Online Churches, Robot Priests: Contemporary Technology and the Church

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my family and those whom God loves:

The following article was written by Matthew Block of the Canadian Lutheran and is partially reproduced here.

Grace be with you,

In 2017, hundreds of thousands of Protestants (Lutherans included) travelled to Wittenberg, Germany to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. For many, it was no doubt a pilgrimage of sorts, with visitors hoping to spend their time connecting more deeply with Christ through the Scriptures which inspired the Reformation. And in that sense, perhaps it is fair to say they came seeking a blessing.

But the blessing some got presumably wasn’t what they were expecting.

During the World Reformation Exhibit in 2017, the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau set up a temporary exhibit with a robot named “BlessU-2.” BlessU-2 could deliver automated blessings at the push of a button. Curious visitors could choose their preferred language from seven options, whether they wanted the blessing spoken by a male or female voice, and what kind of blessing they desired.

BlessU-2 would then raise its robot hands, the palms of which lit up, and recite a passage from Scripture. The recipients could also choose to have a printout of the verse to take home with them.

“We wanted people to consider if it is possible to be blessed by a machine,” said Rev. Stephan Krebs, a spokesperson for the state church, in an interview with The Guardian. Not that the church truly envisions robots as a replacement for pastors. “We know robots could never substitute for pastoral care,” they explain. “We don’t want to robotize our church work, but see if we can bring a theological perspective to a machine and a world full of high-technology.”

The project, strange as it was, does succeed in raising questions about the relationship between faith and technology. To what extent can the Church utilize contemporary technology in service of the Gospel? And at what point does this technology become an obstacle to true faith?

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By PT Graff

A baptized child of God's, called to be a son, husband, father, citizen of Canada and heaven and a pastor.