Why we should appreciate Presidents Day

Recommended resources about the executive office

February 17, 2020

Recently, I was returning from an overseas trip that had a seven-hour layover in Philadelphia. So my colleagues and I took the opportunity to visit one of my favorite landmarks in the entire country, Independence Hall. It’s hard to enter its hallowed halls and not swell with pride.  

Yet, this was the first time I entered the building after just returning from a foreign context. And, though it may sound cliche, it gave me a new appreciation for what it means to be American. In the country I had just been in, their culture is marked by some fairly significant divides, particularly as it relates to religion. As I was discussing this difference from American culture, my host remarked, “Yes, but things are different for America. There, people can just show up, declare they’re American, and that’s what they are. Here, your identity is set by your background.”  

Those words reverberated in my mind as I looked at the Rising Sun chair once used by George Washington and surveyed the yellowed walls of the space once occupied by James Madison, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson—individuals who would all go on to lead our country. These men, from different backgrounds and areas, came together to forge a new enterprise for individual liberty and human flourishing. All the more remarkable is that this group set in motion the principle that all were free to join in and be part of this unprecedented project (though, some would argue, we’re still on our way to achieving that ambitious goal).  

As the Founders were declaring our independence and, some years later, creating the structural documents that created our system of government, they formally created the office of the president to serve in the role of chief executive of the state. This role has grown in both stature and authority from those earliest days of the republic and, because of that growth, it now captures the political imagination for many Americans. Millions of dollars are spent in campaigns to capture the White House. Millions more are spent trying to influence the actual person in the office. Countless news cycles are devoted to following each and every move, pronouncement, and action made by the office. Needless to say, there is a lot that rides on the shoulders of each president.   

In recognition of the office, we celebrate the Presidents Day holiday. While many now associate the moment with great deals on furniture and cars, it was originally set aside to mark George Washington’s birthday. After 1971, it was positioned between Washington’s birthday (Feb. 22) and Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12), on the third Monday of each February, though now we tend to honor all those who have served as the president of the United States.  

Resources to help you appreciate the presidency

For those interested in better understanding the scope of the powers of the office as well as life in the bubble of the presidency, there are a number of helpful resources that I’ve used as both a fan of political history and someone who’s worked in electoral politics.   

For readers who want an overview of the office and occupants, a resource I always have by my desk is The American Presidency, a reference book edited by Alan Brinkley and Davis Dyer. This book takes a scholarly look at each president, from their personal history and biography to their achievements in office and historical significance.  

For those more interested in high points from presidential history, I would recommend nearly any work by Michael Beschloss, but especially his books Presidential Courage and Presidents at War. Both volumes take pivotal moments, some that are well known and some more obscure, to show how different presidents responded in times of crisis. Sometimes those points of crisis were global, and sometimes it was a crisis of personal confidence. The tales covered often humanize these larger-than-life figures that few books are able to do.  

A more recent book I’ve read that opens a window into the family life of presidents is First Dads by Joshua Kendall. As a father myself, it was fascinating to see how various commanders in chief balanced their roles as the leader of the free world and head of household. It will make you realize that, even if you’re the most powerful person in the world, diapers and discipline don’t take care of themselves.  

There are other times I am more interested in the cultural impact of the presidency. In The Soul of America, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham reviews times of conflict and friction in our nation’s history and how we were able to overcome those moments. In many instances, it was due to a president calling us to our better angels as fellow citizens in this grand American experiment.  

With the cultural reach of the presidency, a number of films, shows, and podcasts have centered around the office. Without a doubt, my go-to for binge-watching is “The West Wing,” a top-rated series from the late 90s–mid-2000s that brought together some of the best writing in television history with an incredibly talented team of actors and actresses. Admittedly, it is an idealized look at life in the White House, but it’s been a source of enjoyment for me for years now. More recently, the Economist has debuted a new podcast called “Checks and Balance” that looks at the current presidential campaign. Their reporters who are following the candidates provide a unique look at the state of the race as each week passes.  

While there are a number of other resources I could highlight, I consider these to be a good starting point for developing an appreciation for what it takes to be president and lessons learned from those who have served. I hope each of these will provide a small insight into the complex world that our chief executive operates in on a daily basis. As a Christian, they have helped me to be mindful of ways I can be praying for each person who has served in this loftiest, and oftentimes loneliest, of roles (1 Tim. 2).  

F. Brent Leatherwood

Brent Leatherwood was elected as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in 2022, after a year of leading the organization as acting president. Previously, he served as chief of staff at the ERLC, as well as the entity’s director of strategic partnerships. He brings an expertise in public … 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