Why orphan prevention is an important part of the pro-life ethic

January 17, 2018

The pro-life ethic shapes our understanding of the value of human life because we believe that all people are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). And as Christians, we live out our pro-life ideology by championing life.

Over time, the traditional scope of the pro-life ethic has rightfully broadened to include the valuing of all life, not just the life of the unborn. Being pro-life is certainly being anti-abortion, and it’s also much more. It means valuing life from the womb to the tomb. And it boldly contradicts the value system of the world by championing the vulnerable. Russell Moore says in Onward, “The spirit of every age seeks to define human worth in terms of power and usefulness, while the gospel of the kingdom defines human dignity in strikingly different terms, as Christ himself identifies himself not with the powerful but with the vulnerable.” Christians, like their king, value the vulnerable.

One of the things valuing the vulnerable means is being a champion for orphans. Certainly, being pro-life means being pro-foster care and pro-adoption. But family placement is a small, albeit valuable part of engaging the global orphan crisis. Orphan prevention is a more comprehensive part of the solution and requires Christians to engage their voices and expertise. To be effective, though, we must first understand what we’re trying to prevent.

Being pro-life is certainly being anti-abortion, and it’s also much more. It means valuing life from the womb to the tomb.

What is an orphan?

Imagine a little girl in Haiti. She lives in an orphanage, and all her needs are met by the caretakers. On Thursdays, her mother and baby sister come to visit her. Over Christmas break, she leaves the orphanage and spends a few weeks with her biological family. In early January, she resumes her life in the orphanage. She goes to school, eats every day, and has a roof over her head at night.

While this little girl doesn’t fit the traditional definition of an orphan, her story is all too common. In fact, of the more than 140 million orphans worldwide, only about 10 percent of them fit within the traditional scope of orphanhood—a child who has lost both parents. Children become orphans either because their parents are deceased or because their parents are unable or unwilling to care for them. Most orphans have at least one, if not both, parents living.

The newer term, orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), was created to reflect the broader definition of orphan. Most OVCs belong to a family but are susceptible to harm as a direct result of poverty. These poverty orphans are the primary focus of orphan prevention.

What is orphan prevention?

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Benjamin Franklin coined this phrase in 1736 when he was tasked with teaching fire safety to the citizens of Philadelphia. Preventing fires is easier, cheaper, and safer than fighting blazing fires. But what about preventing orphans? Is an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure when it comes to caring for the vulnerable?

At my first Christian Alliance For Orphans (CAFO) conference, I heard the following story that introduced me to the concept of orphan prevention. Imagine a group of people having a picnic next to a river. They notice crying babies flowing downstream and immediately jump into the rushing water to save the babies. No matter how many babies they save, more keep flowing downstream. Eventually a few rescuers get out of the river and start to run upstream. The remaining rescuers in the river desperately ask them where they’re going. The upstreamers reply, “We’re going to see what is causing these babies to be thrown in the river.”

The river analogy is a picture of two necessary components of orphan care. We need emergency aid, but a newer concept is demonstrated through the upstreamers addressing the source of the problem instead of reacting to the effects of it. This is orphan prevention. It proactively engages the global orphan crisis upstream by establishing sustainable livelihood for the poor and discipling communities toward family preservation. Russell Moore writes in Onward, “We should work for justice for orphans and for widows, by empowering people of good will to fight the root causes of fatherlessness (war, disease, genocide, famine, poverty, divorce cultures).”

For example, 127 Worldwide, a nonprofit in Raleigh, N.C., that partners with local leaders around the world caring for orphans and widows, is a pioneer in orphan prevention. They recently brought together a team of people to build an aquaponics system at an orphanage in northern Uganda. Aquaponics is an agricultural system where plants and fish grow symbiotically. One goal of the aquaponics system is to enable church members to buy fish and vegetables at a reduced rate because members of the local church are impoverished and struggle to provide for their children. They can then sell the fish and vegetables in the local market to increase their livelihood.

When parents have the resources to provide for their children, they are less likely to hand them over to the government or an orphanage. This is just one of many ways we can practice orphan prevention. In fact, Philip Darke writes in his book In Pursuit of Orphan Excellence, “Work to strengthen families, men and women, and communities in such a way that orphans are not produced.”

Orphans are among the most vulnerable people in the world. Engaging the global orphan crisis is difficult and costly, but the pro-life ethic doesn’t allow us to see the vulnerable as burdens; we see them as image bearers. Like Christ, we value and champion the lives of the vulnerable because, as the Global Orphan Project remind us, “The line between children who’ve been abandoned and vulnerable children on the brink is a thin one. The difference lies in whether a child has a champion in her life.”

Will we be champions for the orphans and vulnerable children around us? May the Lord give us the wisdom and fortitude to serve and cheer them and their families on every step of the way.

Join us for the Evangelicals for Life livestream on January 18–20!

Christy Britton

Christy Britton is married to Stephen and is a homeschool mom to 4 fantastic boys. Her family worships and serves as covenant members of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. She is a justice seeker and orphan advocate at 127 Worldwide. In her minuscule free time, she loves reading, writing, hospitality, gospel conversations, good … 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