The people of God: Catalysts for social justice

July 18, 2014

As LoveLoud Sunday approaches, we—at the North American Mission Board—would like you to lead your congregation to join the social justice movement currently underway among evangelicals globally.

What is social justice?

Social justice is a phrase that conjures up a vast array of images and feelings, while lending to numerous attempts to define what it is. By definition, social injustice refers to something that is wrong in our society. From hungry children without meals to eat when school is out of session to our sometimes nebulous approaches to addressing problems like human trafficking, one thing is clear when talking about social justice: There are things in the world around us that are not as they should be.

Some of the ‘wrongs’ that we see are caused by oppression by others, such as prostitution and abortion, whereas some social justice problems are the result of living in an imperfect world, such as natural disasters and sickness. In the midst of the potentially confusing discussion of social justice, Christians can be paralyzed, not knowing how to—or even if they should—act. For instance, should we care about the current border crisis? Or, is that emergency the government’s problem and not something that concerns the church?

Should Christians get involved?

So that the central point of this article is not lost, let me state it clearly here: All evangelicals must engage in social justice, to correct things that are wrong, yet not all evangelicals will engage in the same type of social justice efforts or to the same level of personal involvement.

God’s word leads, without doubt, to this position. Passages such as Deuteronomy 10, Zechariah 7, and James 1 show us that God is a compassionate God, who expects the same from his people. And these chapters are not isolated texts, but rather are representative of an overwhelming message within the Bible. According to some estimates, there are over 2,000 biblical texts that lead to one important conclusion: All evangelicals must engage in social justice. We must strive ardently to foster compassionate cultures within our churches so that the body of Christ exudes the aroma of a caring and merciful people.

Historically, Christians have understood these truths to be non-negotiable and have seen the fruit of applying them to social injustice. It was such a natural and self-evident aspect of what it means to be a Christian, believers have not needed reminders such as this article until the 20th century.

The early church was known as a merciful and compassionate group of people, providing dignity and care for the sick and dying victims of the great plagues in the late 2nd and 3rd centuries. William Carey, known as the “Father of Modern Missions,” bought women out of prostitution, fed countless men and women, and started socially conscious businesses to benefit persecuted Bengali Christians. In short, the church, throughout two millennia, applied these 2,000-plus passages to social injustices by physically caring for the weak while proclaiming Christ. Christians set wrongs right through their words and deeds.

What does involvement look like?

So, the answer is ‘yes,’ we should care about the border crisis as well as other injustices. The key question is how? Again, not all evangelicals will engage in the same type of social justice or to the same level of personal involvement. I think it is helpful to use the following matrix to help individuals and churches consider what social injustices they will address and how they will go about it. Also, I believe all four of these elements must be in place to see catalytic social justice that truly transforms an injustice to become a just situation.

Applying this framework to the border crisis, we can think through the reality that believers should engage in compassionate action in various ways. Whereas all of us should increase our knowledge of the circumstances that led to this calamity, some believers will have the expertise necessary to engage in political action, including advocacy on behalf of the women and children suffering through this situation and addressing the policies and circumstances that led to these conditions.

While some Christians will raise awareness through social media or personal conversations, some men and women will feel that their very souls are tied to the welfare of these individuals. Some of God’s people will search for financial margin in their budgets to assist local churches on our southern border ministering to these refugees, although they will never take a trip to do so personally. Yet, my church may not give as much financially as another church that has a strong interest in caring for neglected children.

Hopefully, all evangelicals are praying for the kingdom of Christ to come in power for the border refugees—to rescue them from their oppressors, to see their physical needs met, and to see them come to faith in Christ—although not every believer will make it a priority to pray in this way with great fervency or regular consistency. A very select few believers will combine all of these types of personal engagement to be used of God as an agent of catalytic social justice on a particular issue. The result, in some cases, has been a dramatic change in socially unjust situations, such as the impact of Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon on marginalized people.

How will you get involved?

We could (and should) apply this framework to every social injustice that individuals encounter in our culture. There is great freedom in Christ to not be involved in every type of social injustice at the same level as others who God leads to deeper, long-term engagement. There is no freedom in Christ, however, to avoid doing what Scripture clearly calls us to. Involvement is beyond question.

Whether the issue is adoption and foster care or ministering to the homeless population, God has called us to minister to the least of these—to the men, women and children who are lost without a shepherd. You and your church may not be called to rescue women from the sex trade at your local strip club, but surely you can finance ministries that do and pray for receptivity among the women they will encounter.

Our hope, as evangelicals, should be to see God burden his people men and women with relentless compassion, who foster congregations that are noted for offering physical, emotional and spiritual enrichment to a hurt and dying world. Our part, as evangelicals, should be to engage in significant ways. If God’s people will run full-steam into the mess of broken lives and injustices around us, proclaiming the hope found in Christ alone according to an individual’s or a congregation’s specific level and type of involvement, we would see the possibility of being catalysts of social justice become reality as great believers experienced in previous generations.

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