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Articles

Young Life pressured to change its sexual conduct policy

Maintaining biblical convictions and showing compassion

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August 12, 2020

This week RNS reported that the organization Young Life is facing pressure to overturn its policies on sexual conduct. For those unfamiliar with Young Life’s ministry, the organization exists to reach students in middle school, high school, and college. It also does specific outreach to teen moms, those with special needs, and young adults in military families And according to their website, Young Life is presently doing ministry in all 50 states and in more than 90 countries. 

Christians and sexuality

As a Christian ministry, Young Life has always embraced the tradition of biblical sexual ethics to which the church has held for nearly two millennia. But recently, the organization’s views and policies related to sexuality have come under scrutiny for excluding individuals identifying as LGBT. Though the policy is not publicly available, a copy obtained by RNS confirms that Young Life’s sexual conduct policy, which applies to staff members, “explicitly prohibits any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage.”

At the center of this controversy is the question of whether those who reject Young Life’s positions on sexuality should be eligible for employment with the organization. The RNS story opens by highlighting two individuals who recently worked for Young Life but had their employment terminated for conduct that violates the organization’s sexual conduct policy. In this case, both individuals are homosexual. After sharing their stories on social media about the way their service with Young Life ended, one of them used the hashtag #DoBetterYoungLife.

Since then, the #DoBetterYoungLife hashtag has gained considerable traction online. In addition to spawning multiple social media accounts and prompting hundreds of individuals to share stories of exclusion and pain related to their sexual identity or orientation, perhaps the most significant result of this movement has been a petition launched on Change.org that has garnered nearly 7,000 signatures calling for Young Life to repeal its sexual conduct policy and make other changes.

A complicated reality

Anyone taking the time to investigate can recognize that this is a complicated and multifaceted situation. The men and women speaking out on social media—many of whom are very young—are sharing stories of deep pain and hurt they’ve experienced as a result of being excluded or marginalized in various ways. These stories are moving and emotional and sad. Not only that, but many are marked by obvious sincerity.

At the same time, there is no real question about what Young Life should do, at least in terms of the substance of its policy. Young Life’s views on sexuality are, after all, not really Young Life’s views on sexuality. For Christians, the Scriptures set forth a clear and intelligible pattern, not only of what it means to be male and female, but of the nature of sexual intimacy and relationships as well. And these things are not ancillary to the Christian life, but central to what it means to faithfully follow Christ. For Young Life, and for any Christian organization, obedience to Scripture and fidelity to the Christian tradition requires that they maintain their prohibition on any kind of sexual activity beyond the bounds of heterosexual marriage.

For Christians, the Scriptures set forth a clear and intelligible pattern, not only of what it means to be male and female, but of the nature of sexual intimacy and relationships as well.

It has barely been five years since the Supreme Court handed down the Obergefell ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. But in intervening years, society’s attitudes toward homosexuality and LGBT rights have continued to shift rapidly. So much so, that it seems we’ve reached the tipping point where, in many cases, failing to affirm same-sex marriage and expanded protections for LGBT individuals is now likely to bring forth rejection and scorn and potentially even more significant consequences. And this is the reality Young Life is facing.

The RNS article cited a statement from Young Life’s president, Newt Crenshaw, responding to the situation which indicated the organization would be taking steps to review the stories of current and former Young Life members who had “experienced pain in our family based on their race, gender, sexual orientation or other factors.” Speaking as an outsider, I think this is obviously a commendable step for Young Life. Even when policies are substantially correct (as Young Life’s policy on sexual conduct assuredly is), there is still ample opportunity to address any means by which the policy may have been poorly implemented and to plan to better address such matters going forward.

Compassion and conviction

Though I’ve never personally been involved in Young Life, I know a number of people whose lives and faith were shaped in a profound and lasting way through the organization’s ministry. Moreover, it is clear that those who have spoken out about the hurt and pain they’ve experienced are often doing so as former insiders—those who’ve experienced the rich, loving community that Young Life creates for the thousands of students they minister to each year. That kind of love and community motivated by the gospel is the focal point of Young Life’s ministry; it is critical that they find a way to continue to model that for future generations without surrendering their core beliefs.

Young Life is not alone among Christian organizations thinking through ways they might better respond and minister to those whose sexual identity or orientation run contrary to the sexual ethics of Scripture. As Christian leaders seek to navigate these challenges, they should consider how they might imitate Jesus who was known for the tremendous compassion he showed toward those who were hurting or on the margins. Jesus was never guilty of compromise, nor was he ever bereft of compassion.

The church should be known as a community that loves and welcomes people, regardless of what kind of past, or baggage, or identity they might have. And loving and welcoming people includes what happens in our church buildings as well as the various kinds of ministries we create. Christians don’t have to back away from what the Bible says in order to love people as people and to point them to the hope, healing, and restoration that is available to them in Jesus. 

All of us should pray for Young Life’s leadership as they seek to address these matters in the days ahead and make whatever corrections are appropriate. And each of us can strive to care for those who are hurting even as we hold fast the things the church has always believed.

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