Why Christians should celebrate the Fourth by seeking a better future

July 1, 2020

My family always looks forward to the Fourth of July. I grew up on the east coast only a few hours from our nation’s capital. Many times when I was a child, my parents would take us to see family outside of Washington around the Fourth. To celebrate Independence Day, we would venture into the city to watch the massive fireworks show near the Capitol. And looking back, I can still remember the sense of awe and wonder I felt in those moments. To me, those songs and fireworks in that city on that day, that was America. 

But it is little wonder I grew up believing I lived in the greatest country in the world. My dad has always been an American history buff. And every time we visited the district, he made sure my siblings and I learned all we could. I remember being mesmerized by the city’s stunning monuments and memorials. And in addition to spending countless hours in the Smithsonians and other Washington museums, I also traveled many times to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s homeplace, and stood at the feet of the much-larger-than-life statue of the Great Emancipator in the heart of the city. There was so much to take in, and each visit left me overwhelmed. And as I grew, I fell in love with America’s story.

Learning to see differences

But something else happened as I grew up, too. 

I’m from a majority-minority city. Like many places in the South, my hometown is divided, not merely along figurative racial lines, but literally by railroad tracks. In our city, there was a white part and Black part of town. And the railroad tracks marked out the boundaries.

I went to public school. From elementary school, I had always kept a pretty diverse friend group. That became even more true by the time I made it to high school, when as a freshman I was the only white student in the drumline. Up until that point, I had never really paid much attention to race. I knew about slavery and a little bit about Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, but I mostly assumed that all of that was settled and behind us. Growing up, I knew that I was white and some of my friends were Black and others Hispanic, but I never recognized any real differences between us. 

By the time I made it to high school, I began to notice that some of my friends had a much different experience than me, which showed up in a lot of ways. Some of my closest friends lived in real poverty. Others lived in homes without a father. Many of them had encounters with police before they were old enough to drive. And those are just a few of the more obvious things.

Over the last several weeks, our country has been thrown headlong into tumult over racial injustice in America. By now, we all know and recognize the tragic events that brought us to this moment. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are but the most recent in a decade-long, high profile series of Black Americans losing their lives from clashes with police, or, in some cases, armed citizens. And it seems we’ve reached a tipping point.

A cultural tipping point

Each one of these deaths was a tragedy. But for years, each one has been litigated and debated in the court of public opinion. And rather than empathy and compassion, often the response has smacked of tribalism and self-protection. That was before we watched a young man named Ahmaud Arbery lose his life on video, due to some kind of deranged vigilantism. His death shocked the nation. And only a few weeks after the release of that video, the footage of George Floyd’s death began to circulate. Seeing George Floyd die under the weight of a uniformed police officer’s knee as he begged for mercy was simply too much for too many.

For years, Black Americans have been crying out about issues related to racism and injustice in America. Decade after decade, they’ve begged for a response to police brutality and for criminal justice reforms aimed at correcting a system that deals out unduly harsh punishments in cases where it is hardly warranted. And in the aftermath of these most recent fatal tragedies, we’ve seen crowds of thousands descend upon urban areas across the United States, in cities large and small, demanding justice.

Those cries have not fallen on deaf ears. In ways I never anticipated, we are watching not only individuals but institutions respond to these demands for change. And in the last several weeks, I’ve seen many white Christians take the opportunity to listen, to seek understanding they’ve never had before, and to ask what they might do to make a difference. Likewise, I’ve seen many of my Black brothers and sisters take the time to share, speak, and educate others about what it’s like to be Black in America today.

Not everyone, of course, has done this well. Unsurprisingly, some of the loudest voices (on both sides) have proved the most unhelpful. And some, in their zeal, have taken certain efforts or ideas too far. Others have used this moment as a cover for other kinds of subterfuge or wickedness. That is both regrettable and predictable. But to focus on those things is to miss the point. To perceive the best in what’s happening right now is to note both the church and our society making strides in order to see all people treated equally before the law, with the rights, dignity, and opportunities they deserve.

A more perfect Union

Christians in the United States are called to be good citizens (1 Pet. 2:13-17). And ideally, that means Christians will enjoy and have a deep affection for the nation to which they belong. I’m grateful to God to be an American. This country has been good to me and has afforded me incredible opportunities. But over the last several weeks it has become even more obvious that not only has America not always been good for everyone, but there are many people for whom it still isn’t.

And it’s okay to say so. 

Being a Christian means recognizing that our ultimate allegiance does not belong to any earthly nation, but to the kingdom of heaven (Phil. 3:20). That means we don’t have to mask America’s flaws. No earthly government will ever perfectly manifest the righteousness of heaven. And when our nation and its laws fall short of the ideal, we never have to pretend otherwise. Our nation is fallible; our Savior isn’t.

Being a Christian means recognizing that our ultimate allegiance does not belong to any earthly nation, but to the kingdom of heaven (Phil. 3:20).

One of the best ways Christians can celebrate our nation’s independence this year is by renewing our commitment to seek “a more perfect Union.” This Fourth of July, we not only remember the past, but look toward the future—a future free of racism and injustice, a future where all Americans are truly free and equal, and a future where one’s skin color isn’t regarded as a liability. And we not only look, but as Jesus taught us, we ask God even now to make the earth look more like heaven, and to use us to do so (Matt. 6:10).

And as we move forward, the words of Abraham Lincoln are as appropriate for this Independence Day as they were when he uttered them some 150 years ago in his Second Inaugural address, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

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