Faith leaders test chatbot sermon writing
Faith leaders like Rabbi Joshua Franklin of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons in New York have begun to test the capabilities of ChatGPT and other AI chatbots for writing sermons. Many have found that it can in fact write a passably competent sermon, but cannot replicate the passion of actual preaching.
“I told ChatGPT to write me a sermon and the voice of a rabbi of about a thousand words, about the Torah portion on the theme of intimacy and vulnerability,” said Rabbi Franklin, who in late 2022 tested his congregation by giving a “plagiarized” sermon written by ChatGPT.
“The goal was for them to figure out or try to understand or guess who wrote it,” he said. “People thought that this content was generated by these really wise, smart, thoughtful individuals, where it had actually come from ChatGPT. 100% of it.”
Rabbi Franklin said that he quickly realized this technology was no Google search engine, but had the ability to create AI content in a way he had never seen before.
But he’s concluded that rabbis and religious leaders are not obsolete. “ChatGPT has a lot of limitations,” he said. “Eventually, it’s going to be able to learn my style and my specific style. But giving a sermon and teaching a congregation is more about being in touch and being in relationship with them.”
Hershael York, a professor of Christian Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has also experimented with ChatGPT and feels that AI is missing a soul. “You know, a mind without a soul is hardly capable of what I would consider true ministry,” he said.
As a professor, York and his colleagues are testing these chatbots to establish better rules around students using such technology in their work. “That was my primary engagement,” he said. “And then as I did it, I also thought, okay, this could be a tool for what I would call lazy preachers.”
Although Rabbi Franklin said he would continue using ChatGPT as a learning and research tool regarding unfamiliar subjects, he also feels that because spirituality is often unexplainable by words, AI chatbots are “going to have major limits in the realm of faith and spirituality and religion.”
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