Pursing international religious freedom and justice through prayer

November 20, 2015

As young evangelicals speak up for the vulnerable and voiceless on issues like human trafficking and racial reconciliation, a defining mark of their motivation is a conviction that the gospel of Christ has implications for how the people of God shape a just society. Such an understanding properly includes those marginalized or persecuted for their religious belief.

In an era when religious persecution victimizes entire communities and nations, certainly we can consider such persecution a social injustice. One of the most practical antidotes available to protect against religious persecution and marginalization is international religious freedom.

Pursing justice through prayer

Historically, Christians who pursued justice viewed prayer as the unwavering force that sustained their convictions in the face of great opposition. This is as true for those in the modern international religious freedom movement as it was for the movements to abolish the slave trade and oppose Nazi totalitarianism in Germany.  

It is through prayer that God convicts us to pursue justice for the vulnerable and voiceless. Through prayer, he strengthens us and guides our efforts. Prayer also keeps our work focused on worshipping him and protects us from our own tendency to turn ideals into idols. Lastly, prayer submits our convictions to God’s timing, his guidance and his sovereignty.  

For William Wilberforce and the Clapham Group, prayer and Bible reading kept their convictions thriving for more than 20 years, even in the face of daunting political, economic and societal forces. Wilberforce radically changed history by bringing about the demise of the global commercial slave trade, yet he was utterly aware of his weakness and dependence on God.

The fruit of our prayers

The modern fight for international religious freedom has been and continues to be interwoven with prayer. In the 1960s and 1970s, Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand awakened the American church to the suffering of Christians behind the Iron Curtain through his book Tortured for Christ. Pastor Wurmbrand and his wife subsequently began the non-governmental organization (NGO) Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), which continues to advocate for the freedom of persecuted Christians around the world.

VOM was one of the organizations that spearheaded the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP), along with the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and Open Doors, among others. During the 1990s, this movement grew to more than 100,000 American churches and galvanized Christians to become increasingly aware of religious persecution as a social justice issue, eventually taking the form of political action promoting international religious freedom.

The work of Christians in the IDOP movement and a diversity of religious leaders and other human rights advocates led to the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) by the U.S. Congress in 1998. The IRFA created an Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) in the U.S. Department of State led by an Ambassador-at-Large, along with the independent, bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Because of the IRFA American diplomats around the world are now charged with promoting religious freedom as part of our foreign policy.

Today, a decade and a half later, there is a vibrant international religious freedom community in Washington D.C. that works to promote religious freedom for all global citizens as enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In fact, the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, a space for conversation among NGOs and religious organizations that enables them to organize and advocate for religious freedom, is perhaps the most socially politically, and religiously diverse gathering of its kind in recent memory.

The U.S. Congress regularly holds hearings and briefings on the state of religious freedom in countries around the world, and both the IRF office at the State Department and USCIRF issue annual reports detailing instances of religious freedom abuses. The State Department annually designates Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) to highlight countries that “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” In 2014, there were nine CPCs: Burma, China, the Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK), Eritrea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Persistent prayer still needed

The promotion of religious freedom is more than a critically important justice issue and basic human right; it’s also a key factor in promoting economic stability, global security, civil society, gender equality and democracy. The research of social scientist, Brian Grim, has detailed the impact of restricting religious freedom and resulting social hostilities, which can create an environment for religious extremism to flourish.

Despite progress since 1998, the need for churches and Christians to pray is no less urgent, and perhaps even greater today. As a previous article in this series described, Christians around the world are facing increased persecution in many countries. They need our prayers, just as Wilberforce and Wurmbrand needed the prayers of their generations. International religious freedom advocates throughout the world hear one thing directly from those communities who suffer for their faith, “please pray.”  

Here are few thoughts on prayer from our friends in the fight for religious freedom:

"We are one body, and what happens to the eye matters to the hand; what happens to the hand matters to the eye. The Church suffers together." – Congressman Joe Pitts, Co-Chair, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, U.S. House of Representatives

“When I was a prisoner, prayers were my life line, a light in the middle of the darkness. Without them I knew that I would be fighting alone, but with them I knew that God was with me.” – Reverend Majed El Shafie (Egyptian convert to Christianity)

"The fact that believers in other places are concerned and pray for their persecuted families makes a major difference to those suffering. Over and over the report of people in hostile nations respond when asked how can we help you, their response is please pray for us." – Peggy Dau, Voice of the Martyrs, USA

So, what can you do? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Pray with your family and friends.
  2. Tell others of the need for prayer and the reality of religious persecution occurring throughout the world.
  3. Encourage your church to pray for the persecuted throughout the year.
  4. Organize an IDOP prayer event with your local church.

May the Lord be pleased to glorify his name and move mountains as we join our voices to cry out on behalf of our brave brothers and sisters around the world.

Elisabeth Doherty-Astle

Elisabeth Doherty-Astle works for the University of Derby where she implemented a specialist Mentor Scheme for the Law students, built the Judicial Shadowing Scheme, and has done extensive work to build the relationship between the College and local legal professionals. She works alongside the Students Union in coordinating the running of the … Read More

Kody Kness

Kody Kness acted as the vice president of ChinaAid, an organization that seeks to expose human rights abuses and promote truth, justice and freedom by advocating for religious freedom and the rule of law in China. 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