What a Toyota Super Bowl ad taught us about adoption, trauma, and grace

February 9, 2021

The Super Bowl ads this year were a mixed bag. From Ashton Kutcher’s embarrassing Cheetos ad featuring Shaggy, to the ode to oat milk—2021 will not necessarily go down in the history books as a year for great marketing. Then again, I don’t envy the position advertising agencies were in this year. It’s hard to convince Americans to go out and buy much of anything in a year when there has been so much turmoil. 

And then, all of the sudden, there was a cinematic moment. A girl with two legs amputated below the knee, swimming in a pool that seemed to stretch to all corners of the globe, “inception” style. I couldn’t quite hear over the chatter where I was watching the game. But even still, the hypnotic sound of water, the athlete swimming laps, the glimmering blue wake, all caught my attention. There was a family, a phone call, and a smile. I wondered, still unable to hear clearly — did I just see what I think I saw? An ad about adoption? 

I re-watched the ad when I got home, and it brought tears to my eyes. Toyota chose to tell the story of Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long, whose adoption from Russia brought her to America, and the family that helped her blossom.

This time last year, my husband and I were busy packing the car. Bottles? Check. Diapers? Check. A few good onesies, a blanket, a noise machine? Got ’em. Having been through the adoption process once before with our first son in 2017, we tried to maintain a sense of composure, and open-handedness about the future. Expectant mothers who have made an adoption plan retain the unquestioned right to change their minds and parent the baby. We planned to drive eight hours west, to Kansas City, knowing full well that we may return home with nothing more than a few hundred additional miles on our car’s speedometer. 

A few days later, a little boy was born, surrounded by a massive biological family that loves him. His biological mother didn’t give him to us; she asked us to give ourselves to him. (Read that again. The distinction is important.)

Watching the Toyota ad, I felt a surge of fear and anxiety, too. Because no matter how heartwarming I found the ad to be, there are plenty of people who oppose adoption, and who would use this ad to make predictable accusations. I hope I am wrong. But as I opened the internet this morning, I braced for the worst. 

Adoptive families have been accused of having a savior complex. Of participating in the trafficking of children. Of using their money to adopt, rather than using their money to support a single mother. Of participating in harmful trans-racial adoptions. Of using their adopted children as “props”. When adoption stories are hailed as “heartwarming,” nay-sayers often say that the story is minimizing the trauma that occurs within an adoption. 

To be fair, not every adoption story is one of triumph over adversity, like Jessica’s. There are plenty of horror stories — adoptions gone wrong, unethical agencies, etc. Those stories are prevalent and often garner plenty of attention. And I will be the first to say that it is essential to continue to regulate adoption both domestically and internationally to keep abuse and corruption to absolute zero. But for every awful adoption story, there are an untold number of faithful families doing the diligent, daily work of raising children and providing a stable, loving home where otherwise there was none.

No glossy advertisement will ever be able to make up for the trauma Jessica Long experienced, or the waves of challenges and heartache that her family — both her biological and adoptive families — have suffered. The waters she swims through are full of trauma just as much as triumph.

But we cannot as a society allow trauma to be a defining factor of our identity, and therefore rob us — or our children — of the dignity of future possibility. The future of hope. We should never let the fear of being accused of having a savior complex keep us from imitating Jesus. Critics may say we are “virtue signaling.” Let us go on living with virtue. 

I appreciate Toyota’s choice to create a beautiful depiction of hope in the face of adversity. It is a reminder that all children deserve a family that loves and supports them. No matter the challenges or traumas they’ve faced. 

It is a reminder that cynics — the critics — will never win, when compared to the great good of answering the call.

This article originally appeared in the author’s newsletter

Photo Attribution:

Catherine Ivill / Getty Staff

Claire Gibson

Claire Gibson is a writer based in Nashville, TN. Her debut novel, Beyond the Point, was a Book of the Month pick in April 2019. Her work has been featured in The Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Entrepreneur, and Marie Claire magazine among many other publications.  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