TRANSCRIPT: How should local church leaders respond to a single woman who had a child through IVF?

January 29, 2015

Phillip Bethancourt: Welcome back to the Questions and Ethics program with Russell Moore. I’m Phillip Bethancourt, and we have an interesting question for you today, Dr. Moore. So, we got a letter here from a pastor in a small, rural church who asks a pretty seemingly simple question, but it gets more complex as the details unfold. “How should our church respond to a single, virgin woman in the church who became pregnant through in vitro fertilization?” So, he goes on with some of the details to say that she came in and spoke to them about feeling a sense of calling from the Lord that she should get pregnant through this method, even though she is single and a virgin and that they discussed it and counseled her through the issues, and then she went ahead and did it anyway. And so, now she is pregnant with child through this form, and they are trying to think through questions like is this something that they should carry out church discipline on, or should they throw a baby shower, or how should they navigate those issues? So, thinking through that type of situation, what type of counsel would you have for them and for our broader audience about how to think through issues related to in vitro fertilization?

RDM: Wow. Well, what I would say about this is okay, let’s step back and unravel what their problem is. First of all, I agree with the counsel that the church gave to this woman at the beginning that a child needs both a mom and a dad. Now, there are situations where children don’t have a mom and a dad because Dad left or because Mom died or there was some sort of bad situation that happened in the life of that child, and then what do we do? We equip and we support those single parents who are seeking to rear their children as best they can within the community of the body of Christ, and that’s a good thing that we ought to celebrate. I would have said to her exactly as this church did, don’t start out this child’s life without a father as an act of your choice and as an act of your will to do this. I also have problems, as I have outlined before, with in vitro fertilization. I think in vitro fertilization severs procreation from the one-flesh union of marriage, and I think there is a reason why God designed procreation to spring from that covenant, faithful love within marriage. There are all sorts of ethical issues that come along with IVF. So, I would have had all the concerns that the church had, maybe even more.

But, the situation they are dealing with now is what do we do now? She went ahead and she disregarded the church’s counsel, the pastor’s counsel, and she became impregnated having this baby. So, what do you do?

Now, I understand also the tension that these pastors feel because you are trying to think well, if we celebrate this are we now incentivizing other people to create families outside of wedlock without mother and father? But I think that that sort of misses the point here.

You know, there was just this morning, I was reading a really fascinating article. There is a newsletter by Ben Domenech called The Transom that I subscribe to. I get it every morning. It’s really well worth your time to subscribe to this. And he had a section where he is interacting with David Frum, who wrote a magazine article about why the abortion rate is falling, and Frum says there are really two reasons for that, and one of them is a reason that social conservatives will like, and another is a reason that social conservatives won’t like. The first reason is because the positive side of the pro-life message started to take root, this message that life is important and so forth. The second reason though, he thinks, is because there is a cultural absence of the stigma of single motherhood. Now, he says social conservatives aren’t going to like that. I mean, remember all the controversy that happened in American culture in 1992 when then Vice President Dan Quayle said that Murphy Brown, who was a sitcom character, was a bad role model because she was having a child out of wedlock. And Ben Domenech says you know, the stigma being removed from single motherhood isn’t really something that we ought to lament because the stigma never really kept single motherhood from happening; instead, the stigma often drove single mothers into isolation, and sometimes that isolation in recent years was the isolation of the abortion clinic.

So, I don’t think this church ought to take any action that is going to even unintentionally signal that we see the life of this child as being a bad thing. This child did not choose the circumstances of his or her birth, and this child is created and made in the image of God. God knit this child together in the womb. And so, they should receive this child with joy and with thanksgiving, even though they didn’t approve of the means that the mom went through in order to conceive her. The mom is not here in a situation of some kind of ongoing unrepentant sin. She is not in some sort of sexual relationship. She is not involved in fornication. She made what I think is a really bad decision, but now the decision has been made.

And so, what do we do? We welcome in those mothers and their children who need the support of the rest of the body of Christ. And there is going to come a time where maybe this woman has a completely different opinion about the decisions that she made. She is going to need the body of Christ around her. And frankly, she is going to need the body of Christ even if she doesn’t ever come to that situation. I don’t think that ministering to her and ministering to this child is going to cause a proliferation of virgin births by sperm donation in your congregation. I think it is very clear this is not what you are talking about when you talk about family and when you talk about mothering and fathering and children. But you can do that. You can talk about what the bible teaches about moms and dads while at the same time not driving this woman and her child away but bringing them in and saying we disagree with you, and we think this is not the right decision that you have made—the act itself is not a clear violation of a biblical norm in the same way that it would have been in some other situations—but we are going to receive you and minister to you.

That’s, I think, the best way that I can think of to navigate this very very difficult situation. But I am going to acknowledge to you it is a very complex and complicated situation. But I just think we have to be those congregations where we are probably not going to have a lot of these situations, but what we are going to have are a lot of women who are watching our congregations to say how will they receive me if I come forward and say I need help? So, your more typical situation is going to be with unwed mothers who become pregnant the old fashioned way, and a lot of those women are looking around and saying wait a minute—some of them in your communities think if I go to that church and I say I am pregnant the response is going to be oh my word! She must have had sex! You know, and get out of here, harlot! They think that’s what’s going to be the response of the church. Now, you and I both know there are very few churches that are going to respond that way. They are going to love those women. They are going to love the children. But they need to see examples of that happening in the congregation, of women who have conceived children where the congregation is saying look, we don’t agree with the sin behind this, but this child is not a symbol of sin. This child is made in the image of God and needs to be received and needs to be ministered to. That’s my thoughts on it.

PB: Thanks for joining the Questions and Ethics Program. If you have a question you would like Dr. Moore to answer, email it to [email protected], and we will be back again to help you apply the gospel to the pressing issues of the day.

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is a former President of the ERLC. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul. His book, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, was named Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the … 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