Why Christians will help rebuild Houston

September 6, 2017

I was living just 60 miles away when a tornado hit Joplin in 2011 and obliterated several city blocks, leaving 158 people dead. X-rays from that tornado rained down in my front yard while I sat in church, initially oblivious to what had happened.

But once we knew, we mobilized.

Over a span of several months, we took student groups to help with the cleanup. As we pulled into command centers in our 15-passenger van, I was struck by how many similar vehicles, also filled with people of faith, had already flocked to the scene. We worked beside youth groups from Oklahoma, small groups from Kansas, and teams of men and women who drove miles and miles to serve. We were bound together with two strong cords: our love for Jesus and our desire to be his “hands and feet” in an overwhelmingly desperate situation.

The Church drives the ambulance

From tornados in Joplin, to ice storms in the midwest, to single house fires in individual communities, there is no shortage of disaster. Hurricane Harvey is only the most recent in a long line of catastrophes that make us stare at our TVs and social media feeds in disbelief. Unless Christ returns first, it won’t be the last. Yet the story you likely won’t see on the news is this: even before the waters receded, Christians were flooding in to help.

As part of the ministry team for my local church, my pastor often reminds us that we are first responders. When we hear someone is hurting or facing tragedy, he has taught us to rush in. Sometimes we beat the ambulances to the scene. During a recent hostage situation in our small town, my pastor followed his own advice (like I’ve seen him do a million times before). He read a rumor about the situation on Facebook, hopped in his car, and crossed the police barrier. When I asked him why he shrugged and replied, “I just thought maybe I could help.” I know him well enough to know he was motivated by convictions much deeper than that.

Statistical data is sparse about Christian disaster relief for a few reasons: disaster zones aren’t the best place to collect surveys, and Christians tend to prefer to serve under the radar, but we’ve got a long history of rushing collectively to serve as first responders.  

“Churches are literally, honestly, the first ones there,” one government official told The New York Times.

After Katrina, Harvey’s ugly older sister who slammed New Orleans in 2005, faith-based organizations played a critical role, first in emergency relief and then in rebuilding. Congregations from every denomination opened their facilities to become emergency shelters. Churches sent teams for years after the storm to rebuild and extend financial and emotional support to those who were displaced. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross, both organizations founded by Christians and built on biblical truths, played vital roles in the relief and clean-up efforts that went on long after the news vans pulled away.

We are also often the first to pull out our checkbooks, in part because we believe that our money is God’s money. Without a central reporting system and because of our desire to give anonymously, it’s impossible to track how much money Christians have given toward relief, but there are lots of indicators that our giving is remarkable and generous. Southern Baptists estimate they gave somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million dollars toward Katrina relief. Similar patterns are already emerging for Harvey.

Government agencies acknowledge that the remarkable role the faith community in responding when disaster strikes. One Obama administration document stated “nonprofit organizations, including faith-based and community organizations, play a vital role in both preparing for disaster, and in ensuring an inclusive and participatory community-wide recovery from a disaster.”

Certainly, Christians aren’t the only ones to respond. Government and other community organizations also play a key role, but we play a lead role in the charge, and we do have the market cornered in three key beliefs about disaster.

1. We know why. The question that usually spills from our hearts and lips when disaster strikes is “Why?” We want to know there’s a method to the madness, or at least a reason for it.

Because we believe in the biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption, we can answer the “why” question. We live in a world twisted and cracked by sin and brokenness, and creation will continue to groan under the strain. This is not the Eden God originally created, yet these are the birth pains of a world being re-born.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? (Rom. 8:22-24)

It isn’t warm and fuzzy, and it is a message best delivered with prayer and care at ground zero of any disaster, but we all ultimately suffer because of sin. No single person or sin causes hurricane-level consequences, but collectively we are a people in glad rebellion against God. The devastation we see all around us is a jarring reminder of the wake left behind by our sin.

2. We know what’s next. As Christians, we can also uniquely answer the question, “Will it happen again?” Scripture forces us to see the inconvenient truth that until Christ comes, disasters will continue. Jesus cut to the chase in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation.” As long as our home is here, on this third rock from the sun, tribulation, trials, and disaster will come.

That is the cloud. Here is the silver lining: these moments of destruction point forward to a day when destruction is finally over, and we will dance with worshipful joy.

3. We alone see the thread of hope. We don’t serve in disaster zones for intrinsic rewards. We serve to follow Christ’s lead. We want to give more than bottled water and clean blankets. We’re in the business of giving away hope.

As Christians, we are unique in our understanding that hope only comes through Jesus. Ours is the only God who can calm a storm, and when he doesn’t, we are the only ones with the unsinkable hope that all things will be made new.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ (Rev. 21:1-4)

We hold high the banner of hope because we long for the city that no floodwall can breach, no looters can rob, no storm can ever touch. We believe in a God who rescues each of us from the storm of our sin and sets our feet on higher places. We believe in the gospel of peace which redeems and restores. We’ve each been rescued by a Savior who rushed in on our behalf. Ultimately, we are just doing what we can to show that to the world.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have a hunch, informed by history, that Christians will help rebuild Houston. Youth group mission trips, relief organizations, and local congregations will do the hard work to make things right. We don’t do it for “Atta Boys” or gold stars. We don’t even do it to bolster our “brand” with photo ops staged to impress the public in a culture that is increasingly post-Christian. We will do it because we believe all people are made in the image of God, worthy of dignity and care, and because we all know how it feels to be rescued. May we never, ever forget it.

Erin Davis

Erin is a speaker, author and blogger who addresses women of all ages nationwide and is passionately committed to sharing God’s Truth with others. She is the mother of three boys and the author of 13 books which can be found on her website. Erin lives on a small farm in rural Missouri and … 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