Let the Little Children Come to Us

Why the church should care for the vulnerable through adoption and foster care

David “Gunner” Gundersen

“Daddy!” Our daughter was crying out my name for the first time. She was 4 years old, and we were staying in Addis Ababa, Ethopia, for medical checks and visas so we could fly our three newest kids home. She didn’t know much English yet, but she knew what to call me. And she knew when to call me. 

Her new brother, who was 3, had just taken a toy car from her. She’d tried to get it back, but having no real power, she eventually cried out to the only person in the room who could right the wrong and bring order to chaos. I walked over, figured out what had happened, and returned the car to her. In that micro-world of toy-taking injustice, order was restored.

But what if I hadn’t been there?

On your own

For the first four years of her life, I wasn’t. Orphanage workers had done their heroic best, but children aren’t designed for systems and institutions, no matter how merciful their mission or excellent their care. Children are made for families.

I remember touring her large orphanage in the one opportunity we had to see it. At one point, we came across a roving pack of kids, and there was a commotion. Some of the kids had taken a boy’s sandal, and he was yelling for it. A passing worker shouted something, and they tossed the boy’s sandal to the side and ran off, snickering.

A toy car. A stolen sandal. These are tiny wrongs in the annals of human grievance. But pile them up—and they do pile up—and they scar the spirits of those too young to understand but not too young to feel that their world is not the way it’s supposed to be. This constant vulnerability, with its unrighted wrongs and untreated wounds, sends a dark message to far too many children: you’re on your own in the world. 

The Lord comes

Psalm 98 sends an opposite message. In Psalm 98, seas roar, rivers clap, and hills break out singing. Why the celebration? Because “the Lord comes to judge the earth” (Ps. 98:7–9). This cosmic judicial action doesn’t just mean consequences for wrongdoing but the renewal of creation—the way things ought to be. The created world is longing to be “set free from its bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:20–21). So when God finally arrives to set the world right, a celebration erupts.

But God doesn’t just wait until the end of time to start healing wounds, righting wrongs, and restoring order.

In these days between the first and second comings of Christ, God’s kingdom comes to earth in the form of his redeemed church, the new covenant family that calls Jesus “Lord.” As our Lord welcomed little children, we welcome them ourselves (Mark 10:13–16). The healthy church is an embassy of orphan-loving ambassadors, birthed out of the heart of an infinite Father.

Holy and here to help

Many Christians are familiar with James’ challenge to care for the vulnerable: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). But why does James draw a connection between helping the vulnerable (“visit orphans and widows”) and personal holiness (“unstained from the world”)?

James is remixing lines from a hymn written by King David 1,000 years earlier: “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home” (Ps. 68:5–6).

The world system, corrupt and polluted, worships power and position and prestige. In this value system, the weak and vulnerable mean little. But God sees the weakest in his world with the love of a creator, the heart of a father, and the moral commitment of a holy judge.

God, in his holiness, protects the vulnerable, so God’s family—by nature—does the same. Over and over, we’re told that we share his moral DNA. “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). “Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God” (Eph. 4:24). “Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1–2). “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:46). “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean . . . bring justice to the fatherless” (Isa. 1:16–17).

A long road

But there is no triumphalism here, no hagiography about the holiness of orphan care. Adoption and fostering can be hard for all involved—traumatic transitions for the kids, confusion and stress for parents and siblings, a long road of hoped-for healing with no guaranteed results. There are gravities that are hard to rise above, and ceilings that are hard to break through.

Most families who step forward to help vulnerable children will walk some very dark valleys. Sometimes I cringe when I reread my sincere but naïve enthusiasm about orphan care from many years ago. Now, mid-marathon, we’re just limping forward as parents, doing our best to steer our kids straight into their fast-approaching adulthood.

Yet, our confidence in God’s calling to care for children in need has never wavered. Because I also know this: A stable family is its own therapy. Like a stream on a stone, families who choose this path shape and are shaped by the invaluable image-bearers God providentially brings us.

Abba, Father

Today, our four East African children are all teenagers. Their arguments aren’t about toys, and our conversations are mostly about school and decisions and truth and emotions and wisdom. My kids don’t cry out “Daddy!” anymore. But I do.

I cry out to my Father because I trust that the God who loved my kids before I ever knew them still loves them better than I ever will. I cry out to my Father because I’m asking him to save them, give them godly spouses, and make them wise. I cry out to my Father because we’re all broken, and I need the Lord to come each morning with new mercies for our family. I cry out to my Father because the day I became their dad, I became their advocate, protector, and lifelong intercessor. And I cry out to my Father because he has all the wisdom and strength I need for raising my adopted children—because he adopted me. And someday, when I grow up, I hope to be just like him.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15).

David ‘Gunner’ Gundersen is a pastor at BridgePoint Bible Church in Houston. You can connect with Gunner through his blog or Twitter.

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