How some of the ERLC staff families celebrate Christmas

December 23, 2019

Christmas is almost here! For many of us, the Christmas season is a wonderful time of reflection and spending time with family and friends. Most families also have traditions that they observe every year. Often, these traditions have been passed down from parents or grandparents over the years, and serve as a way to remember loved ones who may not be with us to celebrate. Every tradition is different – some are light-hearted and fun, while others are meaningful and designed to remind us of the biblical truths that are at the heart of the Christmas season. 

Here are some of the ways a few ERLC staff members celebrate Christmas.

Chelsea Patterson Sobolik: Policy Director

My favorite tradition is going to see a live performance of Handel's Messiah. The entire performance is Scripture, and it’s such a powerful reminder of the gospel.

Amanda Hays: Digital Strategist

Our traditions are fairly normal. We decorate a gingerbread house, use Jesse Tree ornaments to celebrate Advent, listen to Frank Sinatra & Bing Crosby Christmas music, watch claymation Rudolph and friends movies, listen to Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God” (or go see it), and make sausage pinwheels for Christmas morning.

Jason Thacker: Creative Director

Outside of our typical traditions, we pick out gifts for our World Vision kid or for families on Baptist Global Response like chickens, goats, and medical supplies. Our kids love picking these things out. This year, we are trying to bless the nurses caring for my wife and she gets treatment for cancer with Starbucks and other gifts.

Bobby Reed: Chief Financial Officer

Our family has two main traditions, among others. First, when we began having children we committed to be home for Christmas—our home. We might travel at New Year’s, but our kids would wake up in their own beds Christmas morning, and we would set our own traditions. 

Second, we spread our gift giving/opening throughout the day. We typically open presents in shifts and one at a time. So, we might open all of the presents from a particular aunt or grandparent who is out of town and could not be there before brunch, then another after brunch. In the early years, we would video each of those times on a VHS recorder and be able to show those recordings to the respective family members. 

This year, we may open presents from [our son] Timothy, who will be in Europe, via Skype, so that he can be a part of the experience as much as possible. Between brunch and lunch and watching Christmas movies/shows and opening presents, we usually wrap up with everything by late afternoon or so.

Brent Leatherwood: Director of Strategic Partnerships

For our family, we start the Christmas season on Thanksgiving. We try to instill thankful hearts in our three children for the coming Christmas season and put the birth of Jesus front and center as the single greatest gift we are given. We also have our children open their first Christmas gifts on Thanksgiving night—new Christmas pajamas and Christmas books to read. Finally, once the kids have gone to bed, I wrap up the evening with the older family members—especially if my parents or my wife’s parents are in town—by watching “Christmas Vacation”!

Jill Waggoner: Deputy Press Secretary

My mother’s family on her father’s side has been getting together for a Christmas party for about 65 years. I think I’ve missed one when we lived away, but she’s never missed one, and it’s very important to her. My mother is now the organizer of these Christmas parties. We make that a priority because we want to teach our children that this type of family is a treasure that a lot of people don’t have, and we want them to honor the older generations of our family and understand their commitment to them. We average about 75–100 people!

Elizabeth Bristow: Press Secretary

Now that our children are a little older, we are establishing new traditions as a family. Each night in December we read an Advent devotional before bed and talk about how it relates to the coming of Christ, our Savior. As a family, we also go caroling at assisted living homes around Waco and participate in the Operation Christmas Child boxes and World Vision sponsorship by buying a nicer gift for our girl in El Salvador. These are just a few traditions we enjoy doing together!

Daniel Darling: VP of Communications

Our family has several traditions. First, we start listening to Christmas music sometime in November and we don’t feel the least bit bad about it. Secondly, we buy a new ornament every year, either from a place we’ve visited or just something to mark out that year. Our kids just love decorating the tree, evoking memories of Christmases come and gone. We also have each of our four kids pick a name out of the hat of another kid and we take them to the store to do the stocking shopping. This allows them to think of other siblings instead of themselves. 

Of course, our very favorite tradition, one that I had as a child, is attending Christmas Eve service. This is one of my favorite worship times of the year. I love lighting candles. I love signing the old Christmas hymns and carols. I can hardly make it through Hark the Herald without weeping. 

Conrad Close

Conrad Close serves as the Digital Marketing Manager for the ERLC. In this role, he oversees web strategy, manages email marketing, and provides communications support to the policy team. A former ERLC intern, Conrad graduated from Kennesaw State University with a B.A. in Public Relations. He lives in Chicago with … 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