By Jacinta White
“So much of what we talk about with the emergent church has been about what’s happening now or how the church will need to change in the next 3-5 years, as if we’re working on a short-term strategic plan. Or, some who envision the church in 15-20 years. But what about society in the age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Artificial Superintelligence? And how will the church address the needs of that time? Needs we haven’t seen or imagined before?”
On Friday, I had the opportunity to sit in on the closing session of the two day A.M.E. Zion Board of Bishops Preaching Institute, held at Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C. If you’ve been reading this blog you know I’m not a preacher or Biblical scholar. Yet, my profound interest in the future of the Church automatically draws me to places where others are diving into the conversation.
So, after attending a Go Red for Women breakfast at 7:30 a.m., I drove to Salisbury. And though I arrived late to the auditorium full of African American preachers, I found a perfect seat on the third row. My red dress in a sea of dark suits.
I caught the end of Dr. Richard Chapple, Jr.’s lecture on styles of preaching and could not help but to smile when he talked about the “third space” (not his words) of scripture. How we can discern what is left unsaid when we pause between the words and lines of sacred text. It is not just in the words but in the silence where God speaks. What does God say in the pause? That can be a blog post in itself, but what was most profound to me, as I recognize and try to provide space for others to look at the changing church, was what Dr. William Curtis shared in his closing session, “Church of 2050.”
So much of what we talk about with the emergent church has been about what’s happening now or how the church will need to change in the next 3-5 years, as if we’re working on a short-term strategic plan. Or, some who envision the church in 15-20 years. But what about society in the age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Artificial Superintelligence? And how will the church address the needs of that time? Needs we haven’t seen or imagined before?
Of course I find it interesting that on Wednesday I had the opportunity to play with the Da Vinci Robotic and hear a lecture on the improvements coming to medical science and machinery. And on Thursday I attended a reception honoring innovation and the recipient of the award has come up with a new drug not yet approved…
What I’m getting to is that today AI is alive and well right (no pun intended), so why aren’t more of us thinking and talking about the ethical and social issues and implications that will come with that? How does the church and God deal with this change most of us in the church haven’t even begun to think about!? How do we, as Christians, stay true to the call of our spirit in a time where we will (and may be now) working with machines that look like us, that can’t get sick, that do not want for anything than a mechanical upgrade, that will not need God in the way we know it?
There was a heavy cloud filled with fascination, complexity and uncertainty that landed on the crowd listening intensely to Dr. Curtis. Many pastors are having challenges bridging the gap between Gen Z / Millennials and the Silent Generation / Baby Boomers, how can they begin to think about what’s happening 40+ years from now? And, will this even be a concern in the African American and browning communities where the digital and economic divide continues to widen?
Naturally, as I drove back to the city where I live, I thought about Dr. Curtis’ lecture. I pondered the questions he posed and had questions myself. Once I arrived home I researched what others are saying about AI and found Dr. Curtis commentary to be accurate, all of which led me to what I believe to be three great truths that we are called to embrace now more than ever:
God Call into Prayer –
I believe that the power of prayer is and will continue to be the greatest power we can harness. As long as we have breath (which is the breath of the Spirit), we have the ability and need to commune with God in prayer. It is this power that will prepare the world for what God has in store. Just as our grandparents prayed for us even before our arrival, God is calling us to be in prayer for the future of this world! There are silos that are needed for this purpose only and I am hopeful that they exist.
God is Love –
I was disturbed when the movie “Her” came out. It saddened me to believe millions of dollars could be spent and made by developing a story of someone falling in love and developing a relationship with a machine. We long for connection and as we are in the age where we are connected to more information quicker than ever before there is no replacement for human/soul connection and the love of God. The more we advance and think that we are getting a better deal in life with more stuff, the more we risk closing God out and the essence of what is essential. And as long as there are 100% human beings on this earth God will be the fulfillment of that Love and God will never leave or forsake us.
- God is Wisdom –
We have a habit of limiting God. We believe that God is just one step ahead of us. Sure, God knows our future but just by a day or two because we might decide to switch something up and catch him off guard, we feel. We begin to become fearful and feel inadequate as we think of the Church of 2050 because we cannot fully grasp what will be required of us (do we really believe?). How can we be true Christians in a digital age where “others” have no “real” connection with God? We begin to believe that if we can’t imagine it than maybe God isn’t ready for it. As if God is following our creative path. Makes you laugh, right? If we believe in God than we know that God is not only ready but is aware even before anything has come to us. So it is our faith that will allow us to face the needs of the changing congregation and the changing church. We cannot begin to see what is coming but we have got to believe in a greater wisdom than our own, than AI, than GRIN (genetics, robotics, internet and nanotechnology).
I am profoundly thankful to have heard Dr. Curtis and to share with friends and colleagues in that learning and transformational moment. It is now time that we put on greater thoughts, that we stretch, that we pray even more diligently and sincerely, not out of fear but out of a desire to fulfill God’s purpose in our lifetime, and to be guided and used as vessels for what’s to come.
No matter what changes we go through on this earth, God does not and will not change. It is our thoughts about God that will widen to encompass all that God is. We know today is that God is Truth and Love and Wisdom. Will you believe that in 2050? We know that God will protect and provide and make a perfect way.
We will have moments of confusion followed by moments of clarity, moments of chaos followed by moments of creativity. This is the life we behold. This is the life we are called to honor.
What a mighty and creative God we serve! “And it does not yet appear…” I John 3:2