7 ways to love our neighbors while socially distanced

March 23, 2020

Just a few weeks ago, our fridge was covered to the point of saturation with the latest school artwork, a note from the preschool, memory verses, a color-coded calendar, invitations, and more, providing a visual overview of the busy days of our family, which mostly revolve around our three boys, ages eight, five and two. 

As of this morning, while we have more than enough food inside to make it through the week, only a few photos and one invitation remain on the outside. We scribbled through so many plans on the paper calendar that we just threw it away. 

Like so many, our schools and many other activities have been cancelled in the weeks ahead as our community seeks to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Our family and church are doing our best to follow all the suggested protocols for social distancing, resulting in many more hours at home together than we would normally spend. 

While we are thinking in new and creative ways about how to keep our family organized, entertained, and educated, we want to apply the same energy toward serving others during these unprecedented days. 

For most of us, this societal upheaval has left us with questions of how to love and care for others while we refraining from most places that society gathers. While our community might be segmented into our homes, we believe we can still “do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb. 13:16). We want to teach our children that we should always live in obedience to the scriptures, even when we might feel scared or have our own limited resources. 

Below we’ve outlined a few of our plans to stay connected and serve our neighbors in the weeks ahead. As you read the ideas below, would you pray and ask God to show you how he would lead you to be generous to the people and needs in your community?

1. Check on your neighbors

We’ll admit: we have neighbors within walking distance from our house that we do not know. These weeks will provide an excellent opportunity to introduce our family as we take some family walks. We will leave our phone number, our church’s number, and offer help in any time of need. These weeks of separation will be a shared experience across our community that we are praying God will use to open doors for the gospel. A “hello” is always the first step.

2. Donate to food banks

In normal times, an estimated one in nine Americans are food insecure or unsure about how they will get the food they need in the days ahead. The elderly, children, and those in rural communities are some of the most at-risk populations. These months and weeks of disruption could leave many more with limited income for or access to the food they need. 

Food banks are already reporting shortages this month, and now is an excellent time to consider donating financially to support their work. Very often, food banks and similar ministries can benefit more from monetary donations than from food donations. They may have the ability to purchase food at much lower costs through federal services or food distributors and can make your dollars go further than you can. 

If your church has a food bank, consider how to simplify the process for the weeks of receiving food ahead in order to serve more people and also to limit social exposure. 

3. Donate to school feeding programs

As of March 17, EdWeek magazine reports that at least 38 million children are affected by school closures related to the coronavirus. In our community, many children regularly eat two free or reduced-cost meals a day at school and go home each weekend with a backpack of food items, as well. Our city and county schools work together through a Family Resource Center to provide meals for children who may be at risk of hunger, even taking them to their homes at times. Check with your local school systems and other officials about how you can support such programs through giving or volunteering. 

4. Donate blood 

The American Red Cross says on its website, “The American Red Cross now faces a severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations during this coronavirus outbreak. Healthy individuals are needed to donate now to help patients counting on lifesaving blood.” The website also describes their enhanced safety protocols. You can make an appointment to give at a local location through the American Red Cross website.  

While our community might be segmented into our homes, we believe we can still “do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb. 13:16). We want to teach our children that we should always live in obedience to the scriptures, even when we might feel scared or have our own limited resources. 

5. Send cards

The elderly among us will be particularly affected by the societal restrictions implemented to protect them from coronavirus. Many nursing homes are not allowing visitors in order to protect the health of those who live there, and senior citizen centers, which often provide meals and activities, have closed across the country. These days together in our homes are an excellent opportunity to create or write cards to mail to those of any age who might feel isolated. 

6. Support local businesses

In many places, and perhaps nationwide by the time this article posts, restaurants and other small businesses are closed or have limited hours. This especially hurts small business owners and their employees who won’t know when their next paycheck will come. With a focus on the families behind those places of business, commit to ordering carryout one day a week or to buying gift certificates to use after the coronavirus isolation is over. 

7. Do what you can 

Pray for God to open your eyes to the needs around you. Offer to pick up groceries for those who are elderly or immunocompromised. Reach out to your friends in healthcare or retail to see if they need any assistance with childcare. Make phone calls to family and church members who might need help or encouragement. 

It is not lost on us that our children are watching every second of how we as a family and as a church are responding to this crisis. It is our prayer that they comprehend deeply that no circumstance excludes us from the scriptural commands to love God and love our neighbors. As we live generously in a time when so many have been struck with fear, we pray our actions create opportunities to share about the one who sacrificed for us, the reason for our hope and the anchor for our souls, Jesus Christ. 

Brandt Waggoner

Brandt is the lead pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tennessee. He is the husband of Jill, and father of Judson, John Martin, and Jackson. He is a graduate of Union University (BA) and Southeastern Theological Seminary (M.Div.). Before serving as the pastor of Fairview Church, he served as a … Read More

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