shall be first and the poor become rich. 

What does this have to do with civility? Everything. In a world obsessed with victory, fame, and power, Jesus taught us that the way of the kingdom is different. He taught us that strength often looks like weakness, that winning sometimes looks like losing, and that power isn’t a weapon. Most importantly, he taught us how to fight. Because we are not actually at war with that which is flesh and blood, we are commanded to love our enemies and to bless those who persecute us (Eph. 6:12; Mt. 5:44). We are called to demonstrate compassion and forbearance, to serve those we are tempted to despise, and to forgive those who sin against us.

In sum, the way of the kingdom represents a completely different way to live. Jesus taught us to see other people the way that God sees them, as sacred and precious beings made in his image and likeness (Gen 1:27). He taught us to treat other people in ways that recognize their inestimable value and dignity. And he taught us to live each day in light of the reality that our true citizenship is not here on earth but in heaven (Phil. 3:20). We are but sojourners and strangers in this world (1 Pet. 2:11). Our lives on earth are only a vapor, but our life in the kingdom will last forever. This is the way that Christians are to live.

Politics and civility

Most of the time when we think about civility, we think about politics. That makes sense because “politics” is one of the main things we do to participate in public life as citizens. But as everyone knows, even the mere mention of the word tends to foster strife and division. People are often passionate about their political beliefs because they recognize the stakes. More than candidates or abstract policies, the decisions we make at the ballot box affect real people’s lives in significant and meaningful ways. Still, all of us have witnessed the kinds of intense and uncivil clashes that are produced through “passionate” political discourse.

For the people of God, passion is no excuse for intemperance. Instead, following the example of Jesus, we should be the first to listen, eager to gain understanding. We should seek to persuade instead of coerce. And we should have the humility to recognize that our own beliefs are not infallible.

The political commentator Fred Smith once said “underneath our politics are values.” There is a lot of truth reflected in that statement. Beneath our political views are the things we care about deeply and regard as essential for human flourishing. Justice is a fundamental component of a healthy society. For some people, justice is the driving concern in their approach to politics. The same thing is true for other fundamental principles like freedom and equality. Obviously, each of these things are massively important. In fact, each one is critical. So it is no wonder why our tempers tend to flare when we feel that something we value and deem essential is being neglected or threatened.

In many cases, this is what drives incivility. Rather than taking a step back and trying to understand the concerns of those we disagree with, we simply judge them. We accuse our opponents of being unconcerned about justice or liberty or equality, or whatever it is we care about, when in reality they are likely trying to balance multiple concerns at the same time. Political discussions often generate more heat than light because we make unfair assumptions about our political opponents. We assume people who reject our views are rejecting us. We assume our opponents are uninformed or uncaring. We are slow to listen and quick to speak, ready to judge and reluctant to understand. 

But for the people of God, passion is no excuse for intemperance. Instead, following the example of Jesus, we should be the first to listen, eager to gain understanding. We should seek to persuade instead of coerce. And we should have the humility to recognize that our own beliefs are not infallible.

The kingdom and civility

Jesus’ reign will last forever. As the creeds testify, his kingdom “shall know no end.” Seeking to live as citizens of his kingdom should make it easier for us to exercise civility as citizens of the United States. After all, we know that our lives right now are nothing compared to our lives in the kingdom. If we are promised eternal life and a perfect future, we should be able to exercise the kind of patience and forbearance it takes to treat others with decency and respect. There is no election or principle that is worth the price of your public witness. 

No matter how turbulent our current times may be (or how quixotic it may look to the world), Christians are called to march forward, confidently carrying the banner of our king, who taught us what it means to fight hate with love and how to meet chaos with calm. Jesus is the prince of peace. By living lives marked by civility and kindness, we can show the world what he is like.

How should Christians think through issues of our day? The new Courage and Civility Church Toolkit gives pastors and church leaders a helpful path to walk with their congregations about the things that truly matter and shows them how to process this chaotic and polarized moment. 

Download Now

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. 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