How human dignity changed my life

September 24, 2018

One of the best things about Christian theology is its practicality. As you grow in your knowledge of the Bible, the Bible reshapes the way that you think and, ultimately, the way that you live. I’ve seen this pattern in my own life time and again. And one of the best examples is the way that the Scriptures have reshaped how I think about other people.

Viral hate

Twice in the last few weeks we’ve seen major news stories centered on the issue of human dignity. One of these stories became breaking news because of a photo that went viral. “The image featured Geoffrey Owens, an actor best known for his portrayal of Elvin Tibideaux on the Cosby Show,” working as a grocery store clerk. As the photo spread across social media, countless people cruelly mocked and shamed Owens by posting demeaning and offensive comments about his “failed” career and “pathetic” job. Days later, a video went viral that drew forth the same kind of hateful mocking and jeering. Footage captured Anthony Torres, a 56-year-old man, shaving his face on a train leaving New York City after spending several days in one of the city’s homeless shelters.

The negative response to both of these events was overwhelming. And by now we know the internet is a unique medium for kindling our worst impulses; it provides varying degrees of anonymity and distance, and allows one to engage any issue instantaneously on these grounds without pausing for reflection. The comment threads from both the photo of Owens and the video of Torres are beyond disheartening; they’re sickening.

But in each case, not all of the responses were negative. In addition to those who spoke out to defend Owens from the virtual mob, many of his friends and fellow actors made statements to publicly demonstrate their support. Similarly, many people also spoke against the judgmental comments being directed toward Torres. And from these positive statements, a common theme emerged: every person has dignity.

The Bible’s power

Watching these events play out in real-time reminded me of the way that God used his Word to change my own understanding of human dignity. I didn’t grow up being a hateful person. I was saved at a young age, and even then I knew that I was a sinner and that I had natural prejudices in my heart. But I certainly wasn’t a racist. As a young Christian, that was the only kind of prejudice I knew to avoid. Moreover, when I heard the words “human dignity,” I thought only of abortion. I knew I had that one right, too; I passionately believed that human life begins at conception, that every person, including the unborn, bears the image of God and is accorded inestimable dignity and value.

As Christians, the first thing we should recognize about people we see is that they are fellow image-bearers.

But as I matured, God began to expose gaps in my understanding. Up until that point, human dignity had been fairly one-dimensional. It applied narrowly to my pro-life position. For a long time, I assumed that phrases like “human dignity,” “sanctity of human life,” and “pro-life” all pointed toward the same narrow application. I don’t regret coming to such a firm conviction on the issue of abortion so early in my life. I do wish, however, that I had come to a more robust view of human dignity sooner than I did.

Through his Word, God began to show me that being pro-life is about all of life. It does apply directly to abortion. But that is because it applies directly to life. From the moment of conception to one’s final seconds on a deathbed, all life is sacred. Or, to put it more succinctly, life matters “from womb to tomb.”

Renewing my mind

What God moved me toward was a robust, holistic view of human dignity. He took my facile perspective, and replaced it with an integrated understanding of what it looks like to value life all the time. Of course, I still don’t do this perfectly, but the change has been substantial and meaningful.

Personally, this shift has changed the way that I think about everything from immigration to end-of-life care to criminal justice to pornography. And with each of these, the common theme is the same: every person is a person, a creature made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). No matter what else they are, no person will ever be less than that. This doesn’t mean that the Bible offers prescriptions for all of these things. It certainly doesn’t offer a comprehensive plan for immigration reform, for instance. But it does change the way that we see people, and the way that we talk about them.

Every person is a person. Whether they’re an adult bagging groceries, a child playing too loudly, or someone working in the sex industry. As Christians, the first thing we should recognize about people we see is that they are fellow image-bearers. That doesn’t mean we accept every behavior, or that we make light of sin and overlook transgression. It means we never allow ourselves to forget a person’s value, regardless of the circumstances.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking through the reasons that the internet mob poured out such scathing invective toward these two men. It might have been some effort to feel superior, or some twisted means of pleasure through another person’s misfortune. I’m still unsure. But I am sure that the people of God have no place among the mob. Our calling is to act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

Christians should be the first to show compassion to our fellow man. We must weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn, and refuse to bully or belittle people in order to exalt ourselves. My colleague, Dan Darling, has recently completed a new book exploring this very issue titled The Dignity Revolution. I not only commend Dan’s book to you, but urge you to explore deeply the Bible’s teaching on human dignity. It might just change your life.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. 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