Why Independence Day is a good time to meet our neighbors

Building community on the Fourth of July

July 4, 2019

The Fourth of July always comes with fireworks, but that’s the case this year in more than just one way. America is in a season of uniquely grating cultural strife. There are fireworks of division detonating all around us. And the more times you scroll through Twitter, or watch nighttime cable news or late-night comedy shows, the more the dynamite of our disagreements are exaggerated, as the debates move well past the point of helpful.

Yet here we are, at a time of great division, with a holiday meant to celebrate our national unity. So, as Christians, what do we make of this Independence Day?

A hometown Fourth

My hometown of Lake Jackson, Texas, was a wonderful place to grow up. The city was founded in 1941 as a meticulously planned municipality with preserved moss-covered live oaks and winding downtown streets literally named This Way, That Way, and Winding Way. The city knows how to celebrate holidays, especially the Fourth of July. Most towns across America celebrate with fireworks, but none compare to the City of Enchantment’s (my hometown’s nickname) display. 

I’ve enjoyed watching fireworks shows from the beaches of Seaside, Florida, to the lake shores of Conroe, Texas, but my hometown’s are my favorite. Maybe this is the effect of nostalgia, but the size of the show is impressive even to visitors. What truly makes the day special to me, though, is the way such a celebration can unify a city as families and friends gather outside.

Each year, my family enjoyed the holiday at a party hosted by a family in our church whose home was perfectly situated for a great view of the night’s display. Their annual party drew families from the church and neighborhood. The word ‘smorgasbord’ was created to describe the spread of hot dogs, burgers, and red, white, and blue desserts. My favorite was the coffee punch, the host’s own recipe of Homemade Vanilla Blue Bell ice cream and cold brew coffee. Those are special memories, especially the year when the wind was strong enough to carry ash from the fireworks and drop it on their driveway. My dad was among those pelted.

Our ultimate citizenship

These memories are part of what it means to be home and have a sense of belonging in a place where you are welcomed in community. I am thankful for the one that has carried my family through the highs and lows of life, like church planting, weddings, and health battles. America is my home, and Lake Jackson is my hometown, but neither will be forever—and that’s actually comforting to me.

As a Christian, I am thankful that many of these people who make up such wonderful memories are my brothers and sisters in the family of God. When Jesus tells us that this world is not our home, he reminds us that while we are citizens of the nations where he has placed us, they will all pass away one day. For the Christian, it is only our citizenship in the Kingdom of God that lasts forever. My colleague Andrew Walker writes more on this in How Augustine helps American Christians understand July 4. Walker writes, 

“Augustine helps us to love our country the way it is supposed to be loved biblically. Augustine helps us understand that we as Christians can love our country, but we must understand what forces drive it, and what separates it from the Kingdom of God. Augustine is concerned with us loving our God more than our country.” 

This means we love this country and celebrate the day of our independence with gratitude, but we do so in ways that honor our citizenship to Christ’s Kingdom above where he has placed us here and now. Walker concludes his article, “on this July 4, be an American, be a Christian American even. But recognize that the former ought to be more defining than the latter.”

Cultivating community where we are

For our second Independence Day in Washington, my wife and I had a friend visiting from Texas. We walked to the U.S. Capitol from our apartment on Capitol Hill for the annual Capitol Fourth concert that airs live on PBS. The show concludes with patriotic songs from the National Symphony Orchestra as the fireworks display fires off above the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. After the show ended, we walked back home through the rowhouse neighborhood. Block after block, neighbors were out and sending their own firecrackers into the sky until late in the night. And in those encore fireworks is a lesson we shouldn’t miss.

Holidays like the Fourth of July offer opportunities to meet our actual neighbors. In an age of epidemic loneliness in our country, the basic things, like knowing your neighbors, become monumental. There are many reasons why researchers account for the increasing loneliness. Technology changes in vocation, declining marriage rates, and even increasingly polarized politics are all, in part, to blame. As difficult as these new challenges and divisions are to face, we must remember that this is the age in which God saw fit to place you and me. This is our country, and though it’s imperfect, it’s ours to steward.

In Onward, Russell Moore encourages Christians to consider our calling as “an engaged alienation, a Christianity that preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel while not retreating from our callings as neighbors, and friends, and citizens.” He continues, “We must put priority where Jesus put it, on the kingdom of God. But while we are a Kingdom First people, we are not a Kingdom Only people. Jesus told us to seek both the kingdom of God ‘and his righteousness’” (Matt. 6:33).

As you celebrate this holiday, take a moment to meet someone new in your neighborhood. Introduce yourself to those also outside celebrating this shared land of ours. There are people all around us who long for the kind of love that some of us know from hometown memories. As the church, we are to be Christ’s instruments of redemption by showing people the way to our Father in heaven beginning with simple, ordinary hospitality. Then, as the fireworks burst above your town, consider praying for our country and, even more importantly, your neighbors by name. Let’s be people of peace in this culture of chaos. Let’s pray for God’s Kingdom to come. This Independence Day, let’s love our neighbor as ourselves.

Jeff Pickering

Jeff Pickering is the director of the Initiative on Faith & Public Life, a project of the American Enterprise Institute. AEI is a leading public policy think tank in Washington, DC and the initiative exists to equip Christian college students for faithful engagement in public life. Jeff moved to Washington … 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