5 reflections about my pro-life, whole-life convictions

How a military funeral affirmed my beliefs on human dignity

November 11, 2021

This July my family witnessed the return of my grandmother’s beloved brother, U.S. Marine Capt. Edward Glenn Walker, from an unmarked grave in the South Pacific. 

Interestingly, Walker already had a grave in my hometown in Lebanon, Tennessee. A Marine’s body mistakenly was sent home to my great-grandmother in 1947 and buried in our family plot. Only in 2020 was my family notified of the error and plans made to correct it. 

A graduate of the University of Tennessee and a student at Harvard Law School, Walker first enrolled in the military in 1940. He rose through the ranks and was made a Marine captain in 1942. As Company Commander of Company E of the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Marines, he led his men into what became known as the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War, the Battle of Tarawa. Walker would die Nov. 20, 1943, along with over 1,100 Marines after four intense days of fighting. He was 26 years old. 

The disastrous scene proved impossible for the proper identification and burial for all of those killed in battle. Through a course of events, my great uncle’s body would end up in National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) contacted my father, Lane Martin, in March 2020, and we were able to bring him home in July 2021 with full military honors. The U.S. Marine Corps led our family through a dignified transfer and military funeral for Walker. In addition, they exhumed and escorted the body of the unknown Marine back to the lab in Hawaii for identification and, hopefully, reunification with his family. 

The experience of bringing home my grandmother’s brother and the process of participating in the funeral for “our Marine” has allowed me to embody and consider some of my biblical and pro-life convictions in a profound way.  

The sanctity of life is transcendent, extending beyond a person’s natural death. 

Many places in the scriptures refer to the death and burial of certain individuals. In Genesis 50:1 Joseph grieves over his dead father, Jacob, and carries his bones to the burial place of his ancestors. In Psalm 79, the nations who have defied God are those who have “left the dead bodies of your servants as food for the birds of the sky, the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild.” And the body of Christ himself was lovingly cared for after his death by Joseph of Arimathea and the women who were planning to attend to him on Resurrection Sunday. 

The honor, care, and precision with which the U.S. Marines treated the casket of Walker was a physical representation of the dignity of the person. Marine Capt. Nick Richardson personally accompanied Walker from Hawaii to Tennessee and then escorted the unknown Marine back to Hawaii. Dozens of veterans escorted the hearse from the Nashville airport and saluted the casket in the same manner as they would a living Marine. It was a moving and honor-filled sight to behold more than 100 men and women lining the aisle at the funeral to do so, one by one.

Grief and loss are an expected part of this life. 

The military is keenly aware of the difficult realities of life and death that so many try to ignore. They are prepared with scripts and rituals to help guide us through the experience of grief that comes with loss — grief that the writers of the scriptures acknowledge in places like Lamentations, Job, and the Psalms. 

The military funeral was filled with rituals that have been preserved and practiced by multitudes of people, some of which have spanned centuries. It is moving to consider how my family has now joined this community, anchored in these shared experiences. I’ll never forget the way the sound of the bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” filled my chest on that hot July day or the unexpected emotion of watching four helicopters fly in the “Missing Man” formation with my 6-year-old son at my side.  

Dignity is due to everyone, despite any descriptor or metric.

We know that every person, born or unborn, is created in the image of God as described in Genesis 1:27. This means their value is inherent, bringing equality to all who are human. The consistent and equal display of honor and respect to all people in military funerals dissolves the world’s usual dividing lines. This expression is reflective of the instruction in 1 Peter 2:17 to “Honor everyone.” This is God’s will, and we do this in response to the imago Dei within them.

We were created to exist in families.

Only one of my father’s cousins, who was a small child in 1947, remembers Walker’s original funeral. Yet, this loss almost 80 years ago has reverberated through my family for generations, and Walker’s story was one we all knew in some part. My grandmother regularly reminded me that I was a Walker (her maiden name)

At the funeral and afterward, veterans and active military thanked us for our sacrifice, acknowledging the connection we have to Walker. The closest living relative received the flag at the close of the graveside service. This gesture is fitting because it demonstrates the ultimate reason so many of that great generation went to war; to protect and preserve the ones they loved and future generations. Russell Moore writes, “Family points us away from itself to the kingdom of God, to the gospel of that kingdom, and, behind all of that, to the triune God himself.” God gave his son in order to redeem and rescue the lost, all as a demonstration of love.

Self-sacrifice is a virtue. 

The Battle of Tarawa was the first American offensive in the central Pacific region and the first time in the Pacific War that the United States faced serious Japanese opposition to an amphibious landing. Japanese Adm. Keiji Shibasaki, commander of the highly-fortified garrison on the island, was reportedly so confident in his position that he claimed it would take one million Americans 100 years to take control of the atoll. It took the U.S. Marines 76 hours.

Although I do not know all that those Marines understood in the early morning of Nov. 20, 1943, they were certainly aware of the great risk to their lives and the lives of those under their command. Yet, they faithfully followed the commands given to them and many sacrificed their lives. My family has often pondered all the things Walker could have accomplished in his life, had he lived. Those are honors he would never know. I’ll forever remember his sacrifice when I read Philippians 2:3-8: 

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others. Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.” 

The 2021 funeral for Capt. Edward Glenn Walker has become one of the defining moments of my life for many reasons. As I looked around the room that day, I considered so many things — my family, my community, my country — and experienced an immense amount of gratitude. Yet, I knew there were even greater truths about eternal things revealed, rooted in an eternal God, that were just as present as well: the dignity of all people, the honor of self-giving and the power of love that transcends time. The veteran and military communities, including our Marine, have inspired me to embody these convictions in new ways, and I hope they do the same for you. 

You can learn more about Marine Capt. Edward Glenn Walker in this short documentary

Jill Waggoner

Jill Waggoner serves as a communications and PR strategist, writing and developing content for the organization’s online and print resources. She has served the ERLC since 2005, including as brand manager for Global Hunger Relief from 2014-2018. A graduate of Union University, she and her family reside in Lebanon, Tennessee. 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