Navigating Pronouns in the Real World

Parameters and prudence for complex situations

Alex Ward

When I attended orientation for my graduate degree, I expected and received information about my courses, my advisor, and my classmates. I was also given materials about campus and my new city. One item I did not anticipate needing or being given was a pronoun pin—a small black pin that could be added to a backpack or worn on clothing to easily display one’s pre-ferred pronouns. 

When asked which pin I wanted, I was taken aback and stammered “he/him” before taking it and shoving it in the bag. This was my introduction to the language and use of preferred pronouns. The pin was supposed to cut down on the awkwardness of a class’s first meeting. In addition to name, degree program, and area of interest, students were expected to give their preferred pronouns. In some instances, those matched their biological sex. In others, they did not. And in others, students adopted multiple options (he/him and they/their). 

What I once thought was a product of the progressive place I had chosen for my degree has become common practice in our society. Individuals in workplaces and universities—in red states as well as blue—now regularly share their pronouns and expect the same.

Wisdom and pronoun usage

As a Christian who operates in spaces where preferred pronoun usage is expected, I have had to think through what it looks like to be both faithful to God’s design for gender and sexuality and what it looks like to maintain relationships where possible. 

At the level of principle, certain parameters should be established for all Christians as they think about this topic.

  1. We are to be a people committed to God’s good design for our bodies and sexuality.
    The foundation of all our activity on this topic (and all topics), is that we ground our theology in the truth of God as Creator of humanity. The fact that he has created us means that we are bound by his design, which is for our good. God has created humanity as male and female, two biologically distinct but complementary sexes made in his image (Gen. 1:27).
  2. We are to be a people committed to the truth. 
    The Christian message is one grounded in certain fundamental realities. In matters of gender and sexuality, the truth of the binary nature of the sexes, their necessary relationship to one another for procreation, and the philosophical impossibility of “changing” your sex are matters on which Christians should not compromise. 
  3. We are to be people who are not needlessly belligerent or antagonistic.
    The call to be bold in our truthfulness is not a call to unwisely seek opportunities to be defensive and aggressive. Neither is it a call to be passive and compromising. Rather, we can be confident in our convictions and respond to the needs of the moment without being insulting or performative. 
  4. We must seek wisdom in how to discern the appropriate action.
    The rapid pace at which culture is changing the way it talks about this topic means that in order to respond, Christians must seek wisdom grounded in the timeless truths of Scripture. We should be unmoved on matters of clarity and clear teaching from the Bible. In matters requiring application of principles, we must seek to be prudent in our actions toward believers and unbelievers.

Practical scenarios 

At the level of practice, different scenarios have called for varied responses on my part. 

When in classes where the expectation is that I share my preferred pronouns, I have chosen not to do so. I offer my name and other information, but do not share pronouns because to do so would be to participate in a language game and imply that my correct pronouns could be other than those of a male. I know of other Christians who have gone further and openly stated that they will not offer pronouns because of their views on gender and sexuality. Were I asked to give pronouns after I had chosen not to, I would respond in a similar manner. 

For individuals, especially those I don’t know, I try to avoid pronoun usage. This was especially important when I learned that a classmate of mine was transgender. James 1Name changed. is a transgender man (biological female presenting as a man), who I had known for six months before I realized James was transgender. Prior to that moment, I used masculine pronouns because I never considered that James might not be a biological male. Following this situation, I began referring to James by name only because I did not want to speak a lie (which can sometimes be tricky and create awkward wording, as in writing this paragraph).

In the case of names, I use the name that someone offers me. Names are not inherently gendered. For example, my parents picked out the name Alex and planned to use it whether I was a boy or a girl. My father-in-law is named Tracy. However, there may be times when I would not use a name someone offers me as a matter of conscience. For instance, if my brother, whose name is Bryson, were to tell me that he is now to be known as Brittany and uses female pronouns, I could not honor that request. I believe that using his new name in that way would be sanctioning his attempt to contradict his God-given gender. Even so, this is a place where Christians must seek wisdom and discern the appropriate action, acknowledging that consciences shaped and molded by Scripture and led by the Holy Spirit may arrive at different conclusions in matters of prudence.

In all things, Christians should seek to be people who are truthful in our words, gracious in our tone, and evangelistic in our relationships. James was not unaware of my beliefs about gender and sexuality. James, however, did not believe that I was unkind or cruel. We were still able to study together and interact with civility in common spaces. Most conversations with James did not center on gender, but rather the experiences we shared in our graduate degree. My goals, whether with James or others I interact with in these spaces, are to accommodate what I can (James’ name, for example), not transgress my conscience, and be faithful to the witness of Scripture.

Alex Ward serves as the research associate and project manager for the ERLC’s research initiatives. He manages long term research projects for the organization under the leadership of the director of research. Alex is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the University of Mississippi studying evangelical political activity in the 20th century. He holds degrees from Mississippi State University (BA), Vanderbilt University (MTS), and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (ThM). He and his wife Lindsey are church members in Tupelo, Mississippi. He and Lindsey have one daughter.

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