3 ways to engage our neighbors during a pandemic

February 18, 2021

Neighboring is hard, especially in a pandemic. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). Yet, the challenges of a pandemic have many of us shrinking back from our neighbors. 

Our family lives and ministers in New York City, a city that was once the epicenter of the global pandemic. At the height of our city’s grim struggle against the virus, I remember when my wife and I walked our kids to the park. It was a daily ritual, a small practice to keep us sane as we quarantined in our tiny Brooklyn apartment. We walked our three kids (now four) to the park only a few blocks from where we live. We nervously eyed other pedestrians. Were they carriers of COVID-19? Were we carriers? 

In the early days, before the mask mandate, we did not know who we could safely talk to or who we could stand face to face with. So, nearly every morning, we would go to the park before it filled up with people who, like us, were desperate for a refuge from quarantine life. We hustled our kids down the sidewalks, kept them away from others, and ushered them safely—we hoped—into the nearby park and its soccer field.

This is what we did to survive as a family, both literally and metaphorically. And yet, we came to Brooklyn to do more than survive; we came to plant a church and serve others. We knew that we had to engage our neighbors, even in a global pandemic. But how to begin?

1 Corinthians 13:13 is a cherished verse for many Christians. It is also a verse that shows us a template for engaging our neighbors in a pandemic. Paul ended his poetic chapter on love by reminding us that “these three remain: faith, hope, and love – but the greatest of these is love.” What if faith, hope, and love frame our response to a global pandemic and provide our pattern for engaging our neighbors during this strange moment in history?

1. We must model faith for our neighbors. 

Many of our neighbors are non-Christians, and they desperately need to see our faith in action. As Christians, we do not believe the sky is falling. Not now, not ever. It was not falling on Good Friday, and it is not falling due to COVID-19. We are the people who believe the gospel. We acknowledge that death and tragedy are a part of life, but we also believe in a greater reality. Good Friday is part of our story, but so is Easter.

We must demonstrate to our neighbors that we are not living in the grip of fear. We believe that Jesus is the King of the universe and that he rules over everything—including the deadly germs that we cannot see with the naked eye. It is this calm assurance that ought to characterize our life for as long as the pandemic lasts. Every Sunday during those early days, our neighbors heard through the thin walls of our apartment building. They heard us rehearsing the gospel as we sang, isolated, but never alone. 

2. We must provide hope for our neighbors. 

Early on, we decided that you cannot quarantine hope. I began to write a daily blog for our entire 79-day lockdown. My goal was to provide a daily dose of hope, to inoculate against fear and despair. We taped a sign up in our apartment building’s stairwell inviting our neighbors to read and find daily hope. We set sanitizer bottles outside of every apartment in our building. We told our neighbors we had to stick together.

New Yorkers are famously closed off, so neighboring is different here. Yet, when we left the sanitizer and messages for our neighbors they came and knocked on our door, even in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Why? Because we dared to offer the hope that they craved.

It was not a sentimental “we’re all going to make it” kind of hope. It was a hope centered on an old rugged cross and an empty garden tomb. Our neighbors need hope. It is up to us to provide it.

3. We must show love to our neighbors. 

A couple of weeks after the virus descended on New York City, we decided it was time to launch relief efforts. Many people could not safely shop for groceries due to their age or health condition. We began to collect names from leaders in our community (most of them non-Christians) and safely deliver groceries to these vulnerable neighbors.

We partnered with a non-profit and with other churches. We obtained a membership at Restaurant Depot so that we could buy groceries in bulk. In 2020, our church basically became a restaurant so we could love our neighbors as ourselves. Every week, nearly 40 people received a “Box of Hope” from our church. It was full of fresh vegetables, non-perishables, and meat. There was also a letter from me and evangelistic resources to point our neighbors to Christ.

We called them boxes of hope, but it was ultimately an exercise in love. Because, as Paul reminds us, faith, hope, and love go together. We gave away gallons of sanitizer and thousands of masks because we love our neighbors. Not as well as we should, but hopefully in a way that shows them the even greater love of Jesus.

Now that we have resumed church services, there is a new couple in our midst. People we met through our relief efforts. Neighbors that we engaged in a pandemic. I certainly do not have all the answers. Our church has been on a wild ride these last 12 months in NYC. But we are learning to embrace a lifestyle of faith, hope, and love. our neighbors need to experience all three of these ideals as they interact with us. Maybe, just maybe, God will use us—and use you—to draw our neighbors to himself. Even in a pandemic.

Stephen Stallard

Stephen Stallard is the lead pastor of Mosaic Baptist Church in Brooklyn. He graduated from Baptist Bible Seminary. Stephen serves as one of the primary preachers, and he is responsible for helping to shape the mission and vision of Mosaic. He is married to Sonya and they have a daughter … Read More

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