The courageous work of Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Denis Mukwege

December 14, 2018

Many years ago, I read a sentence that caught my breath and brought tears to my eyes. It was as if, in it, I could read my future.  

“Pity weeps and walks away, but compassion stays to suffer.”  

I haven’t ever been able to find the author of those words, but the stark contrast of helpless pity versus compassionate action wedged itself deeply in my heart and mind. I could never again be content with a distant feeling of sympathy.

Compassionate suffering

Those in history who have chosen to drink this specific cup of compassionate suffering have always captured my attention, simultaneously frightening and challenging me with their wild abandon to lay it all at the feet of Jesus.

The recent Nobel Peace Prize co-awarded to Dr. Denis Mukwege renewed this inspiration in me. The 63-year-old Christian OB-GYN physician from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is being recognized for his lifetime work of the surgical repair of women mutilated by the sexual violence of war.

When I read about Dr. Mukwege’s work, I am moved by his passion to bring healing to abused women. I am even more impressed by the emphasis he places on restoring dignity and recognizing the resilience of the women he serves. But most of all, I am staggered by the daily crushing grief Dr. Mukwege has embraced, due to the very nature of his job. His work is highly sensitive and painfully intimate. His bad days are really bad days.

Day after day, year after year, this man shows up to work and listens to grotesque stories of the most horrifying evil—the kind of stories that instantly make most of us sick to our stomach or dizzy with feelings of hate; stories that make us cover our ears and beg for merciful silence. He listens to them, because part of his ministry is giving ear to the nightmares these women have to tell—his mothers, his sisters, his daughters. Then he sets to work, painstakingly and compassionately restoring what violent acts have destroyed. He does this difficult labor of love again. And again. And again.  

How is Dr. Mukwege’s work possible?

It begs the question: How? How can he keep coming back for more of such horror? How can he show up daily for a job of such grief? Who could serve thousands of women this way?

The answer is simple: he has chosen suffering.

In an age where we are bombarded with 12 different articles on how to “survive” the hour we must spend with difficult family members at the Christmas table, Dr. Mukwege has chosen compassionate suffering. At a time when healthy boundaries have become confused with protective bubbles, and building a facade of total safety is the only way we can sleep at night,  Dr. Mukwege has chosen compassionate suffering. Like the God he serves, he has also become a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. And in following these footsteps of Christ—these messy, scary, unglamorous prints in the ground—he has become a vessel of grace, a proclaimer of Good News, a light of The Light in the most hopeless darkness.

How can he do it? It is a tribute to the grace of God, the mercies of Christ, and the fellowship of the Spirit. It took practice and boundaries and discipline, and in the end, I am certain it has taken its toll. What a very great cost to bear the burdens he has! But consider the gain. He has taken the fight for justice seared in his heart back down to the deepest pit of hell, unafraid to stand with Nadia Murad and the thousands of other strong survivors who won’t back down. He has fought the good fight.

Dr. Mukwege’s commitment to suffer in his compassionate work gives me renewed courage for my own work, in my own small corner of the world. I know the tension between setting mindful boundaries and still bearing the weight of the sadness around me. I’ve prayed often for the guitar callus; I still want to feel, but I need just enough thick skin to be able to show up and play the music every day. In both Jesus’ and Dr. Mukwege’s example, I find that I must not give up the work because it is painful, because it is hard. Like Peter in John 6, I turn to Jesus in my moments of weariness and say, “Where else will I go? You hold the words of life.”  

I am so grateful that Dr. Mukwege’s work is being given the distinction it deserves. But long after the tributes and the glories fade, the beauty and merit of his service will remain as glorious as ever, laid at Christ’s throne. Thousands of women know through Dr. Mukwege’s actions that God has not forgotten them; they are seen and heard and valued. It is Christ who restores our broken pieces. These women will go on with eternal souls, changed by the love of Jesus through this man. And those, like me, who need to see present-day saints fighting the good fight with boldness and courage, so that we also run with endurance our own race—we will run farther and with gratitude because of his faithful example.

Catherine Hodge

Catherine Hodge is a family medicine physician from the U.S. She has served at Nkhoma Mission Hospital with her husband Dave and their three young daughters in Nkhoma, Malawi since 2014. 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