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Articles

A way for churches to honor the dignity of formerly incarcerated people

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February 10, 2021

Jon Kelly was a troubled teen growing up with a single mother in a rough Philadelphia neighborhood. Multiple schools couldn’t keep him out of trouble. He dropped out of school by ninth grade.

“I was always high every day … always in fights, always getting shot at or shooting at somebody,” Jon says. “I for sure did not think I would make it past 16.”

Jon remembers the day he was arrested. He had just turned 19 two months before. He was taken to jail for his role in a murder.

A couple officers in the jail would talk to him from time to time. That first week, Jon was so bored that he asked if either of them could bring him something to read. The officers handed him a copy of the New Testament. On the cover were the words, “There’s hope for you. Jesus cares.”

“I read God’s Word for the first time,” Jon says, “and I haven’t been the same since.”

A change of heart

Jon had not yet gone to court when he surrendered his life to Jesus. His lawyer didn’t believe he was serious about his newfound faith, dismissing it as “jailhouse religion.” Even so, Jon knew what he had to do.

“Part of being a Christian is repenting and taking ownership of your sins,” Jon told his lawyer. “I would like to plead guilty.”

Jon pled guilty to third-degree murder, a crime that usually carries a sentence of 20–40 years in prison. Standing in court before the victim’s family, Jon asked for forgiveness. Then he apologized to the judge
for wasting the court’s time and taxpayers’ money. Jon also said that he would respect his sentence—no matter what it was.

“It didn’t matter that [the victim] was supposedly a drug dealer,” Jon explains. “At the end of the day, he was a young man made in the image of God who didn’t deserve to die.”

Miraculously, the judge sentenced Jon to 6–15 years in prison, with five years of probation.

A fresh start

In prison, he made the most of his time by taking classes and earning his GED. When Jon was released on parole, he stepped out into a world that is overwhelming for many former prisoners. He needed a place to live, a job, and a community of friends who would support him.

So Jon moved back in with his mother, who was living in a safer neighborhood. He found a local church, where he met a new circle of friends who welcomed him in and cared for him. He even managed to find
a job as a painter his first week out.

Today, Jon serves as the pastor of Chicago West Bible Church, a church he helped start. He’s married and has two children. “It’s been an amazing journey, and I praise God for that,” Jon says.

But it’s also been a tough one. Although he completed his sentence and is now a valuable contributor in his community, Jon’s criminal record follows him. With his record comes the legal restrictions on housing, employment, education, and more, called collateral consequences, that limit his opportunities to thrive. This is why Jon is passionate about second chances, and why he devotes some of his time to working with Prison Fellowship to mobilize churches to restore those impacted by crime and incarceration through direct ministry and advocacy.

Celebrating second chances

As part of that work, he and his church host a Second Chance Sunday every April—a special service designed to raise awareness about the stigma and barriers people with a criminal record face and inspire the church to be a place of welcome. This effort is part of Second Chance® Month, the
nationwide campaign led by Prison Fellowship to raise awareness about the barriers faced by men and women with a criminal record. Jon explains what the service is like:

I preach a message that’s related to this topic and this issue. We highlight different second chance ministries, organizations, and resources in our city and around the country that people in our church can get connected to. We allow our congregation to share their stories about how second chances impact them or their loved ones.

Jon says his church hosts this special service because “We believe that every man and woman, every individual, regardless of if they have a criminal record or not, has been created in God’s image and is worthy of dignity and respect and opportunity.”

And the annual observance of Second Chance Month, celebrated every April, is making an impact. “Second Chance Sundays have been huge for our church. It’s created a culture in which everyone feels free to truly embrace one another in Christ, as he designed us to be.”

Host your own Second Chance Sunday

Jon encourages pastors and church leaders to host their own Second Chance Sunday services. But you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Jon recommends that churches take advantage of Prison Fellowship’s Second Chance Sunday Church Toolkit, available online for free. “In this toolkit, there are sermon ideas, small group discussions, coloring books for children, all types of statistics and current data. I encourage you to sign up as soon as you can for that Second Chance Sunday Church Toolkit.”

Photo Attribution:

Prison Fellowship

Heather Rice-Minus

Heather Rice-Minus is the vice president of government affairs and church mobilization for Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. Read More by this Author

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