The importance of teaching our children to love the vulnerable

August 14, 2019

Some of my favorite people in the world are hated by their neighbors and countrymen. My love for them began when almost 10 years ago my family accepted an invitation to drink coffee inside a Roma family’s house in North Macedonia, changing my family forever. 

We were standing on a dead-end alley in a Roma gypsy village trying to figure out what to do. Sami, the man of the house, had just invited our family of four to join his family inside. The shelter from the snow seemed like a good idea, but we didn’t know what we would be walking into. We were there as missionaries, but taking our children into a stranger’s home from a culture with a reputation for being liars, cheats, and thieves seemed like too much to ask. 

Before we could change our minds, we walked inside. We found that Roma, even though they are among the poorest people in Europe, largely uneducated and unemployed, and struggle with generational sins, are also more hospitable than Southerners. They are loyal, kind, and generous people. We learned from their example to slow down and enjoy people. We learned that much of the human’s experience transcends culture, language, and nationality. Our fears were informed by reputation, but our relationships were formed with real people. 

Seeing the vulnerable as people 

In an age of internet vitriol and polarization, our opinions of others are often influenced by the loudest voices on social media. We choose our own tribe and platform instead of leaving our comfort zone to serve and learn about others. But that’s not the example we have from Jesus. 

Jesus left the glory of heaven to put himself into the proximity of the hurting, to the vulnerable, to the marginalized because he loved with a perfect love. He knew them when he was knitting them in their mother’s womb and when he died for them. The gospel calls us to love people as Jesus did. He was compassionate toward the real needs of people and sought to help them, but he also always saw their ultimate need. He offered living water and the bread of life. 

The vulnerable aren’t an abstract idea; they are people. We can’t enter into their lives until we “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13) to the feast. In his commentary on Luke, Philip Ryken wrote, “Jesus would have us do this because he wants us to have his heart for people in need—the same heart he had for us when he gave his life for our sins. The guest list he gives us—the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame—is the guest list of his own grace. These are the very people Jesus came to save.” 

To help our children “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause” (Isa. 1:17), they need to spend time with the widows, orphans, and the oppressed. We need to rub shoulders with people whose lives are different from ours. We need to develop friendships with the elderly and the single moms and the refugees. 

From far away, it is easy to imagine all sorts of reasons the vulnerable are in terrible situations. But when we get close, we are confronted with their humanity, and it is easy to see the similarities and realize there is no category of them and us. We learn that we laugh and cry at the same things, that our needs for love and care are the same. We learn that people who are different from us have so much to teach us and offer us. From up close, we can see that many of our blessings have nothing to do with us but have everything to do with a sovereign God who works his purposes all over the earth.     

Prioritizing relationships 

If we want to raise children to value the full scope of life—to see the humanity, the image of God, in every person—we need to consider what relationships we are prioritizing. The way we plan our family’s time and schedules communicates a lot about our values. If we only spend time in social circles and activities where everyone looks the same as we do and comes from similar homes as ours, we are only telling our children to love all types of people, not teaching them to do so.     

My friend Abbey’s parents are a beautiful example of teaching their children to intentionally love others. They took their children to serve on a reservation across the country every summer for years, igniting a love of missions in Abbey’s heart that led her to spread the gospel in Roma gypsy villages after graduating from college. They also adopted a childless widow as their family’s grandma and were faithful to her for over 20 years until her death. 

One of the most influential activities I did as a child was serving as a student helper in a special needs room when I was in fifth grade. I spent a few hours each week helping the teachers of children with autism and Down’s Syndrome and cerebral palsy. Learning the students’ names and what made them laugh or cry made me love them. Before I started, they were the students in my school that everyone stared at; as their helper, they became my friends.

As we consider what activities will fill in our calendars, we need to remember that more than any activity, relationships will change us.

I have seen how my children’s participation in soccer and gymnastics and other activities has helped mature them in various ways. But when they look back on their childhood, I think the time they spent with refugees, visiting with our elderly neighbors, playing with children who speak different languages, and sitting around our dinner table with people from diverse backgrounds will prove to be more instrumental.

At the end of the day, if my kids have athletic scholarships or can play three instruments or can build award-winning robots but are unconcerned about the plight of widows and orphans, then their childhood schedules were insufficient. I want them to look with compassion at the homeless, the refugees, and the incarcerated. These affections can be developed now. 

As we begin to leave behind the lazy days of summer and adjust to our fall schedules, we need to make sure that our families have the margin for developing relationships with people outside of our neighborhoods, cultures, and immediate peer groups. As we consider what activities will fill in our calendars, we need to remember that more than any activity, relationships will change us. They will change our children. They take abstract ideas of who people are and inform our hearts with the truth about others and ourselves—that we are all created in the image of God and are all in need of a sinless savior.

Jessica Burke

Jessica Burke is married to her high school sweetheart, and they have four children. The Burkes lived in Skopje, Macedonia, as missionaries for three years before moving to North Carolina where Jessica’s husband is a chaplain at a local jail and a pastor. A former public school teacher, Jessica home educates her … 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