From Womb to Tomb

How to really be whole-life, pro-life

Daniel Darling

Christians believe strongly in the sanctity of human life. It’s woven into the Bible’s narrative, from the very beginning, where we see Moses describe the origin of life in the most descriptive of ways. Most of creation is spoken into existence by the word of the Lord, but the text of Genesis then pauses to draw out the way in which God crafted human bodies and souls. 

We read that the entire Godhead was involved: Let us make man in our image. We read language of care: God making Adam from the dust of the ground and breathing into him the breath of life. King David goes further, describing in Psalm 139 how God molds each baby in the womb, assigns them personhood, and ascribes to each a special, God-given purpose. 

The Christian tradition is the only religion in the world that gives such a breathtaking view of humanity. Even cultures that are increasingly antagonistic toward Christianity unconsciously borrow their sense of justice and dignity from the Bible’s vision of what it means to be human. 

Imago Dei and Christian imperatives

The rich theology of the imago Dei then offers Christians several imperatives, both for how we see ourselves and how we see the world. 

First, it reminds us that we are not our own. At its most basic level, the Christian gospel is telling human beings that they were created by a loving Father, from whom they’ve been alienated by their own sin and who sent Jesus to rescue them from eternal death and reunite them to himself. To be created means we are not self-created. It means the world doesn’t revolve around us. It means we are not, contrary to pop spirituality, “The masters of our own fates, the captains of our own souls.” We belong to someone. 

Secondly, understanding the imago Dei changes the way we see our neighbors. There are no disposable people in God’s economy. Every human being has dignity and worth. This should shape our posture in the world. It means we should think long and hard about difficult ethical issues and, as redeemed image-bearers, actively advocate for policies that respect the dignity of our fellow image-bearers. We will, of course, disagree on the best approaches toward alleviating the suffering of our neighbors and the feasibility and wisdom of policy proposals, but our disposition toward the vulnerable should be one of advocacy, care, and love. 

How should we advocate for the vulnerable? 

So how do we do this in a world that presents so many competing visions for human flourishing and so many opportunities to speak up for human dignity? How do we adopt an effective whole-life, pro-life posture? 

Here are a few suggestions: 

1. Refuse to engage in a zero-sum game.

We live in a world that wants to trade one set of vulnerable people’s lives for another. The internet is full of these ridiculous arguments, where advocacy for one group is met by advocates of another group, as if to say that one has more dignity than the other. But advocating for humanity dignity does not mean one set of people wins while another loses. We should do all we can to ensure the flourishing of all of our neighbors. 

2. Resist the urge to turn “whole-life” into a weapon. 

Quite often, those who, like me, advocate for a holistic human dignity perspective are tempted to wield this over and against folks who might concentrate on one particular area. This is most commonly used against those who have labored, for decades, in advocating for unborn human life. 

The “if you were really pro-life” canard is used not to welcome folks into support for efforts on behalf of other vulnerable groups, but to shame people away from their support for the unborn, the most defenseless humans in society today. If the “whole-life” position is simply a way of shaming people on social media, motivations should be evaluated: Is this truly a matter of conviction or a way to score easy digital wins?

3. Remember that you can be an ally without being a professional advocate. 

There are some whose life calling requires them to speak to a range of human dignity issues, but for many, their belief in the imago Dei pulls them toward one particular focus. For example, it’s good that there are Christians who have dedicated their whole lives to disease eradication or relief in developing countries. This narrow focus allows them to be good at what they do. That’s a very different—but no more or less noble—calling than someone who has devoted their whole life to legal challenges to ending abortion. I don’t expect the relief worker to testify on Capitol Hill about third-trimester viability, nor do I expect the pro-life advocate to understand the nuances of water sustainability in the sub-Sahara.

There are special gifts, callings, and abilities because God has gifted the church in multiple ways. What we can do, however, is find allies. We can support those who engage in different callings without questioning their human dignity bonafides or accusing them of partisanship. 

4. Rejoice in your own vulnerability. 

A whole-life, pro-life vision should also remind us of our own vulnerability. We often see ourselves as the Good Samaritan in the parable Jesus told to the religious leaders, but we should also see ourselves as the man on the side of the road. We were vulnerable when Jesus visited us and restored us to spiritual health. Understanding our own vulnerability makes us humble advocates who work to build coalitions to help the vulnerable, rather than would-be social media prophets who wield human dignity as a weapon to beat up others. 

Vulnerability is also a check against a “save-the-world” activism that has us looking in the mirror every day and seeing the next hero. Ultimately, we should recognize that our ability to advocate, to speak up, and to work with our hands is only a small part of what God is already doing in the world through Christ to redeem and restore. This is not our mission. We are joining his mission. We can’t usher in the kingdom by our tweets, press releases, books, and advocacy. In the end, the good we do—however much—is only a tiny pinprick of light that shows the world a glimpse of the much better world to come. 

A theology of human dignity, threaded throughout the Scriptures and embedded in the gospel narrative of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, should shape the way we see ourselves and the world. It should motivate us to use our time, talents, and treasures to serve as ambassadors of God’s giving, by both sharing the good news that God offers salvation to those who confess Jesus as Lord and by demonstrating with our lives the ethics of God’s new kingdom.

Daniel Darling is the Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a columnist for World Magazine and a contributor to USA Today. Dan is a bestselling author of several books including, The Dignity Revolution, A Way With Words, and The Characters of Christmas. He has pastored churches in Illinois and Tennessee.

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