TRANSCRIPT: Should my church discipline a pro-choice member?

October 21, 2015

Welcome back to the Questions and Ethics program with Russell Moore. I’m Daniel Patterson, and Dr. Moore, today we’ve got a question from a pastor who says I’ve got this situation: I’ve got a church member who is pro-choice and vocal about it in the congregation. Should I pursue church discipline for this church member who is pro-choice, he asks.

Well, that’s a good question. I mean first of all I think we need to keep in mind that abortion is a biblical justice issue and a gospel issue. What’s happening in an abortion is that a vulnerable human being, created in the image of God as God tells us in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, is being sacrificed in a way that is killing the one vulnerable person and harming the mother and often in many or most cases also wounding the conscience of the father of this child as well. And so that spirit of murder and that spirit of violence is one that we see in the scripture as always being contrary to the gospel and in fact is part of the works of the flesh, the works of the devil in the scripture. And part of the responsibility of the pastors of the church is to give sound instruction in doctrine and as Titus tells us in Titus 1:9 to rebuke those who contradict it. And so, the understanding that a child in the womb is not a person deserving of protection is not just a political issue. That’s a biblical, theological, and moral question.

Now, having said that, it would depend on the state of life that this pro-choice member of your congregation is in, first of all, and it would also depend on what kind of power that pro-choice person has. And here’s what I mean by that: what I mean by that is often there are people who are new believers who just are not discipled yet. They don’t understand the issues involved yet. And so I have a friend who is leading a lot of unbelievers to faith in Christ in a very secular northeastern city, and he says when the Planned Parenthood videos started coming out some of them started saying now wait a minute, am I pro-life because I’m a Christian? Did I commit to that? And so he is having to walk them through here’s what the scripture teaches about life and here’s what the scripture teaches about the unborn and so forth. That’s not someone who is in rebellion against the truth of God. That’s someone who they’ve spent their entire lives in one ideology and way of thinking, and now they are being introduced to a biblical reality that is very different, and they are simply being taught. I wouldn’t discipline that person who is initially saying now wait a minute, why can’t I be pro-choice?

I would deal with that in terms of someone who is long in the faith and who nonetheless is rejecting what the scripture teaches about the image of God and about the vulnerable. I would also take into account, as I said, the sort of power that this pro-abortion rights person would have. So, again I would have patience with that person who is a relatively new believer who says well, I don’t agree with abortion, but I think that the government shouldn’t have anything to do with it. I would have a very different perspective on that from someone who is making decisions right now about the abortion of innocent children. So, if you have someone who is an abortionist, for instance, or someone who is serving as a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood or some other abortion rights organization, well now you have an immediate sort of conflict between that person’s life and biblical truth. And in that case I would do exactly what one would do with someone who is involved in any other pattern of sin or injustice. Following Christ means ending this abortion practice, or following Christ means that you are no longer going to be lobbying for the destruction of innocent human children and the harming of their mothers.

And so you take into account that, and then beyond that I think long before you ever get to the question of church discipline what we need is the careful teaching from the Bible about the sanctity of human life. What does it mean that the first time that John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus meet one another it’s not on the Jordan River, it is in utero where our Lord Jesus is within the womb of his mother Mary, and John the Baptist is within the womb of his mother Elizabeth and is filled with the Spirit, and he’s referred to as John. And he recognizes, Elizabeth says, his Lord by leaping within the womb. So taking time not just on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, not just kind of the Sunday before some federal election, but to walk through this is what the image of God means; this is why the unborn matter to God; this is why the poor and the vulnerable matter to God; this is why women who are in vulnerable pregnancies and in time of crisis, this is why they matter to God. Start teaching that from the pulpit and then in the ministries of the church.

Just yesterday, before I’m recording this, teaching the junior high and high school kids at my church, and we had kind of an open question and answer time, and someone asked about the Planned Parenthood videos, so I taught on abortion, and then I spent a lot of time saying it might be that someone in this room is going to end up in an unplanned pregnancy, maybe even while you are in high school. You become pregnant or you get someone pregnant—here’s how you address that. Come to us, come to the church because I want to try to circumvent the sort of going underground that tends to happen in pregnancy situations where young women believe that if they were to come to their church they would be shamed or rejected, and so they go under cover of darkness to Planned Parenthood or some other atrocious abortion industry outlet promising them to fix it and ending up with violence. And so to stand up and say here’s how you will be received by the body of Christ if you come forward in that situation, and here’s how we will seek to minister to you when you are in that situation. Make sure that you are taking time positively teaching what the scripture says so that people aren’t suddenly surprised when they realize that God is committed to life and that that life includes the lives of the unborn. That would be my counsel.

Thanks for joining the Questions and Ethics program. If you have a question you’d like Dr. Moore to answer email it to [email protected], and we hope you will join us next week when we 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