3 ways Christians should think about racial justice in America

June 10, 2020

This is a year a lot of us would rather forget. In my lifetime, I cannot remember any other period that had so many individual disruptions to our normal ways of life, much less the kind of disruptions we’ve faced in 2020. The year began in the U.S. with the impeachment of the president and a contested primary battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. Then, COVID-19 dominated our lives. We watched death tolls rise, our economy crash, and most of ordinary life come to a halt. But even as some states began to take steps toward reopening and hopefully recovering from the multifaceted complications wrought by the coronavirus, our society was confronted once again with the cold reality of racism and injustice in America. 

A few weeks ago, a video surfaced showing, in real time, the death of Ahmaud Arbery. It was unspeakably horrible—a vivid picture of injustice, and one that seemed undeniably connected to broader issues of race in America. Only a few weeks later, before the public outcry over Arbery’s death had even begun to fade, another video surfaced showing the death of George Floyd. Floyd’s death, however, did not come as a result of some kind of vigilantism. Instead, Floyd died under the weight of a uniformed police officer’s knee, which put pressure on the back of George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, in view of public witnesses who were crying out for mercy. 

Even as the threat of the coronavirus remains, citizens by the thousands have taken to the streets of America’s cities to protest against injustice, against the misconduct of law enforcement, and against all forms of structural racism in America. Ultimately, crowds of thousands gathered to seek justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others whose names we may not know. Many of the protests have been peaceful and marked by incredible expressions of humanity and faith. We’ve seen protesters and police officers come together to lament and weep and hug. We’ve seen sheriffs and politicians stand among the crowds to express solidarity and support. In many places, we’ve seen people make the best use of their constitutional rights to gather, speak, and protest. 

But not all protests have been peaceful. In many cases, what began as peaceful attempts to draw attention to a righteous cause devolved into chaos. Clashes took place between crowds of people and armed police. Buildings were set ablaze. Property was destroyed. Stores were looted. And police, protestors, media, and bystanders were injured in the midst of violent confrontations. Yet, despite the fact that looting and displays of violence have occurred in many cases, it seems that only a small percentage of those who gathered to protest have participated in these activities. 

Let us strive together for the sake of our fellow image-bearers to promote the cause of justice and to bear the burdens of our neighbors.

In the days since the protests began, important issues have entered the public conversation, especially among evangelicals. Many are wondering—some for the first time—what to think and how to respond to racial injustice in the United States. Others are uncertain whether condemning the violence is the same as condemning the protests as a whole. Some wish to see the eradication of systemic injustice but earnestly believe that the vast majority of our country’s public servants are good people. And with these and many other issues, the proposed solutions are often murky and the path forward unclear. 

Engaging racial justice issues

But even so, some things couldn’t be clearer. Below are three ideas for Christians to keep in mind as we engage issues related to racial justice:

First, pleas for justice should resonate with Christians. Justice, after all, is about fair and equal treatment. The people of God believe that every person is an image-bearer, possessing inestimable worth and dignity (Gen. 1:26). This means that all people are worthy not only of respect, but equality. Our nation, though it has often failed to live up to this promise, was established upon the very same idea. And at present it seems that our society is primed to take positive steps forward to address issues of racial justice. Christians should readily embrace this important task.

Second, proper remedies for injustice will accord with, not contradict, Scripture. For Christians, the biblical witness should be the greatest encouragement toward action against injustice. Across nearly 1,000 pages, the Bible testifies that the God we serve is a God of justice who abhors partiality (Psalm 11:7; Is. 61:8; Deut. 16:19). Christians should hate racism and bigotry because God does. And Christians should look to the Scriptures as a guide when considering solutions to matters of racial justice.

Third, Christians should be involved in efforts to bring about racial justice. For Christians, especially for white Christians like me, we must not stand by and expect only those who are most affected by these issues to bear the burden (Gal. 6:2). As we’ve witnessed so clearly these last few weeks, people of color in the United States are crying out for relief. And so, just as the Scriptures instruct us, we should take the opportunity to bear these burdens. We must not only be concerned but involved when and where we can to confront racism and promote racial justice in our families, churches, and communities.

There is so much work ahead of us. None of us are equipped to meet every need, shoulder every burden, or propose every solution. But even so, let us strive together for the sake of our fellow image-bearers to promote the cause of justice and to bear the burdens of our neighbors. We cannot afford to stand back and watch like the priest and Levite who passed by the man on the road (Luke 10:25-37). Let us, like the Samaritan, act for the sake of those around us who are tired, who are hurting, and who are suffering mistreatment. To do so is nothing less than following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester serves as Director of Content and Chair of Research in Christian Ethics. He holds an M.Div from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Th.M. in Public Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Josh is married to McCaffity, and they have two children. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24