ChatGPT AI Is Now Writing Church Sermons – And Giving Headaches To Pastors

ChatGPT, the eerily accurate artificial intelligence (AI) information-gathering and writing chatbot that launched this past November, is worrying a growing number of people.

A rabbi in New York, Joshua Franklin, recently told his congregation at the Jewish Centre of the Hamptons that he was going to deliver a plagiarized sermon – dealing with such issues as trust, vulnerability, and forgiveness.

Upon finishing, he asked the worshippers to guess who wrote it. When they appeared stumped, he revealed that the writer was ChatGPT, responding to his request to write a 1,000-word sermon related to that week’s lesson from the Torah.

Sermons are meant to be the core of a worship service — and often are faith leaders’ best weekly shot at grabbing their congregation’s attention to impart theological and moral guidance. After concluding, Franklin revealed to gasps that he had fed a series of prompts to ChatGPT, an open-source artificial intelligence tool designed to interact in a way typical to human conversation.

“Now, you’re clapping — I’m deathly afraid,” Franklin said when several congregants applauded. “I thought truck drivers were going to go long before the rabbi, in terms of losing our positions to artificial intelligence.”

“It lacks a soul – I don’t know how else to say it,” said Hershael York, a pastor in Kentucky who also is dean of the school of theology and a professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Lazy pastors might be tempted to use AI for this purpose, York said, “but not the great shepherds, the ones who love preaching, who love their people.”

“The fascinating thing is that it can really synthesize ideas as well,” he said. “I discovered that I can say something like, ‘Tell me about how this particular parsha relates to intimacy,’ which was the basis for the sermon that I gave, and it was able to synthesize how the parsha did relate to intimacy, which was fascinating and scary, both at the same time.”

But Franklin dismissed the idea that a computer can ever convey the sense of connection and spiritual understanding necessary for his job.

“The biggest thing that’s lacking is the ability to really understand what people need to hear,” he said, noting that AI also can’t account for body language, vocal tone or the other ways that a rabbi can connect to his congregation.

In Brentwood, Tennessee, Mike Glenn, senior pastor for 32 years at Brentwood Baptist Church, wrote a blog post in January after a computer-savvy assistant joked that Glenn could be replaced by an AI machine.

“I’m not buying it,” Glenn wrote. “AI will never be able to preach a decent sermon. Why? Because the gospel is more than words. It’s the evidence of a changed life.”

“When listening to a sermon, what a congregation is looking for is evidence that the pastor has been with Jesus,” Glenn added. “AI will always have to – literally – take someone else’s words for it… it won’t ever be a sermon that will convince anyone to come and follow Jesus.”

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