Avoiding the Fear Factor

A Better Way for Christians to Operate in the Public Square

F. Brent Leatherwood

Most political operatives worth their salt will tell you, in just about any recent election, the number one motivating factor for voters is fear. Usually, this manifests itself in proclamations that the opposition (usually called “our enemies”) want to take away something from you: a right, a deeply held value, a cultural icon. And we are told that the only proper response is to elect “a fighter.” 

Conveniently, the campaign talking to you at that given moment has the candidate who should be your preferred combatant. The candidates themselves will often play into this hype machine by telling everyone they can that “this is the most important election of our lifetime” or “we’re the last line of defense before our nation is forever changed.” Voters are left in a state of hyper-motivation for what they have now been conditioned to believe is an existential war. 

Here’s the problem: We like it. Great campaigns make voters feel as though they’re part of a movement. Something more than just themselves. But in this social media era, where all of us are made to feel part of a performance––in order to get likes, retweets, and shares––we are not content to just cast a vote. We want a role to play in the battle, and so we do our part on behalf of our preferred candidate by flaming, dragging, or canceling our opponents online.

 All of this should cause reflection for Christians. I know a good number of Christians who may not agree with the tactics, but do agree with the purposes. Unfortunately, there’s not much basis in Scripture for an ends-justify-the-means application of Christian ethics to voting (or any activity for that matter). But we have to understand that, in many ways, we are, as well as our neighbors, being manipulated by very sophisticated, technologically savvy campaigns. 

Instead of aligning with the hope we have in a risen King, these efforts are actually causing us to look elsewhere for help. Tempting us to, at least temporarily for the purposes of an election, place our faith in an earthly prince who will fight for whatever policy preference we might have.

How Christians Can Think About Election Season

So what is an appropriate way to process all that is thrown our way in an election season? Others may take a different approach but, as a Christian who is a Southern Baptist, I would start here: 

First, in Matthew 5, Jesus is sitting with his disciples, surrounded by a throng of interested onlookers, and he issues this charge: “You are to be the salt of the earth . . . (and) the light of the world.” Salt was—and still is—a valuable element at the time for any number of reasons, including its attractive qualities. It not only enhances the taste of food but it also literally draws water to it (think of when your salt shaker gets clumpy in humid temperatures). I believe Jesus had this aspect in mind when discussing this. He wants his followers to be unique in a fallen world in order to pique the curiosity of those around us so that a channel can be created for the Living Water (John 7) to flow. 

Much is the same for being a light. Ships need beacons in order to navigate in the dark. What better illustration could there be for helping those around us see not us, but the reason for the hope inside of us (1 Pet. 3:15). 

Finally, I would submit that Article 15 of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 outlines some helpful guidance for us navigating this space. Our convention specifically envisions Christians working for the good of the social order. A predecessor of mine stated it this way: “Believers in union with Christ will share His priorities.”1https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/baptist-faith-and-message-article-15-the-christian-and-the-social-order/ That’s something we all should affirm. Far too often, the reality is, we try to compartmentalize our political views away from the gospel and other areas of our life (a point that Josh Wester highlights in his article for this issue). But I think, deep down, we know that’s incorrect. The gospel should inform all aspects of our lives, even the candidates we support and what we do at the ballot box. Some will read that and say that’s too basic and a dodge from real life scenarios that have and will continue to play out in elections. 

But, I think the power of the gospel is its simplicity (1 Cor. 1:18-31). This simple message of Christ’s resurrection has the power to transform lives and structure our political witness. When we declare that “Jesus is Lord,” we are acknowledging that neither political party is. Our political activity is demonstrated through the fulfillment of the Great Commission’s (“Go and make disciples”) recognition of Jesus’ authority and the Great Commands’ (“Love God and love neighbor”) imperative to promote true human flourishing.

Christians entering the public square do the most politically powerful thing they can when they remember that politics is not ultimate, because we serve a King whose kingdom is coming and where all things will be made right. We don’t withdraw, but we also don’t twist our souls in service to temporary political realities. It is in our witnessing to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and all the moral implications of that moment in history for our life that we exercise our true political power.

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 policy to his work, having been the executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, the director of communications and policy strategy in the Tennessee General Assembly, and working for several years on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Brent is a dedicated member of his church, where he has served as a deacon since 2014. Brent is married to Meredith, and together they have three children.

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