Why Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s religious talk reveals selective bias

May 6, 2019

One of the rules of modern discourse is to keep God, or religious-based argument, out of the arena of politics.

Because we’re a country conditioned by an ahistorical interpretation of Jefferson’s famous “Separation of Church and State” language, we’ve come to think and require our officials to sanitize their argument of anything smacking of religion.

Building off abuses of Jefferson’s rhetoric and combined with John Rawls’ public reason ethic that requires citizens to rid themselves of “comprehensive doctrines” when making public arguments, American political discourse is one that has come to rely on an unspoken and spoken expectation that there be a wedge in how a person’s religion informs their ethics and decision-making. One of the great blasphemy codes of American political life is the suspicion that someone is smuggling in religion for the cause of politics (we’ll leave aside for the moment a conversation on how this expectation itself is religious in nature).

But is this right? Should people of faith abandon their religion when it comes to politics? One quick answer is to sort out the procedural process of how one translates religiously-informed argument in a pluralistic setting, something I’m not intending to do in full right now. But to be sure, as a Christian, I do think it is incumbent for Christians to make publicly-accessible arguments that can be understood by people who do not share all of our presuppositions. Not every issue raised by Christians maps easily into the public square as others, so there is caution in how religiously-based arguments are to be made.

An obvious example of selective outrage

What I want to do, and briefly, is simply point out an obvious example of selective bias and selective outrage when it comes to the use of religion in public argument: Whoever controls the rhetorical guardrails of political discourse is more apt to allow whatever discourse is necessary to benefit their political preferences.

Who do I have in mind? The insurgent Democratic presidential candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the Episcopalian wunderkind of the progressive Left.

Along with his eloquence and obvious brilliance, Buttigieg is hailed as a figure long awaited by progressive faith communities. At a time when modern Democratic politics appears to be growing ever-more secular, in steps Mayor Buttigieg and his openness at speaking about his Episcopalian faith. The headlines and stories are too numerous to report on at this point. For examples, I’ll point you to Albert Mohler’s excellent essay on what Buttigieg’s candidacy has to say about the vision that progressive Christianity has for America.

But one thing is for sure: Mayor Buttigieg is comfortable marshaling his faith for the purpose of progressive politics.

In an interview with columnist Kirsten Powers at USA Today, Buttigieg is quoted saying: “The left is rightly committed to a separation of church and state . . . but we need to not be afraid to invoke arguments that are convincing on why Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction.”

This is a naked admission that his faith is a vehicle for a progressive causes; something, honestly, I do not hear from even the most conservative Christian politicians. But no one bats an eye at Buttigieg. Imagine if a conservative Christian candidate said the direct equivalent: “The Right is rightly committed to a separation of church and state . . . but we need to not be afraid to invoke arguments that are convincing on why Christian faith is going to point you in a conservative direction.” Of course, many of us are familiar with conservative abuses and misuses of religion for political ends—something that liberals and many conservative Christians are happy to criticize.

But notice the inconsistency in how outrage is channeled. If a conservative Christian references a Genesis account of creation for establishing a marital definition of male and female, immediately there are shouts of “theocracy, theocracy, theocracy!“

Further on in the interview with Powers, Buttigieg is comfortable using his Christian faith as a means to bring specific attention to the issues of immigration, criminal justice, and poverty. So, to be clear, Mayor Buttigieg is comfortable allowing his Christianity to run the gamut of issues in its application to politics.

But wait a second. I thought the use of religion for the sake of advancing political argument was verboten according to secular prohibitions. It’s important to notice a peculiar absence in the aftermath of Buttigieg’s remarks: There are no notable progressives calling Buttigieg out for deploying faith for the sake of progressives politics. No one on the Left is coming after Buttigieg for using religion when it comes to immigration or poverty. Why is that?

The expectation that people altogether sever their faith from their politics is a far cry from the American constitutional order of separating church and state.

One can only wonder why the silence is so deafening. Could it be that the insistence that religion be used as grounds for political argument is not applied consistently across the board? Could it be that progressives are comfortable touting the benefits of religion when it aligns with their predilections and political prerogatives? Or is it that secularism and public reason are not as epistemologically neutral as we’re told they are? Is it at all possible that barring God-talk from the public sector tilts the public sector in a secular direction, but done so using a set of rules that progressives themselves do not play by when its expedient and advantageous?

For the good, Buttigieg’s candidacy is a reminder that religion has an inevitable impact on the formation of one’s values. The expectation that people altogether sever their faith from their politics is a far cry from the American constitutional order of separating church and state.

For the ill, Buttigieg’s version of Christianity (especially on matters of gender, sexuality, and abortion) is incompatible with biblical Christianity. His Mainline Protestantism has long ago jettisoned anything resembling biblical and orthodox Christianity.

Evangelicals can be thankful that Buttigieg is refusing to play by progressivism’s rhetorical rules while at the same time ruling his interpretations and appropriation of the Christian faith as hermeneutically suspect and hollow.

Check out this article on Andrew’s site.

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