Prenatal testing has changed your church

October 2, 2014

Prenatal testing is changing your congregation and the population of individuals with special needs. But before the wave hits you, I want to help you get prepared.

Why should you listen to me? In 2010, backed by McLean Bible Church and its renowned disability ministry, we opened Jill’s House. God has been amazing and, already, no one in the world provides more overnight respite to families raising children with intellectual disabilities than we do.  

But the people who showed up – and those who didn’t show up – surprised us. From our position on the front lines, I want to let you know what your church can expect so that you can do something about it.

Ministries within the church change based on needs and wants. For example, more churches have ESL classes, while fewer have sewing circles. Your church may have closed its bookstore and library but has since opened a ministry for people wrestling with porn and sexual identity. More churches are podcasting and fewer are distributing cassettes.  

When we think of people with special needs, happy children with Down syndrome come to mind. Yet, in our day and age, that’s a misleading picture that will not equip us for effective ministry. Here’s why:  

1. Fewer people with Down syndrome

The majority of families that learn that they’re having a child with Down syndrome no longer bring those kids to term. Tragically, they abort. Prenatal testing has become routine care for expecting mothers. These tests can be done at 10 weeks. When a mom receives a report that her unborn child has Down syndrome, she faces a choice: prepare for a child with a disability or abort.  

A hyperbolic friend recently told me, “The only people who have kids with Down syndrome are Christians and poor people.” Overstated? Sure. On the right track? Sadly, yes. If you are a baby conceived with Down syndrome, there is a high likelihood you will be aborted.

So there are fewer people with intellectual disabilities now? No.

2. More people with autism  

The number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder has increased by 30 percent over the last two years. In March 2014, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released new data on the prevalence of autism in the United States. The study identified one in 68 children as having autism, a drastic change from the 2012 statistic indicating one in 88 children were affected.

This combination of prenatal testing and the increase in autism diagnoses is quickly changing the disability community in America. A survey of the children we serve at Jill’s House reflects that change. When our ministry opened, we thought we’d mostly have people with Down syndrome and a handful of others. We based our staffing on this. We were mistaken.

Of the children we serve, more than 50 percent have autism, 20 percent have Down syndrome, 20 percent have other diagnoses such as a brain injury or cerebral palsy and 10 percent have other chromosomal abnormalities. Children with autism require more care. Their families come to us much wearier than other families due to the frequent meltdowns and their children’s struggles to communicate.

We’ve learned that parents raising children with autism are 60 percent more stressed than the rest of the population. Their divorce rates are 80 percent higher. Their child’s antisocial behaviors and limited ability to communicate becomes a strain on the whole family. Parents sleep less, sense a loss of control and feel isolated. Marriages crumble and siblings feel neglected. These families need our support.

Ministering to families affected by autism

If the church wants to support people and families affected by disability, it needs to create ministries suited for the next generation of people with disabilities. These struggles will be on your church’s doorstep soon. But good news: Since Jill’s House opened, we’ve learned a lot and designed amazing programs that bring God’s Kingdom to families affected by severe intellectual disabilities. God has given us some great resource.

Jill’s House now serves more than 500 families, primarily here at our center outside of Washington, D.C., but increasingly through our programs in Colorado Springs, Los Angeles, Austin and elsewhere.

What are we doing? We give families a night or two off each month. Jill’s House provides long stretches of respite, with most stays giving parents more than 40 consecutive hours “off duty.” These periods of respite involve keeping children at Jill’s House overnight so that parents can catch up on sleep and re-engage socially. We do this so that the physical rest we give will point to the true spiritual rest that can only come from Jesus.

It’s our privilege to serve these incredible parents by caring for their children in Jesus’ name. God has not given us the power to heal intellectual disability, but he has given us the resources we need to provide this life-changing service to families. As we wait for God to restore every mind and body, we will keep working until every family affected by disability—whether Down syndrome or autism—has respite within reach and access to a church that embraces them.

To learn more about Jill's House go to jillshouse.org.

If you'd like to learn more about Jill’s House OXYGEN3 weekend mission trip go to oxygen3.org. OXYGEN3 gives your team a chance to serve children with intellectual disabilities under the guidance of Jill’s House’s experienced professionals.

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