Orphan care and the power of the normal, supernatural local church

November 12, 2018

Like most newly licensed foster or adoptive parents, we got right to it. The day my wife, Julie and I, received our certificate in the mail, we contacted the Missouri social-services caseworker assigned to the girls we saw on the website, adoptuskids.org. We could not wait to see if these two beautiful children were yet adoptable. The door was still open! The girls had been living in the same foster home for two years, were healthy, and progressing in school–but still had no forever family.

Maggy and Molly’s visits to our home were filled with fear and excitement—themes that would characterize the first six months of their lives with us. The first time the girls came to our home, in November 2015, we showed them our Joshua rock basket. Joshua 4 records that when Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River, he had leaders of each of the twelve tribes take stones from the dry river bottom. Those stones were to be memorial stones for Israel, symbols of God’s providence and power behind and before them. We have a basket of rocks on our fireplace, each numbered to a corresponding entry in a journal that recounts a particular blessing the Lord has worked in our lives—patterns. The rock basket is an integral part of our family life, and we wanted to get to it straightaway with the girls.

Our visits included other things like playing at local parks, arts and crafts, and activities purposed to connect Maggy and Molly with our biological daughters. We wanted them to experience our patterns.

Home not-so-sweet home

By the first week of December 2015, the caseworkers and therapist had recommended to the judge presiding over Maggy and Molly’s future that they should be placed in our home with a view to adoption after six months. We moved the girls into our home on December 21, 2015. By Christmas Day, we were already aware that however strong we thought the patterns of our family, they would be stretched to their limits if the girls were to take our last name. The girls’ anger and defiance surfaced seemingly out of the blue. At meals they would have burping contests and exhibit other bodily noises not welcome at the dinner table.

As Julie homeschooled them along with our biological daughters, Maggy and Molly would fight, distract, and defy. During family worship, the girls would wiggle, fidget uncontrollably, and throw the rocks from the Joshua basket. The patterns were strained to the breaking point by their temper tantrums. Kids who have been abused, when corrected or emotional, exhibit physical strength beyond their years. When Julie confronted or corrected the girls, they would bite, kick, scratch, and hit her. And the walls of our home learned a new vocabulary along the way. After the girls had been with us for just one month, my already petite wife had lost considerable weight, and nights of full sleep had become a distant memory for both Julie and me.

Until the early summer of 2016, life was a roller coaster for our biological family and Maggy and Molly. How did we manage? What brought stability in the midst of tantrums, anger, fear, hatred, biting, kicking, scratching, and sleepless nights? Our local church, the body I serve as teaching pastor.

The mighty local church

I had been the teaching pastor of my church for fourteen years when I announced that my wife and I were going to pursue foster-adopt ministry. Over the years, I had been open about being adopted. One tends to use his own life for illustrations—and since the New Testament references adoption (e.g., Rom. 8; Eph. 1:1-14)—telling my story helped folks connect the dots with Paul’s statements. The church committed to support us in any way necessary—and they did.

When Maggy and Molly stayed with us for the first time, they went to church for the first time. The congregation handled them so well, treating them just like any other guests. It seemed like the church was as excited as we were about the expansion of our ministry! The church hosted a gift and toy shower and prayed with us for the day when the girls would move into our home. The enthusiastic support of our church did not wane once the girls were placed in our home—and that was when we really needed it.

Most foster or adoptive parents state that the first six months with the child or children is the most difficult. Everyone is in transition mode—and for many children, transitions bring to the surface fight-or-flight mechanisms. It would take two hands and all toes to count how often we called or texted church members pleading for prayer during the first six months Maggy and Molly were with us. Often, we saw God’s Spirit bring clarity and calmness to our home as a result of the church’s prayers.

But our church family did more than intercede in the crises. They developed relationships with the girls, creating emotional hooks the girls could grab hold of during the transition into our family. Parents of children in Maggy and Molly’s Sunday School class made sure that they were invited to all the social events and birthday parties. Older ladies in the church asked the girls to sit with them at fellowship meals. Younger ladies asked them to help with general housekeeping items and clean-up after church events. It seemed like everyone wanted to engage the girls in conversation, weaving the girls’ stories into the plot God is unfolding in our church family.

And the church was literally present when we celebrated the finalization of the adoption. The courtroom was packed—so packed that during the hearing when our attorney was asking me a set of very formal questions, he extemporaneously motioned to the audience and said, “Can you assure the court that you will continue to give these children the kind of love you and your church are demonstrating here today?”

“Yes,” I replied, with a sense of conviction rare even for a pastor.

In God’s kind providence, it just so happened that a member of our church is a court reporter in the county of our residence. She took the day off of work so she could sit in the audience and watch the proceedings. In more ways than one she had an insider’s perspective on the proceedings. She used her position to arrange for the judge—from the bench—to give Maggy and Molly gifts from our church. It is not every day that adopted kids get American Girl dolls from the man dressed in a black robe, the one everyone calls “Your Honor.”

Yes, it was a made-for-TV scene, but it represents so much more. The characteristics of the local church match the needs of orphans. Orphans have been lied to; the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Orphans have wounds; the church is a body of compassion (Col. 3:12). Orphans need instruction; the church is the original worldview academy (Col. 3:16). Our adopted daughters see in our church how the gospel shapes relationships, engenders loving service, compassion, humility, and so much more. This is the strategic position of the church.

*The above is taken from Todd Chipman’s book, The Orphan-Minded Church (Moody Publishers), scheduled for releasee in August 2019.

Todd R. Chipman

Todd R. Chipman, Ph.D., has been the teaching pastor at The Master’s Community Church (SBC), Kansas City, Kansas, since 2000. Todd also serves as an assistant professor of Biblical Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Todd and his wife Julie have five biological children and adopted a sibling set of … 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