‘We Better Step Up’

Laura Messick Paves The Way For Christians To Provide Compassion And Care

Meredith Flynn

It was a news story about sanitation workers that woke Laura Messick up to the abortion crisis. Then a 25-year-old new mother, Messick saw a report about men who cleaned out dumpsters containing babies aborted late in pregnancy. 

Those men and the trauma they experienced sparked something new in her. “I basically was agnostic about abortion,” said Messick, now executive director of Portico pregnancy resource center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.1https://porticostory.org “When I heard that, I became instantly convicted as a Christian that we had a role to play.”

Messick was a young teenager when Roe v. Wade made abortion legal across the U.S. She doesn’t remember it being talked about in church back then. But the story she saw as a young mom compelled her to start praying with her small group and her church. Over the next year, they connected with others in Murfreesboro who had the same convictions. A clinic in Nashville offered training to the new group, and Messick and others founded Portico, now almost 37 years old.

“I really felt the weight of my Christian faith being challenged by my non-concern with what was going on with abortion in America,” Messick said of that initial wake-up call. In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe marked another seismic shift in the pro-life movement she has been part of for nearly four decades. While the court’s decision hasn’t really affected day-to-day operations at Portico, it does present a new opportunity for Christians to love people well and use their own voices to speak God’s truth about the sanctity of life, Messick said.

She and a group of prayer partners had been praying for Roe’s overturn before its 50th anniversary in early 2023. It was improbable and totally God-ordained, Messick said. “There’s no way that Roe v. Wade should have been overturned when it was, except by the hand of God.” The decision brings with it new scrutiny for pro-life advocates, she acknowledged. 

“We better step up.”

How hiccups soften hearts

Messick apologized for construction noise on her end of the phone during our interview due to security updates at the center. These updates currently underway aren’t due to any specific threats, she said. However, Portico is dedicated to providing a safe space for clients amid the quickly evolving cultural landscape.

Those clients have been the focus from the very beginning, when the center offered free pregnancy tests at a time they were difficult to obtain and expensive. In 2005, Portico made the conversion to a medical clinic and began offering ultrasounds. The center also now operates a mobile ultra-sound unit. 

In addition to that vital service, Portico now provides testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), parenting education and support, and a public school program focused on sexual risk avoidance. And, recognizing that dads also need someone to talk to, Portico is currently strengthening its men’s program designed to help them understand the value of fatherhood. 

In 2021, the center saw 867 individual clients who made nearly 3,000 visits to Portico for various services. “We’re encouraging people to understand the value and the humanity of their child, but we also want them to know that they have help,” Messick said.

Diandra Bell was involved with a ministry to teen moms when she first encountered Portico. Now, as the center’s nurse manager for the last three years, she does limited ultrasounds for women to confirm pregnancy and give them the opportunity to watch their baby on the ultrasound screen.

“When you are pregnant and you’re in crisis, it is difficult to think of something that’s inside you as a living being. Your brain is focused on just surviving,” Bell said. “Pretty early on babies move and wiggle and have hiccups. When the mom sees that and sees that the baby really is living, it really softens the heart and makes a big difference in their decision.”

At Portico, clients who undergo ultrasounds complete an exit interview about their experience at the center. Bell remembered one woman who chose adoption for her son and realized that in her decision, she’d provided hope to his adoptive family. “I had to have hope to provide hope,” she said. She’d found that hope at Portico.

“I think it’s important that people know that the work that pregnancy resource centers do across the nation is truly to love women and give them a safe place to get all the information they need before they make a decision,” Bell said. “We’re not here to change their minds; we’re here to change their hearts.” The staff at Portico meets families in crisis with love and understanding—led by Messick, Bell said.

“She fights hard. She fights hard for those girls out there.”

‘We’re all responsible’

As Portico steps into a post-Roe reality, Messick is adamant that truth and love will play integral roles in how the center—and the Church—continues to influence the culture in life-giving, 

life-affirming ways. The church has a responsibility to teach God’s truth about sexuality, family, and the sanctity of life. Christians have a calling to reach into what Messick called a culture of brokenness to bring light where it’s needed most.

“The church has a tremendous opportunity to step into that and provide true compassion and mercy and help for people.” Learning to speak truth in love is part of the training for Portico’s client advocates. That principle should apply to all Christians, Messick said, particularly at a time when social media platforms can be used to mow people, rather than reflect God’s goodness.

“I don’t think that anybody is going to change their minds by being yelled at or preached at or condescended to, but I think that when we are generally humble, kind people, and when we live what we say we believe, that begins to affect the community around us.”

One area of urgent need is single mothers and their children, Messick said. Churches could provide childcare or transportation for families, meeting real needs in practical ways. 

“I do have a passion for God’s people to come to the understanding and the realization that we all need to use our voice to stand up and speak up for God’s truth,” she said. Like her wake-up call 37 years ago, there are others well-equipped and well-positioned to speak light into darkness. 

“We’re all responsible,” Messick said. “If God has put us in a place of strength and stability, we need to be reaching out to others around us and providing help.”

Meredith Flynn is the Managing Editor for Illinois Baptist State Association.

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