8 things I learned in the Middle East

November 30, 2015

A few weeks ago my wife and I joined a delegation of Southern Baptist leaders, convened by ERLC and sponsored by The Philos Project, on a trip to Israel and Palestine. Though I’ve been to this part of the world previously, this trip was unlike others. While we did visit some of the typical Christian pilgrimage sites, we also intentionally met with key leaders and stakeholders in the region.

This was an immensely formative trip for me, not only because I was able to once again walk in the places where much of the story of Christianity is centered, but because I was exposed to relationships and information to help me better think through the geopolitics of the region. I’d like to share eight things I learned on this important trip.

1. Christians should be intentional about learning as much as they can about the Middle East. Not everyone will have the opportunity to travel to Israel, but every follower of Christ should intentionally read up and learn about the people of the Middle East. It’s too easy to let the drive-by information sources of Facebook timelines and cable news segments and forwarded emails form our views of the region. We should learn and grow in our understanding of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian people who live in the Middle East for several reasons:

First, this is the region of the Bible. This is where the narrative of the Bible is centered, where our Lord lived, and where the church was built. Secondly, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ live in the Middle East, whether Messianic Jews or Arab Christians. Knowing their plight helps us better pray, speak out and care for the global church. Third, there is often conflict that happens in the Middle East that affects us in the West. We shouldn’t speak out of ignorance or biases, but we endeavor to care because it can help us better interpret the news with a biblical perspective.

2. The issues in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict are incredibly complex. This was made especially aware to us as we heard from people on all sides of this conflict. We heard from the top negotiator in Israel’s state department. We heard from a well-regarded Palestinian journalist. We heard from a Muslim academic. We heard from a Jewish religious liberty lawyer. We were educated, daily, by our wonderful Jewish guide. We had many conversations with the Palestinian believers at Bethlehem Bible college. We talked maps, seam-lines, security, war, sovereignty and culture. We should pray for peace between Israel and Palestine, but we should be aware that getting there is incredibly difficult. There are intractable differences. We should pray  and work for peace for this region, but know that until Christ, our Prince of Peace consummates His Kingdom, we may never see lasting peace.

3. Israel lives every day with real security risks. Israel is a thriving, robust democracy in a region where few exist. Jewish people wake up every day with the reality that miles away are nations and people groups who wish to see them driven into the sea. That’s not hyperbole; that’s fact. I stood on the border of Israel and Lebanon. Right now, there is a relative peace, given the preoccupation with Syria. But Hezbollah has publically stated their desire to fire rockets into Israel. That’s why the hospital near the border, a hospital which treats people from all sides of the conflict, has an underground unit and has to completely fortify many of their above-ground units. The folks on the ground talked about a third Lebanon war as if it might be a reality.

Rockets are regularly fired from Gaza into Jewish towns. And most of the leaders in the Middle East talk in pejorative terms about Jews and Israel’s right to exist. In fact, when you travel to Israel, they don’t even stamp your passport. They give you a stamp so you can travel to other Arab countries without fear of reprisal. I live in Nashville, Tennessee. Imagine if, every day, an enemy as close as Knoxville threatened to lob rockets into my town or was ruled by people who wanted to see our people destroyed? Israel is not without criticism, but they face enormous challenges, having to negotiate with people who, so far, refuse to recognize their right to exist as a country and having to face an international community and media which, largely, sides against their cause.

4. The plight of the Palestinians should give us pause. There are many opinions on why Palestinians live in such dire poverty and without little hope. Some blame Israel. Some blame the Palestinian leadership. What is undeniable is how difficult it is being surrounded by a security wall and wire, led by terrorists in Hamas and a corrupt PLO, and lacking the robust democracy and markets that would enable them to thrive. It’s even more difficult for Palestinian Christians serving in Bethlehem, Gaza and the West Bank. They are doing daring, difficult ministry among a majority Muslim population. What’s more they feel abandoned by American evangelicals. Millions of Christians visit Israel every year to see the Christian pilgrimage sites but don’t stop to meet and support their brothers and sisters doing gospel work. This isn’t right. This trip has caused me to pray for and support those who are in the trenches of ministry in one of the most difficult regions of the world.

5. There are real people, made in the image of God, who live in this part of the world. My friend Mike Cosper said this about the trip: “The simplistic ‘solutions’ touted in the media make no sense once you look Israelis and Palestinians in the eye & hear their stories.” Despite the political differences between Palestinians and Israelis, on the ground, ordinary people living here want the same things people everywhere seem to want: safety, security, a warm place to sleep, food to eat, a better future for their children. And there is profound goodness being displayed in ways that never make the headlines. For instance, I heard the CEO of that hospital on Israel’s border say: “This job gives me an opportunity to take care of my enemies.” Muslims, Christians, Jews working together to save lives. We saw this kind of common decency everywhere—Jews, Muslims and Christians working together in ways that defy stereotypes.

6. The world is broken. Of course you knew that, but the problems in the Middle East bring the world’s brokenness into sharp relief. When we stood on the Golan Heights and looked out over Syria, we saw, in the distance, a puff of smoke, reminding us of the horrific war going on over there. This was just one of many moments when the enormity of the challenges, the depth of the corruption of the cosmos became almost too much to bear. Another was our tour of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Every generation is beset by evil. Every generation needs the good news of the gospel. Every generation is tempted to put it’s hope in false Messiahs. At the end of the day, while we work for peace and justice, the only hope for the world is the consummation of Christ’s Kingdom. It’s why we pray, earnestly and with despair: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

7. If you want to do gospel work, consider doing it in the Middle East. We spoke with the president of Nazareth Evangelical Seminary. I was inspired by his heart and desire to reach this part of the world with the gospel. He’s raising up young leaders to plant churches all over the Middle East. But the work is hard. Conversion comes slowly. Evangelicals are a distinct minority. These ministries are the ministries that need our support. There is a lot of excited talk in our day about church planting and reaching the nations—I wonder how many are willing to do ministry in hard soil like Israel and Palestine.

8. We should love the Middle East. I love travelling to Israel. I love being in Jerusalem. I love Tiberias and the whole Galilee region. I love Bethlehem. Perhaps you will not love this part of the world as much as I do, but all Christians should turn their gaze toward the Middle East, because God loves the people who live there. In the West, we often talk in pejorative terms about the Middle East. People joke about dropping bombs or in offensive ways about the people. We put up personal walls and fences when Arabs or Muslims come to live in the United States. This is wrong. If we want to have a genuine, Great Commission, Revelation 5,7 perspective of the world, we must confess and repent of our prejudices. We must remember that we are always talking about humans created in God’s image, and we are sometimes talking about our own brothers and sisters in Christ.

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is the Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a columnist for World Magazine and a contributor to USA Today. Dan is a bestselling author of several books including, The Dignity Revolution, A Way With Words, and The Characters of … 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