Binding Up Our Achilles Heel

March 2, 2015

Something is stirring in the Body of Christ.

In the wake of yet another media frenzy over race following the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast, the Church seemed to veer yet again toward polarization over resolving the issues related to Christian involvement in race-based slavery, the Jim Crow era, and the institutions and systemic racism they’ve spawned that still impact the Church today.

Hostage to the past

As I’ve written elsewhere, I draw parallels between today’s human rights abuses against the persecuted Church and America’s un-reconciled history. I’ve pointed out that human rights violations often follow similar and predictable contours, regardless of the cultures and nations in which they express themselves. America, while exceptional in many ways, is no different from other nations in that she owns human rights atrocities that simply refuse to stay quiet in the annals of history.

This month, a few Christians from America’s dominant culture have spoken boldly and honestly about America’s past. Others are listening courageously, and reconsidering what is at stake for the Kingdom in the polarization between the races. It seems that the issue of our national sin is being approached with fresh eyes and tender hearts (a partial list of recent offerings from historians, theologians, and denominational leaders appears below).

Each has their own biblical rationale underlying such soul-searching, yet history indicates that there may even be benefits beyond.

Our achilles heel

The old folks in the Black community used to say, “Things that die bad don’t stay in the ground.” The National Prayer Breakfast was not the first time that Christian involvement in America’s dark historical underbelly has been defined according to a non-redemptive and perhaps even political agenda.

In the 1930’s, the Stalinist Soviet regime denounced our Black Codes (laws that created a racial caste system and segregation through political disenfranchisement), declaring America one of the most racist countries on earth. As the regime launched its “antiracist agenda,” America provided fodder for their propaganda machine displayed in films like Black and White (1933), and Circus (1936). The Scottsboro trial of 1931 in particular was heavily propagandized by the Stalinists to promote their claimed superiority on racial matters.

Likewise, Germany’s National Socialists propagandized our national shame. Ironically, America fought to eradicate both of these totalitarian ideologies in the modern era, even as her hypocrisy roiled at home. It is a fearsome thing to be legitimately rebuked by the godless, especially when the godless stand in hypocrisy themselves. Military historian Stephen Ambrose has observed that during World War II, “the world’s greatest democracy fought the world’s greatest racist with a segregated Army.”

Today, Islamic extremism is a similar, yet even more insidious form of totalitarian ideology. It is already nipping at our nation’s Achilles heel, attracting those disenfranchised from American culture in general and “American Christianity” in particular. The territory we cede to these ideologies through our indifference is fertile ground. Extremist ideologies prey upon the disenfranchised who have heard no adequate explanation of our hypocrisy, then fill that vacuum with explanations that satisfy their radical agenda.

FBI Director James Comey points out that in particular, ISIL/ISIS’ propaganda and online recruitment tactics are of great concern to federal law enforcement. Technology provides immediate and global access to the organization’s radical ideology that prior regimes would have coveted; this access makes it easier than ever to weaponize our historical shame. We are still vulnerable to outside interpretation of historical events, leaving others to judge Christianity based on America’s moral failures rather than on the Word of God.

Oh, freedom over me

When we attempt to discuss Christianity and America’s racial sins, we often witness Christ’s Body become two distinct and polarized entities. The conversation turns easily to those Christians who rightly risked their lives to stand by the biblical principles embedded in our national documents (i.e., that “all men are created equal”). Yet we blanch at fully exploring the deplorable acts committed by Christian men and women who held the same Word of God in their hands.

Though work has been done on the issue, a precise and robust response has yet to permeate the American Church exploring how men and women who claimed fidelity to the Word could exclude African Americans and others from Christian institutions and organizations, violate basic human rights, and stand by as others committed lawless murder couched in “religious ritual.”

Can it be that the theological foundation of those who shaped our current understanding of God lay fundamental flaws? Can it be that inadequate understandings of imago Dei, anthropology and Christology produced their flawed ethics? If this is the case, then it must be that any sound theology produced in light of these ethical failures was purely a function of God’s grace and sovereignty – not a product of the spiritual or ethical prowess of the people themselves. It was a further function of God’s grace and sovereignty that the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were able to appeal to those documented core principles, and hold America accountable to her founding words.

To call Christian involvement in egregious human rights violations a mere “blind spot” seems both theologically and intellectually inadequate; it does little to salve the wound. The time seems ripe to retire the true yet trite defense, “God can make a straight lick with a crooked stick” in favor a more redemptive and nuanced understanding of what we would classify today as “moral failure.”

We need not fear such honesty. It is right for the church to lead the national discussion toward a more robust and honest understanding of our leaders’ failings, taking into account both the depth of human depravity, and the grace of God that is deeper still.

Power made perfect in weakness

Are we beating this dead horse called Race again, you ask? Most certainly. When it gallops away with disenfranchised members of Christ’s Body in tow, tramples the Gospel underfoot, and challenges national and global security, the horse is clearly alive and well.

Ending slavery and Jim Crow was certainly a positive step forward for America’s human rights record. Also encouraging, we see that today, a growing number of men of faith in leadership positions are attempting to understand how revered leaders could have erred so gravely on such basic issues. Race-based slavery was not a foregone conclusion in nascent America; the door is now open to understand how our sin became culturally normalized, then legislated, and finally systematized – on the church’s watch.

Such ownership by dominant cultural thinkers who have inherited positions and legacies built on those systems is a necessary step on the long journey toward binding up our Achilles heel. The movement may be small in numbers, but it is significant.

The dominant culture must continue the honest examination of history, and we must encourage them in the effort so that our ethics and our epistemology may match today. To not do so will leave us isolated from the larger Body of Christ; it will hamper our witness and, as history has shown, leave us vulnerable to the further reshaping of our own narrative.

We have no more time for indifference. The American church has the tools to cauterize the wound she allowed herself to create – we will need this healing for the days to come.


“A Milestone for Redeemer Church, Jackson, MS and an Important Day for the PCA.” 2015. LigonDuncan.com.

Ambrose, Stephen E. 1998. Citizen Soldiers: The U. S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

“Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and Southern White Evangelicals: A Historians Forum (Sean Michael Lucas).” 2015. Justin Taylor.

“Race and the Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America, No. 1.” 2015. Reformation21 Blog.

Race in America: Why the Past Matters. 2014. Russell Moore.

Roman, Meredith L. 2012. Opposing Jim Crow: African Americans and the Soviet Indictment of U.S. Racism, 1928-1937. Reprint edition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Sookhdeo, Patrick, and Westminster Institute. 2012. Fighting the Ideological War: Winning Strategies from Communism to Islamism. Mclean, VA: Isaac Publishing.

“The KKK, Selma, and Southern Christianity | Acton PowerBlog.” 2015. Acton Institute PowerBlog.

K.A. Ellis
K.A.Ellis holds an MFA from Yale University in New Haven, a Master of Art in Religion (Theological) from Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, and is a doctoral candidate at Oxford Center for Mission Studies in Oxford, England. She speaks nationally on Human Rights, the Islamic Challenge, African American Culture, and the Persecuted Church. Follow her on twitter @KarAngEllis.

K.A. Ellis

Karen Angela Ellis is currently a PhD candidate in Church History at Oxford Center for Mission Studies in Oxford, England. She holds a Master of Art in Religion (Theological) from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a Master of Fine Art from the Yale School of Drama. In her twenty year career, she has been seen in … Read More

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