3 desires for the church in 2018

January 5, 2018

With 2017 behind us, the new year presents an opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months and look ahead with hope. This past year was filled with countless hardships and trials within the church and around our country. The installment of a new president and administration last January brought serious political and social divisions to the surface, both inside and outside of our church communities. Terror attacks ravaged large cities and small rural churches, and violence of all sorts dominated news headlines. Reports of sexual misconduct and injustice against women were not confined to Hollywood and Washington, reminding us loud and clear that church leaders are not exempt from wrongdoing.  

Yet, amidst the tragedy and turmoil of another year in a fallen world, we have reasons to be joyful. It’s fitting to talk about the new year as the turning over of a new leaf—a fresh opportunity to learn and to grow—and ultimately remember that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lam. 3:22-23). This coming year is a “new mercy” from the Lord—one that we can anticipate with great hope and trust in God’s faithfulness.

Here are my three desires for the Christian church in 2018 that call us to be mindful of our place in the world, and to pursue a greater degree of obedience, even in the midst of chaos.

1. That we would be more comfortable talking about “the big 3.”

Money, politics, and religion are cited as three topics to absolutely avoid when talking with friends and family. Why? Identity. For Americans, the reality is that these categories represent parts of ourselves that we are often most insecure about. Money and wealth are marketed as measures of worth and security; we love the power, control, and security that it gives us in our lives. We identify money as something we earned through hard work; it’s ours. Our defenses rise when people start talking about salaries and tax brackets because deep down we don’t want anyone messing with our idol.

And it doesn’t take much explaining for us to understand why talking about politics in America is a no-no. For many people, political identities and party affiliations represent ways of dividing people in our country—liberal and conservative—so that we can talk plainly about “us and them,” while designating good and evil. Politics today makes it easy to talk down to one another and requires almost zero engagement with the other side. The opportunity to hold strong opinions that go uncontested provides the security we crave from our political identities.  

But religion, though often uncomfortable to talk about, is vastly different and is of eternal significance. It’s a matter of eternal life and death. Our Christian faith—is an identity before God in Christ that cannot be taken from us. Buildings may crumble, leaders will come and go, but Jesus will return to solidify his kingdom and glorify his church. This is the hope and security that neither money nor politics can bring—and the truth of the gospel is the most important news we will ever share.

The level of comfort with which we discuss money, politics, and religion is not a measure of social aptitude, but a sign of spiritual maturity and awareness that indicates where our priorities lie and where our securities are rooted. This year, my hope is that we would become more comfortable with these conversations as a way of disciplining our hearts to rely on Christ before anyone or anything else.

2. That we would re-prioritize the strength and value of family.

My second hope for the church comes in four parts: that Christian communities would strive to build marriages that last, prioritize adoption, support single parents, and build up single adults as a village should. Just as family is the life-blood of the church body, marriage is the life-blood of the family. That ample resources and time would be spent training, counseling, and encouraging couples at every juncture of their marriage is a hope for the church that will produce enduring fruits for generations.

As the pro-life movement swells and many Christians gain a passion for protecting the rights of unborn children, we must simultaneously take up our call to father the fatherless

As the pro-life movement swells and many Christians gain a passion for protecting the rights of unborn children, we must simultaneously take up our call to father the fatherless. Pro-life churches must seek to ensure that children are not left to cycle through foster home after foster home. One of the great hypocrisies of the church continues to be our verbal decry of the pro-choice movement while sitting idly by as orphanages and foster homes fill to capacity. While time and money are needed as we advocate for the rights of children, nothing displays the heart of Christ quite like adopting sons and daughters into permanent homes.

In addition, when we teach about family, and seek to serve the families in and around our communities, it is imperative that we recognize the unique challenges and opportunities that single parents face. “It takes a village to raise a child” takes on a special and real meaning when members of church communities come alongside other families to provide for, protect, and mentor children from single-parent homes. Family does not have to stay local, and our corporate family of believers should be a testimony to the power of unity in Christ to serve and love one another as one body.

Striving to support, encourage, and strengthen families cannot be limited to care for married people. This year, instead of focusing our attention on “preparing singles” to marry, let’s encourage singles to be active and creative in ministry. Giving not-yet-married members of the community opportunities to lead and serve the church will equip them to see ministry as their primary calling, and encourage them to believe that marriage is not a prerequisite to holiness or a measure of spiritual fulfillment. When single people are positioned as servants of the church and children of God first, everyone thrives. “Single” should never mean “alone”, and the identity that we have in Christ Jesus as disciples and heirs of his promise should be emphasized, not lost, among not-yet-married brothers and sisters.

3. That the church’s influence would manifest God’s power.

This is my short, and final hope for the new year: whether we are teaching, writing, advocating, mentoring, discipling, worshiping, praying, or listening, we would remember that God’s power supersedes ours in all things. The Christian life isn’t about winning political and cultural wars, or about regaining control and vision for our own lives, but about ceding power and control to God and depending on his grace. My hope is that the church would stop wringing her hands over the trials of today, and that any righteous indignation held against those outside of our communities would fall away to a deeper sense of our own need for Christ’s blood.

The new year is an opportunity and an invitation to move forward while remembering and learning from the past. 2018 will include trials of its own, but the security that we have in Christ gives us the freedom to strive and press on for the many hopes and promises set before us.  

Brady A. Weller

Brady is a former policy intern at the ERLC and the current president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA at Loyola University Maryland. He studies writing and philosophy focusing on civil discourse and the conservative American church's engagement with social and political issues. Read More by this Author

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