Alzheimer’s, human dignity, and a church that’s truly pro-life

March 6, 2019

You can tell a lot about people by watching how they treat those who can’t articulate, defend, drive, bathe themselves, or even comb their hair.

I’ve never seen a more pro-life group of people than those at a West Tennessee church down on Main Street. No one from the church went to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life Rally. They don’t picket outside abortion clinics. They don’t preach and write proclamations about the evils of abortion. They believe babies should be born, but for them, that’s not the whole picture of being pro-life. One way they demonstrate this is in how they love Frank.

Frank, a 75-year-old man, has been a member of the church for about 10 years, along with his wife. Several years ago, he started showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s been mostly downhill ever since. He is one of more than five million Americans living with the disease. With each passing day, Frank knows and remembers less. He’s slowly slipping away from everyone. Like Nancy Reagan once said, it’s like experiencing a long goodbye.

Frank consistently makes his rounds on Sunday mornings during the service’s greeting time. He says, “Good morning,” “Glad you’re here,” and “God bless you.” It’s obvious that he’s glad to be there and see everyone. He remembers which pew is his, but he can’t remember his phone number or how to get home after church. When he talks, he doesn’t make sense. He says words, but they aren’t related to each other; they’re strung together in a series of meaningless jabber.  

Once a month, the men gather for a prayer breakfast. And Frank is always there. Everyone is kind to him. One week, as the men were sharing, Frank spoke up and said, “I’ve got something to say.” He stood, looked at the group, and started talking. Nothing he said made sense. As he does when he’s talking to someone one-on-one, Frank started putting unrelated words together; it was just meaningless chatter.  

The men around the table leaned in. They looked at Frank in the eyes. It was hard to listen, but everyone listened well. No one tried to stop him. He probably only spoke for a minute or two, but it seemed like an eternity. After he finished, the other men around the table immediately started affirming Frank. They spoke of how thankful they were for him. They told him he was a good man. They talked about how the church wouldn’t be the church that it was if it weren’t for him. They told him they loved him.

Valuing a human being

It was a powerful moment. It was the church being the church. It was the church being pro-life, valuing a human being regardless of what he could bring to the table. The people in that church recognize that all people have inherent value because they have been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). They treat Frank with dignity and respect, not because of any ability he has— he’s losing his abilities—but because he is a human being.

The number of people in America who have Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple to over 16 million people by 2050. Church communities are not immune to this disease, and it’s only going to become more prominent in our churches. This means that the church must be ready to minister to those with Alzheimer’s and their families.

The Southern Baptist Convention unanimously approved a resolution in 2016 titled “On Alzheimer's Disease And Dementia, Caregiving, And The Church.” The resolution acknowledges this issue and that there is no cure. Southern Baptists collectively said,

God calls us to care for the most vulnerable among us, including those who are unable to remember or speak for themselves (Isa. 58:1-14; Zech. 7:8-10; James 1:27); and . . . All people are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and this status as image bearers does not depend upon cognitive or intellectual ability, because all people, including those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, have value and are loved by God.  

My favorite line of the resolution is when Southern Baptists state, “RESOLVED, That we urge our churches to treat people with Alzheimer’s and dementia with dignity and continue to invite them into the life of the church, rehearsing the good news of the Gospel together, singing familiar songs and hymns, reading Scripture together, and praying together, including well-known prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer.”

The way we treat those with Alzheimer’s is about the mission of the church. Alzheimer’s disease is yet another evidence of the fact that we live in a world that is fallen. A day is coming when Jesus will make all things new, and this horrific disease will be a thing of the past. Until then, we work and love and proclaim the gospel until he comes. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

People will continue to gather at that West Tennessee church every Sunday. Everyone will worship again. There will be the time in the service for greeting one another. Frank will be there. He will wander through the crowd during the Sunday morning worship service and tell folks, “Good morning,” and, “Glad you’re here,” and, “God bless you.” He will have conversations with people that make no sense, yet they will be kind to him. They will love him. They will value him—because their commitment to one another and to being pro-life will show in the way they treat Frank.

Todd E. Brady

Todd Brady is the Assistant Professor of Ministry and Vice President for University Ministries. He received his D.Min. at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, M.Div. at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and B.S. at Union University. 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