5 mothers who helped shape Christian history

May 7, 2020

There is no overstating the importance of mothers in the growth of Christianity. From the devotion of Mary to the faithful example of Lois and Eunice (the mother and grandmother of Timothy), the pages of Scripture are filled with the stories of how mothers have influenced their children to follow the will of God. 

Church history is no different. Below are some mothers from church history who have, through their lives of faithful devotion, contributed to the story of Christianity. Though their stories are often overshadowed by those of their children and husbands, their lives were pivotal for the advance of the gospel. 

Monica: The weeping mother

Outside the pages of Scripture, few mothers are as important in church history as Monica, mother of Augustine of Hippo. Much of what we know of her is drawn from her son’s Confessions, and the picture that emerges is of a mother who by her tears and prayers earnestly desired to see her son come to know Christ. Although she was married to an unbeliever, Monica was persistent in her faith. Though Augustine recounts that his youth and early adulthood was spent in a life that was characterized by vice and sin, he also records how Monica earnestly sought his salvation. 

She is most famously remembered for the tears and petitions that she offered for Augustine as he lived apart from God. After learning that Augustine had become a Manichaean (a dualistic sect that had much in common with the heretical Gnostics), Monica forced him from the home. However, while speaking to a holy man she was told “the child of those tears shall never perish.” After following her son to Rome and then Milan, Monica was able to see her son converted to Christianity not long before she died. 

Katharina Luther: The industrious mother

Though Martin Luther is often remembered for his role in kick-starting the Protestant Reformation, the role of Katharina Luther is no less important. Though she was a Catholic nun, she grew to be convinced of the truths of the Reformation and escaped her convent, along with other nuns, by hiding in barrels of fish, all of this arranged by Luther. After her escape, she and Luther were married, and she organized and ran his household. Noted for her industrious ability to manage the household, Katie was a beloved wife and mother. Luther was fond of calling her “my lord Katie” to describe his trust in her ability to oversee their household. Further, he describes her as the “morning star of Wittenberg” because she would often rise at 4 a.m. to begin her day’s work. These duties included overseeing the family, managing their finances (a task Luther realized she was more equipped to do than he), overseeing the boarders and students who lived with them, managing their farm, and also organizing a hospital on their property in times of sickness Over the course of their marriage, she would give birth to six children, and the couple would raise four orphans. 

Anna Maria Moon: The educating mother

Anna Maria Barclay, Lottie Moon’s mother, instilled in her daughter a deep love of education. This desire to educate her daughter, the same as she did her sons, proved instrumental in the latter work that Lottie Moon would do in China. Because of her mother’s support and urging, Lottie would go to college at Virginia Female Seminary and eventually Albermarle Female Institute (the all-girl counterpart of the University of Virginia). Lottie would become one of the first women in the South to receive a master’s degree. During her studies, she became proficient in a number of languages: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Italian, and Spanish. Chinese would of course come with her time in China as a missionary. 

The love of learning that her mother gave to her, and which was so crucial for her spiritual development, was an essential part of her evangelism. Moon would found a girl’s boarding school and teach other children Bible stories and catechism as well as hymns. This method of evangelism through education formed the cornerstone of her work in northern China. She would eventually expand the single school into a multitude that educated boys and girls. The growth of missions in China and the creation of the international mission offering at Christmas came through the commitment of Moon’s mother to provide her with an education and the ability to exercise her gifts through ministry.

Morrow Graham: The praying mother

Morrow Graham’s fame comes from her son, the evangelist Billy Graham. But it is her influence on him that he says was essential to his coming to know Christ—it was nothing spectacular, but a daily consistency in her faith that was essential in shaping her son. In his memoir, Just as I Am, Graham tells how his mother was essential in the spiritual formation of her children. She provided a sense of family stability and unity: “We really cared about each other, and we liked to do things together.” 

Just as mothers daily perform work that goes unnoticed, these mothers are a reminder of the value that the small acts can have for the advance of the cause of Christ.

But it was her faith and devotion that shaped him more than anything. According to Graham, “Of all the people I have ever known, she had the greatest influence on me. I am sure that one reason that the Lord has directed and safeguarded me, as well as Ruth and the children, through the years was the prayers of my mother and father.” Those prayers were a constant reminder to Graham of the family he had left and of his calling. Whenever he spoke of his time at college, he always spoke of her (and his father) daily praying every morning for him and what that meant to his ministry. Morrow Graham’s faithfulness in the small acts of prayer and family devotion was essential to the faith of her son and has led to many coming to faith.

Elisabeth Elliot: The widowed mother

Elisabeth Elliot is known because her husband, Jim Elliot, was killed while serving as a missionary to the Waorani tribe of Ecuador. What is even more remarkable about Elliot is her commitment to evangelism. After the death of her husband, she learned the language of the Waorani people and then moved to the village with her 3-year-old daughter and another of the wives. Elliot modelled for her daughter what it looked like to live in full dependence on God and extend grace and forgiveness because of what God had done for her. Her life, and that of her co-workers, led to the conversion of many of the members of the tribe, including several of the men who had killed her husband. This widowed mother found herself the older sister of a number of new children in Christ. 

For many of these women, there is little information about them. They are outshined by their husbands, sons, and daughters. But there is a quiet nobility in this truth. The truths of the gospel were not dispersed to the ends of the earth by the great figures. Often, it was by people for whom only a few small scraps of information remain that the faithful work of evangelism continued. Just as mothers daily perform work that goes unnoticed, these mothers are a reminder of the value that the small acts can have for the advance of the cause of Christ.

Alex Ward

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 … 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