Tuesday, August 25, 2015

ELCA Pledges to Partner with African Methodist Episcopal Church

Dear sisters and brothers,

The bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church have issued a statement and call to action to recognize Sunday, Sept. 6, as “Confession, Repentance and Commitment to End Racism Sunday.” The African Methodist Episcopal Church is a longtime ELCA dialogue and ecumenical coalition partner. I responded to them pledging our support and stating that I would invite our bishops, pastors and leaders to participate in this effort, especially by preaching on racism and racial justice in church and society. This is a way to accompany our sisters and brothers in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and to continue in our own church the conversation about racism.

I believe we are experiencing a kairotic moment. Something is happening in our church and in our country. Many of us are hearing and seeing in ways we haven’t before, and we are motivated to take action. Participating in “Confession, Repentance and Commitment to End Racism Sunday” is a start. This link connects you to ELCA worship resources under the litergy tab for Sunday, Sept. 6. You can also find more information and resources from the African Methodist Episcopal Church here. I encourage you to reach out to a nearby African Methodist Episcopal congregation to build relationships together.

ELCA members, congregations and groups are also warmly invited to participate in the events in Washington, D.C., Sept. 1-2 that will launch the “Liberty and Justice for All” movement. For more information, please click here. The link to RSVP is here.

The road to ending racism is long and hard, but we are not alone. Jesus walks with us. Let's take this step together.

Thank you for your ministry.

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Anchor Babies

Anchor babies: Apparently this is now what some politicians call children of undocumented migrants. As if babies are a conspiracy. Truth is, all babies are anchor babies. Hopefully, the joy and beauty of children would anchor us in awareness of our shared humanity. I say we start calling every baby an anchor baby. Every one beloved of God.

Interested in reading more? Consider this essay on baptism and immigration

Friday, August 21, 2015

From the Turing Test to the Eunuch Test

The Turing Test famously set the bar for intelligent machine behavior. If their conversation was indistinguishable from human conversation, they pass. Humans judge whether they pass, so it is highly subjective, if also compelling in its simplicity. The test is played out in a recent and remarkably austere film this year, Ex Machina.

Most AI researchers believe the Turing Test works well as a thought experiment, but fails miserably as the guide for research programs actually developing thinking, reasoning, learning machines with a deep understanding of the world.

So if not the Turing Test, then what? In religious perspective, robots raise basic and important anthropological questions. What and who are human beings? So the contemporary quest to imagine AI serve as metonymy for the larger identity-quest that is a mark of human striving for self-understanding.

In this sense, films like Transcendence, or Chappie, or series like Battlestar Galactica or Agents of Shield, offer imaginative space to ask some of the basic question: Who are we? If we become more than us, or different than us, are we still us?

They also raise basic ethical questions. How should we treat robots when they arrive, if they are like us? What if they once were us, but have transitioned their neural map to a digital domain? And then they change? How should we treat them?

Eventually, though, people of faith end up asking religious questions about robots. One of the more intriguing might be, Can they be baptized? Can they receive communion? One of my favorite novels that explores this perspective, but in relation to aliens rather than robots, is The Book of Strange New Things.

In this novel, it is not a missionary who takes the gospel to another alien race, but rather the alien race requests and demands that somebody bring the gospel to them.

Which leads me to introduce what I am calling the Eunuch Test. If you remember, in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8, one of the apostles, Philip, encounters an Ethiopian Eunuch on the road home from Jerusalem.
"As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:37-39)
The basic problem of the Turing Test--it puts the decision about the supposed "humanity" of the AI in the hands of humans. We get to be the judge. But wait for the day when an AI, an alien, any kind of stranger, approaches us, and asks to be received as human, and we are put in a completely different space. Rather than serving as judge and jury, we are invited to consider, "What is to keep me from accepting this being's own perspective and journey as valid and worthwhile?"

Notice it is the Eunuch, not Philip, who asks the question. What is to keep me? And Philip has no answer other than to drop everything and baptize the eunuch on the spot.

So this day may arrive, who knows, when an AI asks a similarly interesting question. And after all our hemming and hawing about what counts as human, and whether or not those created in the image of God, if they create something themselves that surprises them in its humanity, get to decide how human they are.

When the robots arrive, we'll have to take up our concerns directly with them. Don't come asking me my opinion. What is to keep them from...?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Speaking Out About Racism in the #ELCA

If you read just one article this week, let it be this one. Francisco Herrera​ takes as his inspiration Rozella White​'s blog from this summer about her experience of speaking out after Charleston. In addition to the power of this article simply on race & faith grounds, it is also a powerful meditation on Luther's Heidelberg Disputations. Please read. Here it is.