How God is using technology during a pandemic for mission

June 1, 2020

As stay-at-home orders went into effect throughout our nation in March, I was encouraged to see many pastors take to social media. They sent video updates to their people about the shift to online services and digital discipleship. They were using the tools they had at their disposal in order to bring calming and encouraging words to many who were scared and confused. 

Soon, many of us would find ourselves glued to these same devices, seeking answers to the unknowns and hoping to grasp some semblance of control. In the last few years, we have all heard about the dangerous effects of technology in our lives and how we need to balance our use of these tools, but all of that advice and discipline simply went out the door as the virus cut us off from the normal rhythms of our daily lives.

Throughout March and April, most of the headlines about technology were about how we can utilize it to continue working, socializing, and staying connected. Much of the conversation originally shifted away from the negative and polarizing effects of these technologies to how they became a life raft in the midst of this storm. But the public mood is shifting once again, and we are starting to see many of the corrosive effects of technology on our lives.

In the midst of these tensions and tough times, I think that many of us (including me) miss how God is still orchestrating all of these things to bolster our faith and our churches. He is strengthening us to be able to weather the storms of this life and emerge more devoted to his Word and to spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. A few weeks ago, I was reminded of this fact listening to a leader in a global missions agency recount how God is continuing to use missionaries to shine the light of the gospel in dark places, even as many of them have been quarantined and locked in their homes.

Embracing technology for mission

With debates over how social media companies should deal with misinformation, the rise of trolls and discernment bloggers sewing dissension in our churches, and the inherent dangers of too much screen time in children, you can’t really get away from the pitfalls of technology as well as the numerous calls to simply reject these tools. But often these dangers overshadow much of the amazing potential that technology brings to our life.

My local church located south of Nashville very quickly shifted to online services and encouraged our members to embrace these tools in this season. While it was difficult and time consuming, our leadership chose to lean into the advantages of technology during this pandemic and find ways to embrace it for the mission of God. Outside of our Sunday gatherings being streamed online, our church digitized much of our discipleship content for children, teens, and even membership materials. They sought to equip our people to engage the mission field just a few steps from our front porches, and they equipped us to shine the love of God in our neighborhoods and meet the tangible needs of our communities using various forms of technology.

While nothing about these new plans were ideal, our pastors and leaders decided to believe that God was bigger than our spring plans and gatherings. Now nearly every Sunday, we hear of the ways that God is using our online services to reach people across the world and throughout our local community for Jesus. I have recently heard of many churches being able to worship with their own missionaries across the world using various forms of technology. This reality would likely send chills down the spines of past generations of missionaries who longed to see home.

God’s mission won’t be stopped

One of the great joys of being a Southern Baptist is our incredible work through the International Mission Board. The IMB is celebrating 175 years of being on mission to reach the nations with the gospel this year, and what an interesting year it has been for this milestone. But as IMB president Paul Chitwood has said about our global missionary force, “Amid a global pandemic, their work looks different, but it hasn’t stopped. It must not stop.” It can not and will not stop, because our calling as Christians is to preach the gospel regardless of the circumstances in order that the nations might hear and be saved.

This pandemic has brought immense challenges to missionaries across the world but also opportunities to be creative, innovative, and even more flexible than before. From using video conferencing technologies for digital discipleship to the rise of algorithmic evangelism tools, God’s mission to the nations will not be slowed down or stopped. Story after story from the field reminds us that as God’s unique image-bearers, we have been created to go on mission for God. And he blesses us with tools and technologies in order to fulfill this calling to the nations.

This pandemic has brought immense challenges to missionaries across the world but also opportunities to be creative, innovative, and even more flexible than before.

The leaders of Zoom, Facebook, YouTube, and Amazon probably never thought these tools would become the modern Roman roads through which the nations could hear of the good news of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection, even in the midst of a pandemic. But God did. These technologies have quickly become some of the largest gospel megaphones in the history of the world as God continues to use his people to call his children back to him. One example of this is seen in the Bible app

When I teach or write about technology and artificial intelligence, one of the biggest criticisms I receive is that I am too much of an optimist when it comes to these tools. Maybe I am. But I fully believe that God will use technology to further his Kingdom, because I already know the end of the story. John tells us in the book of Revelation that it has already been written. It involves a resurrected King sitting on a throne with throngs of image-bearers from every tribe, tongue, and nation praising the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

In the interim, God calls us to use any means necessary to spread this good news to the ends of the earth and to embrace these technologies with wisdom and guidance. We all need to be reminded that the gates of hell will try to slow the spread of the gospel, but nothing will ultimately prevail against the church of our Lord Jesus Christ—not even a virus outbreak or global economic collapse. So let’s be found faithful and pray for much fruit in this season of disruption.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … 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