Olli Dürr Society EV churches hope for AI for pastoral care and advice

EV churches hope for AI for pastoral care and advice

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The Protestant churches in Germany are increasingly relying on the use of artificial intelligence in the area of ​​pastoral care and counseling. Less as a compensation for a lack of competence than as a continuation of the long-trodden path towards distance from the gospel.

Grasping at last straws?

The desperation in the once Protestant churches in Germany must be very great. After the already enormous decline in membership in recent years, another painful belly flop followed with the “ForuM” study and the cases of abuse it uncovered, which are in no way inferior in quantity to the Roman Catholic Church. Completely home-made problems that will probably lead to an increase in the ongoing exodus of members.

A spark of hope thanks to AI


Artificial intelligence as a support or prosthesis?

Having long since thrown the gospel overboard and increasingly turning to pantheism according to the encyclical “Laudato Si'”, the “church association” under the umbrella of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) is apparently at its wits’ end. As unbelievable as it sounds, the “minds and thought leaders” of this institution, who are completely darkened in the spirit of the gospel, are now hoping for help from artificial intelligence (AI).

The EKD’s “Digitization Department” appears to be responsible for this. The magazine “evangelisch.de” had a conversation with senior church councilor Stefanie Hoffmann about whether AI represents a “curse or blessing” for the church and what opportunities and dangers arise (Source).

The senior church councilor sees AI like any other technology in the area of ​​human life. It could be a blessing and a curse at the same time. Whether this technology is helpful or detrimental to life is the responsibility of the church to shape this accordingly.

First experiences already gained

Here the Protestant Church has already shown itself to be willing to experiment, says Hoffmann. It is reminiscent of the German Evangelical Church Congress in Nuremberg and the associated “AI service” (Info), Martin Luther depicted as an avatar to answer questions and a “blessing robot” that has already been deployed. The church has received a mixed response here. This was particularly evident in the reactions to the “blessing robot”. The primary aim here is to first find out what these technologies do to people and how this influences faith, traditions and convictions.

Advances in pastoral care


Instead of gospel, now ‘love’ from algorithms

The church has had its first positive experiences with Chat-GPT in the area of ​​pastoral care. According to the senior church councilor, the AI ​​is already doing a good job in this regard. A major challenge lies in the particularly strict data protection and also the Pastoral Secrecy Act. Due to digitalization, individual information fragments, the so-called metadata, are created. This metadata, which arises, for example, from “conversations” with an advisory AI, can be very sensitive. Nevertheless, the use of AI has the potential to allow people to reveal themselves rather than to another person.

Charity, empathy, justice and freedom are integral parts of the church’s motives. In addition, the church is involved in the EU legislative process and UN human rights standards. It is therefore particularly important to deal intensively with “ethics and responsible living,” says Hoffmann. But the bottom line is that the church is not relying on a simple promise of salvation in which, thanks to AI, the problems would be eliminated and there would finally be time to proclaim the Gospel again.

Encouragement for personal initiatives

With a view to the sensible use of AI, the senior church councilor relied on simple algorithms for advice. In many areas, conversations in pastoral care are already relatively mechanical. However, there are methods to stimulate people to think and not to let them go in circles, but to give this thinking a forward direction. The aim of pastoral care and advice is not to tell people what to do, but to get them to do it themselves. According to the senior church councilor, this could perhaps bring them closer to God.

The “blessing robot” can serve as a symbol


A ‘blessing’ hand for the good feeling

The world’s first such robot was presented by the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau (EKHN) in June 2017, just in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This box was developed by a so-called media artist. The EKD was proud of the worldwide reporting on this blessing machine called “BlessU-2” (Source).

This box, about the size of an ATM, has two arms, a robot head with two metal eyes and a speaker mouth. If desired, this machine, with either a male or female voice, raises an arm to say a blessing. Finally, the robot also offers an expression of blessing on paper, just as you would expect when withdrawing money and the associated receipt.

Triggered media hype

Accordingly, the international media hype brought inquiries from all over Europe, India, the USA and even China. The fact that an inquiry about such a “Christian machine” was received from China of all places could be due to the fact that there have hardly been better opportunities to ridicule Christianity. And they would have been right. In fact, this story also became a political issue. Russian foreign and media politician Alexei Pushkov reported that this robot embodies exactly the values ​​that the Russian government refuses to adhere to. His Twitter message at the time was described by the EKD as “caustic”. The EKHN spokeswoman’s summary, probably out of disillusionment, was: “There aren’t the discussions on the Internet that we would have liked.”

Teacher according to your own desires

Heart balloons

The main thing is that you feel good about it

This ominous “blessing robot”, which, according to the senior church councilor Hoffmann, made people feel “noticed and blessed” and pushed others to question whether this replaced pastors and blessings, shows very well what this is all about Church whose gospel is conveyed and is actually intended for the people who listen. Nothing was learned from the belly flop in 2017, but the unprecedented infantilization of people persisted. The very question of whether a “blessing robot” made sense or not shows the absolute distance from understanding the gospel. Therefore, the use of AI in the church is only a logical continuation of the path that has long been taken. The churches adapt to the “reality of life” of people, and Paul already predicted their desires in his second letter to Timothy:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
2 Timothy 4:3-4

Bible verses from King James Version

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