Continuing with the last post theme of jokes we ought to take a bit more seriously. I'd like to take a closer look at the odd relationship women in pastoral and church leadership roles, are going to have with the various forms of A.I. headed our way.
You would think that these two broad categories wouldn't interact past a lazy lady pastor using ChatGPT to phone in a sermon once or twice. Gender didn't even show up until I mentioned it just now. But the questionability between women behind the pulpit and A.I. powering the pulpit, pivot on the same hinge of orthodoxy. A hinge, We in the evangelical camp, tend to avoid instead of greasing so it stays quiet, instead of working quietly and in submission to Christ.
But first the joke.
"Southern Baptists are more likely to Let ChatGPT preach a sermon than a woman."
Crass, I know. I did not write or retweet this joke to my knowledge, though I certainly bookmarked it.
This came up in various theology-focused Twitter threads and lists as the edgy water tester as the Southern Baptist Convention, held to its founding documents and maintained that women can not be pastors in its associated churches. Prompting a brief and firey exodus from the convention of several influential, but frankly, out-of-line churches compared to said founding documents.
I have no dog in the fight past the obvious. We like to joke in my own church tradition that we are small "r " reformed. And while I tend to be more of an ALLCAPS-REFORMED kind of guy, I recognize that it's the Holy Spirit who makes the pastor. Not just the church. Including all the implications of that one-liner.
Onto the robot part of this blog post.
The issue we are going to run up against is the issue of what words do when we draw on them for our authority and organization. Large language model A.I. systems, require that the words used in their training correspond to the same kinds of things in real life. If you ask an image generator to show you a picture of a salmon. It can and does give you pictures of a singular approximation of a salmon a fish with fins and a head on the right end of it and no hands to mess up. Some are speckled wrong and some have more fins or gills where there shouldn't be. But you still get what could be a salmon. We won't judge the early forms of this amazing tech too harshly. But it gets as much of the intent as possible down and we get a picture of what could be a fish. Ask it to show you a picture of salmon in a stream though (not a salmon singular but salmon plural), and it sometimes gives you delightfully hilarious pictures of fillets of pink salmon in the river as if that's how you caught them with your flyrod.
To it, The A.I. image generator, the criteria of what is being asked is being answered. You have salmon, a type of fish that lives in a stream, being shown in a stream. That the fish has been processed into salmon (the short term and same word for salmon fillets) is more a feature of our unique nature of language use and the way the name salmon can be both a singular and a plural. We might have the same problem with Moose as well.
Where this fishy business is going to come to a head is when similar A.I. down the road, are asked, for whatever reason, who can be a pastor and the apparent historical evidence will include women as if that is an option. While the instructive text on the matter will say things like...
"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;"
1 Timothy 3:2 King James Version
Yes, Mary Magdeline was the first person to proclaim the gospel to the disciples. Christ had risen and as such the new covenant was in effect. There was now forgiveness of sins. She would have taught the men there this information that they did not know before, and God's work would have been done. His will would have been done and his joy made complete, by faithful children learning of his plan for salvation. But Bishops, Pastors, Overseers and any other name for the leaders of the church you'd like to use, have to be the husband of one wife.
Because contrary to the evidence online the bible says so. Now the robot has conflicting data
It's that pesky word husband that will cause all sorts of trouble to the robots because there will be a lot of wives claiming to be pastors in the A.I.'s training data. It will have to sort through lesbian couples of episcopalian churches where there are two wives married both claiming to be pastors. Alongside uber-reformed pastors whose wives don't even run the women's ministry. It will consider all of this and several classes of information more when asked about this gendered pastoral qualm. When asked to present its finding at the next SBC, it will still likely kick Elevation and Saddleback out of the conference.
And it won't be because, like the salmon fillets, it didn't understand the search terms or didn't have the right information to generate an answer for us. It will be because we asked it the wrong question as if the kind of response it gave us involving swimming salmon fillets wasn't an option, even incredulously.
I'm keen on the idea and prediction that the next great church fight won't be on A.I. use, because of a theological distinction in the things it replaces. Things like sermons and songs. We generally don't pick those kinds of fights in evangelical circles anymore. We are too soft to hit a robot square in the jaw because he got too close to the temple of the Holy Ghost. No, our fight will be a troublesome theological slasher flick, where every time we try to use A.I. it shows up like Martin Luther on Halloween.
The grounds on which A.I. can preach or not are just as shaky as the grounds that the fairer sex walks on. Because if the robots are truly out to take our jobs in the clergy, then proving that they are our jobs would be a likely and necessary first step. To do that we land on verses that don't just say only humans can preach or should preach. Or that humans can lead or only lead. But that specific types of humans can and should and only should because they can, preach and lead.
And those humans are husbands.
To prove that A.I. can't preach a sermon means to prove that sermons have intended preachers. If we do this biblically we will land on husbands, every single time. Which means, to explain how A.I. will be able to preach or not will be an exercise outside the scriptures. In the same way, while appearing to be something else, the exercise to explain how women can preach or not, necessarily deviates from the scriptures to accomplish its goals.
It doesn't need the salmon in the river to be fully alive and doing what God made them to do, to answer this question. It just needs salmon in the river, and fillets floating down the stream works enough for the girls we dance with.
Until you want to catch something. Or better yet, convince something to bite.
Jesus spoke of this too, to an entirely male audience to boot. And turned one of these audience members into the cornerstone of his church. The leader of leaders.
"And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him."
Matthew 4:18-20 King James Version