Respect is Not Optional

How Christians Should Approach Our Ideological Opponents

Daniel Darling

It would be hard to find someone more conservative than Cal Thomas. Once an architect of the Moral Majority, Thomas has been a longtime pundit and a syndicated columnist.

It would also be harder to find someone more liberal than Bob Beckel. Bob campaigned for Al Gore and was a left-wing fixture on cable news. Beckel and Thomas worked together for years at Fox News and, surprisingly, became close friends. When Beckel recently passed away, Thomas wrote this tribute to his friendship: 

We traveled together, ate together, and got to know each other and our respective “stories” in ways that rarely happen in Washington these days. At the end of our presentation, I would say that I rejected the notion that Bob was on “the other side.” Both of our fathers were in World War II. They weren’t fighting for or against Franklin Roosevelt, but to preserve an ideal. America has always been an idea in search of the ideal. If we want to put someone on the other side, make them external enemies like the Ayatollah in Iran, or the leadership in China and Russia. Let’s not destroy each other. We are fellow Americans.

Bob would then get up and say how I had saved his life and introduced him to God and other nice things. We embraced, prompting wild cheers from the audience. People would say, “Why can’t we see more of this in Washington?” It helped that neither of us were interested in running for office, which would mean having to raise money and say things to satisfy various interest groups.

At his memorial service this week there will be Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. It will be a moment of common ground. Bob was my closest and dearest friend. His hope and mine is that our friendship will serve as an example to others of what can be and must be if we are to survive as a nation.1“Beckel and Me: An Odd Couple | Cal Thomas,” News-Herald (blog), March 6, 2022, https://www.news-herald.com/2022/03/06/beckel-and-me-an-odd-couple-cal-thomas.

Is it possible to have friendships like this, with people who don’t share your politics? It seems increasingly difficult in this polarized age. And yet Thomas and Beckel modeled something refreshing and, I dare say, biblical. So how should Christians approach people with whom they disagree ideologically?

This isn’t exhaustive, but I’d like to offer four principles of engagement: 

1. Don’t be afraid of substantive disagreement 

Following Christ in this age or in any age will require us to hold beliefs that are at odds, at some point, with the prevailing culture. This doesn’t mean we’ve done something wrong. Instead, it means that what Jesus said to his disciples about the controversial way of the cross is true. Christians need courage in this age to boldly speak the truth. What the Scriptures say, for instance, about the sanctity of human life, sexual ethics, or care for the immigrant is unpopular in many places.

Sometimes, in our well-meaning attempts toward civility, we can be tempted to soften some of the edges of Scripture. We shouldn’t do that. It’s not loving to speak untruth. So to be a Christian in the world will mean, at some points, we will have disagreements with those around us as we remain faithful to God’s Word. 

2. Understand that Christians can be both courageous and civil

While our biblical convictions will bring us to a place of disagreement with many, we should understand that the Bible doesn’t just care about the substance of what we believe and declare, but how we say it. The Apostle Peter, no stranger to conflict, who wasn’t afraid to go to jail for his faith, nevertheless, instructs believers to “have an answer for every man for the hope that lies within you, but do it with gentleness and kindness” (1 Peter 3:15).

Peter is writing this to an early church that is facing increasing marginalization and persecution. Christians were losing jobs, losing friendships, losing cultural influence, all because they had the audacity to declare that Christ, and not Caesar, was king. 

And yet he urges the people of God to both stand firm on the truth of the gospel and to treat those who disagree with them with gentleness and kindness. The rightness of their worldview didn’t excuse rhetorical sins. There are no exceptions in the New Testament for not growing in the fruit of the Spirit.

3. Recognize the dignity of those with whom we disagree

The Apostle James also has a word for the way we engage arguments. To the early church, he wrote, “With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in God’s likeness (James 3:9).” James is warning against speech that assaults the humanity of God’s image-bearers. Why should we respect our ideological opponents and treat them with kindness even as we disagree? Because they were made in the image of God. 

Too often we are tempted to reduce someone’s whole existence down to that bad argument they make or that bad opinion, but they are whole people, made in the image of God. The opinion they hold, that belief system that anchors them is only one part of who they are. 

This is where Christians can be unique as battles rage in the public square. We can show the world a distinctly Christian way of speaking, that even as we make forceful arguments, we can do it with a kind of heavenly grace, where those who hear us may not agree, but know that we respect their humanity and dignity.

4. Engage arguments and resist caricatures

Tim Keller, in his book, Center Church, writes:2“Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City – Kindle Edition by Keller, Timothy. Religion & Spirituality Kindle EBooks @ Amazon.Com.,” 376–80, accessed April 8, 2022, https://www.amazon.com/Center-Church-Balanced-Gospel-Centered-Ministry-ebook/dp/B005JSGB5Q. 

Do all the work necessary until you can articulate the views of your opponent with such strength and clarity that he or she could say, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.” Then, and only then, will your polemics have integrity and actually have the possibility of being persuasive.

The temptation is to caricature the views of those we disagree with, in order to get a rise out of an audience sympathetic to our own views. So much of our public debates are not designed to persuade the unpersuadable, but signal to our own constituency that we are sufficiently mad at the other side. But if we really desire to engage, to persuade, to make arguments that those who are on the fence might believe, we need to engage arguments our ideological opponents are actually making, not straw men we knock down for sport. This is what Paul is getting at in 2 Corinthians: 

Since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).

We engage arguments with the truth of Scripture, in the power of the Spirit, and with genuine love for those who disagree. I want to end with this quote, from the man whose name is affixed to the center I lead, about someone on the other side of the political aisle. After her passing, former ERLC president, Richard Land, wrote this about former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright:3Richard D. Land and Christian Post Executive Editor, “An Evangelical’s Appreciation of Madeleine Albright,” The Christian Post, March 29, 2022, https://www.christianpost.com/voices/an-evangelicals-appreciation-of-madeleine-albright.html.

Madeleine Albright’s life provides a truly inspiring story of the triumph of the human spirit. While, as you would imagine, Madeleine and I had significant disagreements on many important issues, I always loved and appreciated Secretary Albright’s deep and abiding love for America—her adopted country.

The example of Land honoring Albright, despite very real ideological differences, is one we should seek to emulate, especially in our outrage culture. For Christians, showing respect to our fellow image-bearers is not an option. As we entrust ourselves, and this polarized age, to our sovereign Father, we don’t need more hostility, which only leads to more division. We need more fruit of the Spirit as we seek to speak the truth in love and set our hopes on the kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28). 

Daniel Darling is the Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a columnist for World Magazine and a contributor to USA Today. Dan is a bestselling author of several books including, The Dignity Revolution, A Way With Words, and The Characters of Christmas. He has pastored churches in Illinois and Tennessee.

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