After the storm has passed

An Alabama pastor reflects on the recent deadly tornadoes

March 11, 2019

On the afternoon of March 3, I remember telling my wife I hoped the storm would be past us by 3:00. We had been to church that morning, and knew there was a possible threat of tornadoes that afternoon. When the storm came through, we experienced only strong wind and rain. We had ample warning that there were tornadoes spotted just a few miles away in the communities of Beauregard and Smiths Station, but we had no idea the devastation that would visit our neighbors.

Two tornadoes came through our specific area that day, one ripped a path a mile wide and was categorized as an EF-4, with wind speeds over 170 mph (the same as a strong Category 5 hurricane). The damage and destruction it left behind is hard to imagine, let alone to see. Homes were blown from their foundations. Mobile homes and brick homes vanished—leaving only the concrete slab foundation. The trees twisted and torn, many so covered with the insulation from people's homes that it looked like they were covered in snow. The mangled earth made search and rescue incredibly difficult, but when the searching was finished there were 23 dead. Their ages ranged from six to 89, three were under the age of 10.

In addition to that sobering number, there are families who suffered no loss of life, but whose futures were permanently altered in tragic ways. One family with five children lost all earthly possessions and the father sustained injuries so severe he faces the rest of his life as a quadriplegic. He was the sole financial provider for his family. Their future is forever altered. Similar stories abound in this tragedy. The impact on families grieving the death of loved ones or friends, as well as families now adjusting to a new permanent reality, is heavy.

The community response

The grief of the local community was both immediate and overwhelming. Those who died or whose lives were affected are not just a list of names, but family, friends, co-workers, and schoolmates. For those very reasons the outpouring of tangible compassion was immediate and overwhelming. Local restaurants and businesses are collecting supplies for the families. People all over the community have contributed time, money, and effort to help with cleanup and donate clothes and donate blood and anything else that can be done at this time.

The church response

As encouraging as the response of the community at large has been, the response of the church has been even more welcome. The majority of relief efforts are coming through the church. Samaritan’s Purse arrived to train and organize cleanup efforts, and churches across denominational lines began organizing the collection of food, clothes, and other essential items within hours of the storm.

The rapid response of Southern Baptists have also been astonishing. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams of trained volunteers from local SBC churches (and from churches in surrounding counties in both Georgia and Alabama) began immediately with chainsaw work, serving as chaplains, providing food and laundry services, and doing so many other things in a carefully administered way. Those efforts and services are still ongoing.

These broader church efforts have been immensely helpful and necessary. But in acknowledging this outside help we should not overlook how the local churches of this community are working together. Providence Baptist Church has been a central gathering and collection point for many of the relief actions. The church, which is currently serving as the headquarters for the Red Cross, opened an entire wing of their building for the collection of clothes and other relief supplies. As other local churches have gathered relief supplies, they have taken them to Providence to be dispersed to the victims in the community.

How to help

It is remarkable how concern for the victims has come from individuals and even major corporations from across the nation. President Trump declared Lee County a major disaster area, which will allow federal aid to find its way to the area and to the victims. But even with that aid, there are additional needs. Let me identify three ways you can still help the victims.

  1. Pray for the families of those who lost everything they own, who lost loved ones, and whose lives will never be the same again. Imagine the needs you might have in such a scenario, and prayerfully consider how you can do for them what you wish they would do for you (Matt. 7:12). Pray that the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions” will comfort these victims in answer to the prayers of his people (2 Cor. 1:3-11). Pray that this comfort would continue to come for the indefinite future in tangible ways through the church.  
  2. Contribute to the physical relief of the victims, and do so in an intentionally specific way. Find a way to contribute to the relief of individual families for an extended period of time by contacting the Alabama State Board of Missions or the Tuskegee-Lee Baptist Association. They can direct you to one of our local churches.
  3. Consider not only how you can help right away, but how you can help six months from now. Because of the overwhelming response of our community and churches, many of the immediate needs are supplied. The greatest needs will be when the initial wave of help has returned home. It will take months for any semblance of normalcy to return to the families affected by the tornado. Consider contacting one of our churches in three to six months to see what needs are still present and how you might help.

The storm was over around 3:00 on Sunday afternoon. But for dozens of families in our community the storm is still a very present reality. May the Lord find us faithful to “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

Kevin Webb

Kevin Webb is an Associate Pastor at Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala. He and his family live in Opelika, Ala. 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