Notes on Faith: Can we get an AI-llelujah?
As AI becomes more ubiquitous in our professional and personal lives, what role should artificial intelligence have in our faith and worship?
“Notes on faith” is theGrio’s inspirational, interdenominational series featuring Black thought leaders across faiths.
“There was no heart and no soul.” This was the demoralizing response from the congregant attending St. Paul’s Church in the Bavarian town of Fürth, Germany, following a reported 98% incorporation of ChapGPT into its worship last month. Over 300 people attended an experimental ChatGPT-powered service, the Associated Press reported. Though the reviews were generally mixed, as pastors, the above quote hit us differently.
While the use of artificial intelligence (AI) such as ChatGPT has become abundant, accessible and increasingly incorporated throughout our lives and industries, the ethics surrounding its use are also taking shape. In the music industry, for example, work that contains no human contribution will not be considered for a Grammy, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason, Jr. commented in early July, clarifying that releases including AI and AI-created elements will be considered for a Grammy as long as the basis of the creations are human. In news media, OpenAI and the Associated Press have recently made a deal, and both actors and screenwriters are on strike in part because the use of AI is a threat to the human creative process and their livelihood.
Amidst all these developments, spiritual leaders are not exempt from planning for the inevitable trajectory of AI use. As we welcome the potential benefits of AI, we can also move with caution when it comes to the risks.
As faith leaders and theologians, we think a lot about AI’s integration into faith spaces. Replete with the biases of both the people who program it and its early adopters, what is AI’s potential for aiding in a decolonized approach to theological, spiritual and cultural development? And how do we ethically navigate its ubiquity?
Well, one of the most common retorts that “churchy” people give when talking about whether God can “use” someone (frequently women or queer people) or something (including inanimate objects) is drawn from Numbers 22:28:
“And the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said unto…”
The response goes, “If God can use an ass, God can use anything.”
Yes, the Creator can use whatever the Creator wills for its glory. God is still speaking. By that logic, God speaks through technology, including artificial intelligence (AI).
So, where can ministry meet technology?
As progressive, 21st-century Christian theologians and millennials, ministry in a conventional, four-walled church never really resonated with us. Don’t get us wrong — we love serving people and being present in essential times. However, something felt confining and too regimented about committing to particular orders and forms of worship. We were among the first to adopt social media as a legitimate ministry platform. And with intention, we can continue to lead from a future-focused approach by looking at AI proactively.
Observing the signs of the times, we believe the use of AI presents a new frontier in the technological realm of faith, one where we need to actively design its ethical use in our worship.
How does this give us a glimpse into what’s possible?
First, our view on faith and technology is proactive. Pulling from the classic gospel song “Ain’t No Rock,” ain’t no AI gonna cry out in our place. In other words, no inanimate objects or artificial intelligence can or will do the work of worship in our stead. And really, there is nothing more satisfying than practicing faith while incorporating our personalized creative substance.
Can the AI world get to that? We remain unsure. Witnessing its impacts on current events causes our hearts to sink at the prospect of losing the connection — “the heart and soul” — of presumably God-inspired worship simply because we have resigned ourselves to the comforts of convenience.
For us, our function as worship leaders rests with loving and being loved by naturally “intelligent” or cognizant beings — love of self, love of others and love for the Divine. We wholeheartedly believe we cannot replace the affective insight that comes from being perceived, understood, and spoken into through sentient beings.
Our communities help us navigate all human experiences: our hurts, joys, trials and triumphs. Can we experience that through AI?
Communities of faith are places to be affirmed, to grow spiritually and intellectually, to be empowered to meet the needs of the community, to address injustice and to be held accountable. As pastors, there is special care for practical needs that connect the physical and spiritual. We have seen pastors we admire show up at the hospital to visit sick ones, show up in the courtroom or in prison to advocate or see about people in the criminal injustice system. Their “timely word” and messages of faith are informed by their connection to the life experiences of those they minister to.
And yet, we know even in this new intelligence that the Creator is still speaking through us and to us using whatever is available.
So, our prayer is this:
Bless our minds and the technology it engages.
May we be wise stewards in engaging nature.
May we be proactive in using human-made objects.
Let our worship remain an expression of and connection to both head and heart.
Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones is a faith leader helping people to find their groove in a fast-paced world, as a consultant for various arts and faith organizations and professor of music in contemporary societies at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. She is an award-winning author of Flaming? The Peculiar Theopolitics of Fire and Desire in Black Male Gospel Performance (Oxford University Press). For more information, please visit DrAlisha.com.
Rev. Calvin Taylor Skinner is dedicated to empowering frontline communities in Knoxville, Tenn. and the United Kingdom. He uses Faith and Policy to address energy justice, criminal justice reform, voter education/mobilization, electoral politics, and global affairs. Along with his wife, Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones, they lead InSight Initiative, a consulting firm focusing on capacity building and live events production.
TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. TheGrio’s Black Podcast Network is free too. Download theGrio mobile apps today! Listen to ‘Writing Black‘ with Maiysha Kai.