Book Review

Thinking about “Presidential Courage” on Presidents Day

February 18, 2019

What is courage? Courage is defined as “strength of mind to carry on in spite of danger or difficulty.” This Presidents Day, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on the courage shown by many of our nation’s past presidents. In his book, Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989, Michael Beschloss tackles this topic and is able to highlight many of the key figures and moments in our nation’s history.

Flawed & courageous leaders

While reading about the leaders Beschloss highlights, I expected to see bold men who led with character and faith as their guide. What I found instead was a collection of flawed leaders who, when faced with unwinnable situations, rose to the occasion, took significant personal risks, and pursued the path that they believed was best for the nation.

Unfortunately, I found myself discouraged as Beschloss showed us, again and again, the many ways that these celebrated leaders fell short in their personal lives. How, as a believer, are we supposed to celebrate the decisions these men made, courageous or not? In Romans 3:23 we read that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We see throughout Scripture that the heroes of our faith were greatly flawed and that the Lord chose to use them in incredible ways (David’s adultery, Peter’s denial, Noah’s drunkenness, Samson’s pride).

This truth could be, and often is, used to justify sin in our leaders. However, this is a dangerous misinterpretation of Scripture. We must recognize that our elected officials are fallible so that we do not put them on a pedestal that leads us to justifying their sins. The answer is not to ignore the sins, but instead to recognize that goodness of God in using us, and our leaders, in spite of our sins. We are able, as a result, to reflect on the leaders that Beschloss highlights and celebrate the ways that they were courageous.

In his book, Beschloss examines many of the nation’s  presidents in times of crisis. Each responded to their crisis in the way they considered most appropriate for the country. This collection of stories highlights the importance of the American presidency and the courage it takes to lead well. On this Presidents Day, I can not help but focus on his telling of the stories of Presidents Washington and Lincoln. These two leaders led our country through trials that are unimaginable to many of us today, and did so in a way that has shaped the lens of how we view presidential leadership and courage.

George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, & hard decisions

The early presidents faced challenges that were bigger than themselves. It is no easy task to take a group of revolutionaries and turn them in to a nation of citizens. To make matters worse, the British were not following through with the treaties that had ended the Revolutionary

War. As the first president, George Washington led this fledgling nation as it faced its first major test as an independent nation. With the British attacking American ships in the Atlantic, President Washington had to choose between another war with the world power or seeking peace. Knowing that the young nation was ill-suited for another war, he pursued a policy of peace with Great Britain that would be wildly unpopular across the country. Though his treaty ultimately gained popularity, the president risked much by moving forward with such a contentious plan.

Though the hero of the Revolutionary War, Washington’s reputation as an American statesman was risked by his decision. Washington could have easily returned to Mount Vernon to avoid the public fallout of his decision. However, Washington stood by his decision courageously and weathered the storm of public outrage.

The risk to his reputation paled in comparison to the risk to the nation. The greatest danger was not the threat of external force but internal division and strife. There was strong opposition to his plan inside the country, and many wondered if this new form of government was strong enough to hold together. The United States needed a bold and courageous leader to lead her through this season, and Washington was up to the task. Hi leadership during this time placed the immature nation in the best position for survival, and later success.  

Though Washington helped prepare the country at its founding, Lincoln was forced to lead when it was broken. It is no understatement to call the Civil War the greatest challenge that the United States has faced in her history. As the war raged on, the president had many choices to make that would determine the future of our nation. As Beschloss highlights, the president faced many moments where it was reasonable to think that stopping the war for the sake of peace would be the best option. A compromise to end the war would have, by necessity, involved a provision protecting slavery. Lincoln had to choose between a compromise to avert war or a war to end a moral evil.

For President Lincoln, the soul of the nation was worth the sacrifice. He believed, correctly, that the stain of slavery had been on our nation for far too long and that peace without abolition was no real peace at all. On New Year’s Day 1863, through the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln freed slaves in all states. This showing of courage proved that, though it wouldn’t be the easiest path, he would do what it would take to build a Union better than the one before the war. Politically, the president faced countless challenges throughout his presidency, but, following Washington’s lead, Lincoln showed over and over again that he would put the nation and her people before himself.

Men like Presidents Washington and Lincoln have inspired us over the generations to expect exceptional leadership and courage from our leaders. This Presidents Day, I am able to look back through history and be grateful that we have had leaders, though flawed in many ways, that stood up for the good of our country even when the personal risk was great. Each of them could have easily given up when faced with challenges, but they chose to make the courageous decisions that allowed America to grow and thrive over the course of history. I am thankful for the many ways the Lord has blessed our country, and I am praying for our president and for the presidents who will come. Will you join me?

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