Hope in the midst of horror

December 4, 2015

For the second time in as many weeks I was within miles of a possible terrorist threat.  On November 21, when I and thousands of my colleagues were gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, for the annual academic conferences in biblical and religious studies, we received word that there was a rumored ISIS threat against the Philips Arena, just blocks away from where the conferences were being held. As it turns out, there was no credible information that corroborated the rumors and thankfully nothing came of it. So I don’t want to overdramatize this. I was never in imminent danger. But once you allow yourself to think through the possibilities of being in a city under attack, the scare is still there. I know I felt it, especially as I hung up the phone that night after speaking with my wife and children, who were thousands of miles away back home. What if the threat is real? What if what happened in Paris just days earlier happens here as well? What if something happens to me? What if this is the last time that I speak to my family in this life?

Unfortunately, the threat that confronted those in the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, this week was no mere rumor. No matter how officials end up classifying the motives of the shooters, the horror that they unleashed was all too real for the victims and their families. I heard about the shootings from my office in Riverside, which is just about 15 miles away from San Bernardino.  When I heard that the killers were still on the loose, I followed my instincts and headed straight home to be with my family. A co-worker’s heart sank when he heard the report because his wife works in San Bernardino, but he was relieved to discover that the shootings weren’t near where she works. The rest of my day was pretty much gone, as I was glued to Twitter and the television waiting for more news on the manhunt.

Again, I don’t want to overdramatize my own experiences here.  The victims and their families deserve our undiluted sympathy. In fact, if you are reading this, I would urge you to stop and pray for them right now. At the time that I am writing this, the death toll is 14, and the police are saying that a total of 21 were wounded in the attack. Pray that God would grant his grace and peace to these grieving families. And pray for those who would perpetrate these kinds of horrendous acts that they would be delivered from the power of Satan and brought into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Religious groups in our area have organized prayer vigils to remember those who have died. My own church home group took some time last night to pray for the victims and their families, for justice for the perpetrators, and for the safety of our community. Prayer is not an excuse for inaction but neither is it a pawn in some political debate. As followers of Christ, we know that prayer is the very heartbeat of our lives coram Deo, and that it is our duty to pray, “Thy will be done,” even in the face of death and great evil (Matt. 6:10; 26:42).

But I share my experiences here because I think they are indicative of an increasingly common state of mind in our culture. We are terrorized by violence.  Mass shootings and terrorist acts seem more frequent, more imminent, and more immanent—that is closer to where we live and work and play.  We are beginning to experience in some measure the kinds of violent threats faced by millions worldwide, including millions of our brothers and sisters in Christ. The illusion of safety and security in our own backyards is being exposed. We are all one lone gunman or one sleeper cell or one crazed couple away from a violent death. And even if the vast majority of us escape a violent death, none of us will escape death itself. Its certainty looms not merely as the punchline of some clichéd joke (death and taxes, am I right?), but as an existential threat to each of us and to each of our friends, neighbors, and family members.

So what is the solution? Well, many solutions to gun violence and terrorism will be offered in the coming days. We will debate gun laws, no-fly lists, security measures, surveillance, and so on. Christians need to be vigorously and thoughtfully engaged in all of these debates.  Right prayer is always accompanied by right action in a biblical ethic (see Nehemiah, for example). We ought to debate these matters charitably, knowing that people of goodwill often reach different conclusions about the most effective solutions to the problems we face. But we also should debate these things knowing that the ultimate solution to violence—indeed, the ultimate solution to death itself—lies beyond the power of political machinations. This is not defeatism or quietism; far from it. Instead, it is a kind of eschatological triumphalism. As believers in Christ, we know that death’s days are numbered. Its back was broken one Sunday morning in a garden tomb near Jerusalem. And its final death rattle will be heard when the trumpet sounds and the King returns to raise the dead to imperishable life (1 Cor. 15:50-57). And so in the meantime, we work, knowing that our labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58), but we do so in humble dependence upon the God who saves us from terror and makes us immovable for sake of the work he has given us to do.

R. Lucas Stamps

R. Lucas Stamps is a Faculty Lead and Associate Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University. His areas of focus include Christology, Trinity, historical theology, and Baptist theology.  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