Sexual assault and the Imago Dei

December 19, 2014

About a month ago, I put a pot of water to boil on the stove and, while waiting, opened Facebook. As I scrolled, I saw the same article posted by friend after friend, and the headline screamed out below each one: “A Rape on Campus” and then, to my shock, “at UVA”. Trembling, I clicked through and read the article about my community, Charlottesville, Va., with incredulity.

We are all now familiar with the fallout. Outrage. Details in doubt. Editorial notes. Journalists in question. As a whole, the story and its aftermath have become convoluted and confused.

But here in Charlottesville, the foundational issue at the heart of the article—sexual assault—lives on. There have been hushed conversations, confessions of long-held trauma, and confusion regarding the university administration. All of it has been enveloped in a heavy air of sadness. The fraternity house brought to focus in the article has been vandalized and picketed. Professors have staged protests. At my hair appointment, my stylist said the allegations are all anyone wants to talk about.

Church on the Sunday following the publication of the article was somber, just as it was the day the state law enforcement used the school we meet in as the staging area to search for a missing UVA student named Hannah. We have many students who attend our church, and they sat muted and somewhat dejected at the thought of another nationally-seen and nationally-commented-on situation involving their own. What is happening in our city? First Hannah Graham. Now this. The university and Charlottesville and—let us not forget—individual lives have been traumatized this year.

How do believers think about sexual assault?

I wondered that morning what I've wondered each day since: how do I think about all of this as a believer? Not only that, but as the wife of a church planter trying to reach this city, when do I speak instead of listen, and how do I speak into the issues facing our community?

Regarding the rape allegations on Grounds–what UVA calls its campus–and how suddenly the darkness seemed to rip open before the world's eyes, I heard someone say to believers, “This is God's grace to us in this city. It is not God's grace that evil would be perpetrated against women on Grounds, but it is God's grace to us that it is coming to light, because light drives out darkness, and because we can speak to it, and we can point to a God who offers healing, redemption, and an unmarred identity through Jesus.”

There is so much more to sexual assault than one story and one woman and one journalist and one magazine. Responding to sexual assault is about justice for those who thumb their nose at a God they think doesn't see what is done in secret. It is about systemic, cultural sin issues and the far-reaching effects of that sin. But mostly, sexual assault is an affront to the Imago Dei, the “Image of God.” As believers, we must not only respond with Imago Dei in mind but live with Imago Dei in mind.

What does this mean exactly?

Men and the Imago Dei

It means that the men among us must recognize all women as image-bearers of God. If image-bearers, and they are, they cannot also be merely bodies to lust for, overpower, abuse, or degrade. They cannot be merely images to use for self-gratification. They can't be considered inferior or valuable for only some things. For a man to recognize a woman as an image-bearer, he will never attempt to empty her of mind, personality, heart or soul. Instead, he sees each one as created by God to bring him glory. This has a thousand different implications for the Christian man. Can he both see a woman as an image-bearer of God and as a visual object in pornography? Can he see God has created woman for his glory and never consider how her spiritual gifts can be used in the church? Can he value biblical womanhood and not protect and defend women in harm's way? Christian men, fight in your own hearts and lives to recognize the Imago Dei in women!

Women and the Imago Dei

Imago Dei has a thousand implications for Christian women as well. When stories appear about sexual brutality, men often are lumped into a stereotyped mass of lustful, unfeeling beasts who only care about fulfilling their physical desires. If image-bearers, and they are, they cannot also be merely lusting bodies or domineering personalities. For a woman to recognize a man as an image-bearer, she will never attempt to empty him of mind, personality, heart, or soul. Instead, she sees each one as created by God to bring him glory. Can she see a man as both an image-bearer of God and respond condescendingly to him? Can she see a man as created for God's glory and then speak of him with bitterness? Can she value biblical manhood and not value the specific men in her life? Christian women, fight in your own hearts and lives to recognize the Imago Dei in men!

I am not saying that women can affect or prevent sexual assault by how they treat men, as if victims are somehow responsible. I am simply saying that this is how we think about the root issues when things like sexual assault are brought to light. And this is how we respond: living as if we and others are made in the image of God.

Bringing light into the darkness

If there is one thing the Rolling Stone article got right, it's that Charlottesville cultivates a genteel image. It is a beautiful place, and it's full of fascinating, bright, well-educated, ambitious people. From a spiritual perspective, however, there is a darkness difficult to describe that lurks beneath its external beauty. There is a culture at work, one that seems to speak loudly on Grounds, that is wholly contrary to a biblical framework. It's why my family is here, why we're preaching and teaching the gospel, and why many biblically minded believers in the churches scattered across this region are working to bring Light into the darkness.

This fall has been traumatic, but it is God's grace to us that we can now respond to the sin that's come to the surface. This is the very reason we're here in this city. The university, we trust, will do everything in their power to address the situation properly, but it is the Church who must hold out the truth of Imago Dei, who must live Imago Dei. Please pray for us in this.

Though it may not be playing out on the national stage, every community hides its darkness. The Church can play games and congratulate itself on being among the saved and pretend that the wounded, the victim, and the victimizers do not sit among us, or the Church can go to the darkness with the Light. Let us be a people who are willing to enter in the hardest situations, and let us be a people who fight for and live the Imago Dei.

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