Stewarding the Good of Our Neighbors Together

Christianity, democracy, & human flourishing

Hunter Baker

The most important thing about Christianity is what it tells us about God and his Son, Jesus, the one true king. Through the revelation of the Bible, we learn that God is not embedded in nature like some kind of life force. Nor is he a reflection of the aspirations of communities, such as their desire to be brave or powerful.

Instead, the God of the Bible is transcendent in nature. He is not part of creation. He is above and beyond it. The biblical God is not a totem or a powerful supernatural ally. His will dictates the structure of reality as we know it. 

But it is also important to know what Christianity tells us about human beings. We understand that we are sinful, self-seeking, and disobedient toward God. However, we simultaneously understand that we have been created with the dignity that comes from being made in God’s image. 

Both of these features—the transcendence of God and the inherent dignity of human beings—loom large in the story of democracy and human flourishing in the history of the world. Together, they form a strong bulwark against governments founded on power rather than justice and give the people a place to stand, both when they support and when they resist governments of the earth. 

When government goes wrong

The Roman empire is but one of many governments in world history that sought to wrongly unite the rule of a man with God’s rule through emperor worship. Yet, the Bible tells us clearly that while God has given us government for our benefit, the various caesars of the world rule by authority that is only derived from God (Rom. 13:1). He is the true source of the right to rule. Leaders are only entrusted with the government. They are absolutely not the source of it. To the extent that their leadership varies from God’s moral law, they essentially saw the limb upon which they sit out from under themselves. 

So, while we “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” we never forget that we must also “render unto God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). It requires no fine parsing to determine whose claims are superior in that equation. And while Caesar’s image may be on the face of the coin, it is God’s image which rests upon us (Gen. 1:27). Every would-be emperor should bear in mind that they are not free to violate image-bearers with impunity.

How democracy deals with human nature

In contrast, the past three centuries have witnessed the flowering of democracy throughout much of the world. While the Bible does not dictate a system of government, we have established earlier that it informs us about human beings. If we accept the reality of our sin nature, one major question is how to respond to it in terms of law. 

While the earlier, dominant approach was to rely upon the virtue of a leader and church hierarchies to control human sin, we have perhaps ruefully realized that elites are also sinful and cannot be relied upon to transmit their purported goodness to the rest of us. The sad history of Israel’s kings is not a bad reminder on that front. Instead, we have sought to enlarge the task of deliberation on public matters to essentially the entire adult population.  

When we take that step, we acknowledge a real responsibility image-bearers have. God gave human beings the task of stewarding his creation (Gen. 1:28). While we may tend to limit such thoughts to how we interact with the resources of the earth, it is also the case that there is a moral and a social ecology. It is important to steward such things as family ties, marriage, moral responsibility, trust, the education of the young, and other elements of what is sometimes called “social capital.” In other words, our wealth goes beyond physical things to the ties that bind us and make life meaningful. 

On one hand, the move toward democracy is self-protective. As an example, C.S. Lewis advocated democracy because he believed in the fall of man and concluded democracy was a necessary check on sinful ambition. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr mixed cynicism with optimism by saying that man’s inclination for injustice called for democracy as a barrier, but also noted that man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible. So, yes, we decentralize decision-making to protect ourselves from tyranny, but we also engage in democracy as a way to seek justice together. 

Among the powers with which God has entrusted human beings is the ability to reason. Democracy calls upon us to reason together about the nature of the good society and good laws to govern it. In this sense, democracy honors the dignity of human beings and goes beyond responding to the sinful will to power.

How to interact in a democracy

It is absolutely essential that we engage with the phenomenon of democracy virtuously rather than acting as though we are playing an SEC football game against enemies wearing different colored jerseys. We are not on teams. We are in a conversation with fellow image-bearers. To the extent that we make good use of the opportunities and capacities God has given us, we will honor him and each other. 

Alexis de Tocqueville, the French nobleman who came to study America in the 19th century, provided an excellent reminder of the place of virtue in political discourse in his Democracy in America. He had the advantage of detachment in his observations. The book contains both compliments and critique. One of his points should always be kept in mind. There is nothing about being in the majority that means one is righteous. Tyranny can emerge from majorities in the same way it can from a monarch or a group of oligarchs.1Tocqueville, Alexis de, 1805-1859. ( 1838). Democracy in America. New York :G. Dearborn & Co.

A Christian anthropology helps us to understand that we are still fallen, even when we act with numbers on our side. If we are wise and remember this reality about ourselves, then we will be able to temper our passions, our self-flattering self-righteousness, and our disregard for understanding how others experience the world. 

So, let us be grateful for the hedges we have against tyranny in the transcendence of God, the truth of Scripture, and our mindfulness that no mere man or woman can solve our sin problem on their account. And let us take seriously the incredible responsibility we have to be stewards of our participation in the democratic process. It is critical that we always remember that human beings share in the brotherhood and sisterhood of men and women under the authority of God. 

Equally wonderful is the fact that Jesus Christ is the only king Earth has ever known truly worthy of the name. As we meditate upon these truths, we can turn aside from tribalism and partisanship and dispute with one another in such a way as to avoid cultivating lasting hatreds when a just peace is what we really desire. In such a situation, we will find our flourishing.

Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is the dean of arts and sciences and professor of political science at Union University. He is the author of three books (The End of Secularism, Political Thought: A Student's Guide, and The System Has a Soul). He is also a research fellow of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

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