Why God’s Word is better than fiction when combatting sin

Lord of the Rings, racism, and the power of a Savior

July 23, 2020

It is a strange time when you are able to reference Lord of the Rings and prophetic signs (a symbolic demonstration meant to release the power of God in the Word of Faith tradition) in the same sentence. But such are the times in which we live. Recently, a clip from a church service began to circulate online in which members of the church performed a prophetic sign that was said to bar racism from the church (You can watch the full section here starting at 2:05:00). These types of signs are common in charismatic movements. For example, Kenneth Copeland performed a similar act when he declared in April that COVID-19 would soon end

However, what was unique about this event was that it involved not the words of Scripture or a sign of the cross, but a quote from Gandalf the Gray, the wizard from Tolkien’s trilogy, and a replica of his staff. In a reenactment of the infamous scene where he fights off a fire demon, the church leaders declared that the spirit of racism “shall not pass.” 

A few caveats

First, this is not the place to get into a discussion of apostolic authority, the spiritual gifts that are most often associated with the movement, and the differences between evangelicals and the charismatic movement. There are historical and theological differences for separating them, as scholars such as Grant Wacker and Thomas Kidd have noted, but that is not the point here. Also, it should be noted that Pentecostalism and its offshoots have traditionally been more racially integrated than most traditions within American Christianity (The moment at the church in this article involved leadership who were African American, Korean, and Caucasian). 

The leaders correctly affirm that combatting racism is an act of spiritual warfare against demonic forces. They are correct to call out this form of satanic worship of the flesh. But there is also a need to recognize that it is not through movie quotes, but through the power of Scripture and the Holy Spirit that we combat this spiritual darkness.

The power of a word

To return to the event, where church members gathered onstage to dramatically portray the scene from Lord of the Rings, let us consider what this means. What took place there hinges on their collective declaration and the sealing of the prophetic sign. And as Christians, we recognize the power of a word. James tells Christians that they should control their tongues (3:1-12), and the Proverbs tell us that life and death are in the tongue (18:21). But are the words of a movie, inspiring as the scene is, sufficient to drive out racism—or any sin—from the church? As Christians, do we not have a better word to offer than a declaration that “You shall not pass!”?

Sadly, the white American church has frequently offered no word better than that. And in the past our words have in many instances not stopped racism but actively supported it. While there were many who fought and worked against the culture around them, all too often it was not the unity of a multiethnic kingdom that guided us but the cultural norms of prejudice and superiority.  For this, only a word of lament and repentance is the appropriate response. 

But there is more to say. The word that we offer to the world is not a declaration alone, but a person, the Word made flesh (John 1:14). And this God-man did not just destroy the wall between God and man, but he also destroyed the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14). The moment of the Incarnation, when God took on flesh and entered the world, gives hope and shape to the command from James that faith must be evidenced in works. For God was not content to merely declare that all nations would be blessed through Abraham, but he took on flesh and made true the promise (Gen. 22:18; John 1:14). 

The promises of Scripture find life and form in the actions of Christ and the church. So we have a better promise to declare to the world than shouting from a stage that racism will not pass. We have a promise, evidenced in the life of a Middle Eastern Jewish man who befriended Roman centurions and Jewish rabbis, fishermen, tax collectors, and zealots, that the kingdom of God is not limited to one ethnicity, and that God will be glorified by those of every skin color and language. 

Rather than looking to a vision of a wizard facing down a fire demon, we look to the vision given to an apostle on a Roman island: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes” (Rev. 7:9). Rather than the declaration from a character in a book that “You shall not pass!” we have the cry from the Savior that “It is finished” (John 19:30). And more than a fictional monster defeated only within the confines of a novel, we know that the great serpent has been crushed and defeated in reality (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 20:10). 

A time such as this

The fight against racism is a fight against demonic forces and an act of spiritual warfare. In this way, it is fitting to compare it to Gandalf’s fight against the monstrosity in Tolkien’s novel. But the act of war against racism is not something that will end because of simple words or a reenacting of a moving scene. It will end because the people of God, empowered by the Spirit and driven by the Word, recognize the truth of their own story and work to make “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). It will happen when the unity between ethnicities in the church is a sign—and a better sign than anything drawn from fiction—of the future kingdom of God. It will happen when all of us repent of the way that we have overlooked injustice against our neighbor and seek to make it right. 

In one conversation between Gandalf and Frodo, Frodo says that he wishes the calamity would not have come during his lifetime. Gandalf responds that all have the same desire, “But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Even today, the American church is offered that opportunity to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God as we serve all our neighbors and seek their welfare (Micah 6:8)—not by our own might or power, but by the work of the Spirit through the Word (Zech. 4:6). 

Alex Ward

Alex Ward serves as the research associate and project manager for the ERLC’s research initiatives. He manages long term research projects for the organization under the leadership of the director of research. Alex is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the University of Mississippi studying evangelical political activity in … 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