Would You Go To Church With A Robot Pastor?

By Fin Sheridan

If you read the title to this article and thought “Well, I already do” then you probably need to stop reading and repent. Come back when you’ve done that. For those that didn’t and are still reading, it’s a genuine question.

To mark 500 years since the Reformation, a robot priest has been unveiled in Germany. Delivering blessings in 5 languages, through a screen and lights, the robot called BlessU-2 is designed to provoke a conversation about the place of technology within the church.

The makers have acknowledged that it could “never substitute for pastoral care” which is reassuring for priests, vicars and pastors but it certainly does pose some questions. What can a human do that a machine can’t? As more and more becomes industrialised, what sectors are safe from this? Do we prefer easy automation to human connection?

As we discussed in an earlier CBN READ article, these questions already manifest in the choice between self service machines and checkout operators. There are lots of things that we used to do without technology that having internet and smartphones have made thousands of times easier – who remembers having to use a paper map in a new city?! – but faster solutions on a screen aren’t always good for our souls.

“We are made from dust and glory, not metal and pixels. God created us for divine connection, with himself and with the people who bear his image.”

Back to BlessU-2. If being blessed is simply about the words that someone uses then we might as well resign ourselves to having robot pastors and priests. Thankfully, it’s more than that. When we bless someone (aka praying for them), our spirit asks the Holy Spirit to bless another human being, in their spirit.

We are made from dust and glory, not metal and pixels. God created us for divine connection, with himself and with the people who bear his image. A machine can’t substitute that, just like the Tower of Babel couldn’t elevate human beings. Created doesn’t trump creator.

Churches cannot shy away from the need to embrace technology – it affords so many opportunities to present the gospel well, to reach people in direct ways and big numbers, to deepen relationships and increase pastoral capacities.

We should, however, still be cautious. Discipleship is a long game. Sanctification takes time. Anything worth building means avoiding shortcuts. Siri is great at setting a timer on my phone but I’m not sure he’s got much to offer me when I’m struggling with doubt. For now at least, I’ll stick with a human.

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