When a family’s broken: How the church can stand in the gap

February 3, 2017

It was silent as I sat there, picking at the remains of an appetizer. He was across from me, eyes focused on a nearby television. Three feet of table was in between us, and I remember thinking how much I wished that slab of glossed wood was the only thing separating the two of us. I thought about how different things would be if that was all I was up against—and how different life would be.

But it wasn’t just a table. It was years. It was a closet full of memories that spanned miles. It was a lifetime of secrets. It was 19 years of unanswered questions. As I sat across the table from my dad, so many things ran through my mind. I wanted so many stones overturned. Where did he go? Why did he go? Did he think about me at all? Was it hard for him? Was I that unlovable? Were we that unlovable? And the question that never left, the one that occupied my mind more than any other was: Was it worth it? Was the whatever or whoever waiting for him when he closed the front door for the last time worth more than what he left behind, a family standing inside watching through the window as he drove away?

I remember him with his bleached blonde hair and a short sleeve button up shirt that resembled something from a hotel gift shop on some tropical island. Maybe it ended up in his suitcase after his private marriage ceremony in the Bahamas. Maybe it was something he picked up during one of those many trips he’d taken to the coast. Or perhaps it was a recent gift, a mere thank you, from the lady sitting next to him for the diamond tightly hugging her left ring finger.

A whole new set of questions emerged for me and in the midst of trying my hardest to push all the mental chaos aside. A tear began to roll down my cheek. I quickly wiped it, and any remnants of its existence, off my face. My efforts fell short as more began to come. With glossy eyes and moist cheeks I sat alone. They glared from across the table, their faces dressed in confusion. The more tears that fell the larger sense of mystery it seemed to create for them. The truth was I had seen that ring before, but not just once. You see, this ring was far more than a precious cut stone. This ring, this small trinket of finite value, had a very loud voice. With amplified sound this ring revealed that he was buying into something else. Someone else. He was chasing something different.

Throughout my life, it always took different shapes. To me, it seemed to be his way of starting over. It was his way of forgetting. But it was never small things. These were big things. They were flashy. They were exciting. They were exotic. Sometimes it would be a new house. Then maybe a new car. Maybe a new job would follow. A new boat. A new vacation home. A new dog. A new girlfriend. A new wife. A new family. A new life.

He would erase and then he would replace. I remember thinking I had a price. I felt worthy of a constant substitute. I had a tough time comparing myself to a boat or a purebred chocolate lab. The weight found its way to my shoulders and slowly began to infiltrate the inner workings of my mind. In the end, the nightmare was not comparing myself to these things. It wasn’t even believing my worth was less than theirs. It was much deeper than that. It was the simple truth that, by his actions, he showed that he believed I was inferior. It was a sobering reality to understand that he believed I could be replaced.

But inside, there was more to it than that. It wasn’t just that he believed these things and demonstrated this in the way he continued to live his life. It went deeper. It hit harder. The truth came to me that he wanted to replace me. He was choosing to replace me. As time passed, it became harder and harder to understand. It’s not exactly a thought you want to wrestle with. I remember thinking times were so different. As a very young child things weren’t always this way. There were no complexities. There was no layered confusion. He was the center of my universe and for a time it seemed as if I was the center of his.

Standing in the gap

It’s incomprehensibly confusing when your family unravels. For a child, and even an adult, family has a mysterious way of appearing to be the one refuge, the one monument that in a broken world can withstand unlimited force from pressure and pain. Families are strong, secure and safe. It’s nothing less than world-altering when they don’t turn out to be any of those.

When your family decomposes and rips apart at the seams, your entire world follows. The hardest part of navigating through the wreckage is looking out and noticing everyone else’s world remains intact. It’s only yours that’s separated by miles, divided into two apartments, and spread over every other weekend. Broken, clueless, and alone, there can seem to be no way forward. Like a complex chemical reaction, the idea of home and family has transformed; what was once concrete is now fluid.

This is one of the most important segments of the frontlines for our churches and us as individual followers of Christ. As the family of God, we must extend our hands, our time, and our efforts to care for and serve the adults and children that have gone through the horrors and difficulties of parental abandonment and familial dissolution. We must step in to help rebuild the ruins and repair the devastation. As God’s very own children, we must fight to show that his family is not like so many families today. His family will not unravel and most importantly, God the Father will not abandon his precious sons and daughters. We who know the saving grace and mercy of God must labor to reveal his true character; to show that he is nothing like the parents that leave so many of us behind. God’s love for us in Christ is unwavering. His commitment to his children is matchless.

The way forward

When we don’t exactly know how to help those with struggling family circumstances, we can let what we don’t know keep us from doing anything. Ignorance is paralyzing. But the point is not to become anyone’s false savior. The point is to love, care for, and support those hurting in such tangible ways so that we point them to the only Savior. These are a few ways to do so.

  1. Open up your home. This is one of the clearest ways that I believe the church can serve those struggling through abandonment most effectively and efficiently. Throughout childhood and even the path into adulthood, so many families in the church surrounded me and invited me into their homes. Some to visit, others to live. When God’s family opens their doors, it serves as high resolution binoculars. This allows godly parenting and godly marriages, aspects of home life that were previously blurred and misshapen, to come into view. This is the beauty of Proverbs 3:27, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
  2. Open up your schedule. If it’s not your home, let it be your daily routine. Find areas of margin in your schedule where you can spend time with others that are hurting. Perhaps it’s a weekly meeting over coffee or breakfast. Whatever the case, it’s a beautiful way to serve others and bring healing when we let them know we are a shoulder to cry on, an ear that will listen, and a hand to hold. Parental abandonment hits hard and plants deep in the heart. The beauty of Christ’s church can be seen in such a magnified context when we walk with others down their uncertain road forward. In this, we heed the call from Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
  3. Open your eyes. The simplest, yet probably the most difficult, is to lift your gaze and open your eyes in order to see those around you in your neighborhood, community, office, school, and church. The reality of divorce and abandonment plagues millions. Let the love of Christ produce empathy in your hearts for those that might not come from your same family environment. Let that empathy give way for affection to love and serve and understand those that are struggling. When people’s families break, let it be the family of God that enters in to help pick up the pieces and bring restoration.

May we show that our God is steadfast, patient and faithful.

Jonathan C. Edwards

Jonathan C. Edwards (M.Div, Th.M) is the Director of Curriculum for Docent Research Group where he also serves as a lead writer. He is the author of Left: The Struggle to Make Sense of Life When a Parent Leaves. He and his wife Katherine live in Durham, N.C., where he is … 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