The Enduring Power of Human Dignity

What God has bestowed, man cannot take away

Mindy Belz

The church I was visiting in Baghdad met in the evening. When the service ended, people stood in the garden, talking as the cool air and the long twilight of the Iraqi desert settled over us. 

“You should check out what’s going on upstairs,” one of the Iraqi women whispered. 

I’d heard that Muslim women had begun meeting with women from the church. So I assumed I’d find about a dozen people gathered as I climbed the stairs and slowly opened the door to the upper room. To my amazement, I looked across a sea of women, row upon row, all dressed in full head-to-toe black burqas. I settled into a corner chair and scanned the room, stopping when my head count reached 350 women. 

The draw of dignity

What would draw so many Shiites from some of Baghdad’s poorest neighborhoods to a church full of unveiled Christians? Christians who worshipped on the edge of the city’s Green Zone, an area full of checkpoints and government officials? 

First, charity. 

Months before the meetings began, the church started handing out food parcels, bringing in the Shia families from nearby neighborhoods by bus several times a month. 

Second, dignity. 

As women in the church got to know these Muslim women, they found that they had things in common among all their differences. This happened as Islamic State militants were taking over large areas of Iraq, spreading fear and occupying cities only 50 miles from Baghdad. ISIS, a Sunni movement, targeted not only Christians but Shia families too. Like the Christians, these Muslim women feared the future and what it held for their children.

So the women in the church invited them for conversations and to share their stories. First a few came, then 50, then the hundreds I saw. The pastor’s wife led the evening discussions—about what it means to be a Christian, about how Christian and Muslim women can help one another, caring for their children, making ends meet, and bearing burdens. 

Yes, the Muslim women heard Scripture passages, but what first permeated this upper room was mutual respect, punctuated by laughter, and singing. And all of it in a room of open windows, with soldiers in the streets below. These women became fearless in the presence of one another, drawing strength from their shared humanity. 

Why does human dignity survive in the dark? 

I have learned the most about human dignity from seeing it under assault, yet rising up, in the midst of widespread indignity. 

The Middle East Christians, living as they have for centuries under Muslim dominance, know the terrain well. At the height of the war in Syria, Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo spoke to me by phone. It was winter, and the lights were out in his hometown of Aleppo. The phone line disconnected six times as we talked. Despite wartime hardships, he continued to hold services, to perform baptisms, and to go about the city delivering supplies to the needy. I asked how he could carry on. 

“The anarchy of the war allows you to perceive in even stronger terms the greatness of human dignity, just when it seems so humiliated,” he said. 

Why does human dignity survive in the darkest hellholes? Because it is an unconquerable thing. Unconquerable because it begins not with humans but with God who made them. 

At the very beginning, in the garden, men and women were created in God’s image—the imago Dei. Over and over, the Old Testament histories tell us: man’s inhumanity to man cannot stop God’s devotion to man. It’s not because man is so great but because the God who made him is. 

And in the last days, our days, God pours out his spirit on all flesh, says the prophet Joel, male and female, slave and free, young and old (Joe 2:28-29). The Book of Acts opens at Pentecost with this vision and these words from Joel. What God had done for Peter, writes theologian N. T. Wright, he was beginning to do for the whole world. 

The stoning of Stephen tested the newfound dignity for the early believers, and a remarkable thing happened: heaven itself opens to Stephen as he is dying. He sees the glory of God and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. It’s an indelible picture for those facing persecution through the centuries—Jesus at attention over the death of his saint, and Stephen, fully aware of both his present and his future, crying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

God plants these visions in human hearts when dignity is under assault. The ISIS militants at the height of their power knew how to debase their sworn enemies, how to make them appear less than human. They raped and sold women, they paraded kidnapped men in orange jumpsuits and then beheaded them.

Yet when the Islamic State fighters paraded 21 Egyptians before a camera in 2015, made them kneel for execution on a Libyan beach, the men in jumpsuits remained calm. Instead of protests, they gazed to heaven in prayer, whispering, “Ya Rabbi Yasou,” “My Lord Jesus.”

Maintaining dignity amid everyday indignities 

For the survivors there are everyday indignities, too. The work of terrorists isn’t the only dehumanizing factor. Refugee or displacement camps meant for temporary shelter can steal dignity, too, as men and women who once owned businesses and made their own livings suddenly must subsist in tents waiting for outside help. 

During that time my Iraqi friend, Insaf Safou, made it her ministry to restore everyday self-worth for women made homeless and abused by ISIS. 

“Daesh [the Arabic word for ISIS] destroyed our culture, our churches, and our lives. But women have life-giving power within them, and Daesh cannot destroy the God who made us; they cannot kill our God-given dignity.”

Insaf, a former refugee herself, knew the importance of restoring what ISIS had shattered for women in Iraq and Syria. “They need to build their dignity as much as feed their families,” she said.

She believed in small projects, and that small projects would grow into larger community efforts. Once a tailor in Baghdad, she helped women with simple sewing projects. When mastered, these could help them grow businesses, sewing to support their own families, then to employ and pay other women, and in that way support whole communities.

Today Insaf’s daughter runs one such business in Iraq, Hopeful Hands. It employs Syrian and Iraqi women, Muslims and Christians, in a growing sewing cooperative. They make sheet sets and other home furnishings, and recently completed an order of graduation gowns for a local university.

For those who’ve lost their homes and most of their possessions, such work gives them more than income. It gives them routine and a sense of purpose. They learn to pray and care for one another, too.

The future of human dignity is always up for grabs, and at the same time always assured, not on what man does but on what God did, forming us from dust into his very image and spreading the love of Jesus abroad in human hearts.

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