Dealing with my family’s history of racism in light of Charlottesville

August 30, 2017

My great-great-grandfather is buried on the campus of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. Private Hiram A. Thacker fought in the Alabama Infantry for the Confederate States of America. He died in 1864 at a field hospital in Charlottesville from wounds suffered in a battle outside of the city. A couple years ago, my wife’s family and I were traveling home from visiting family in Delaware when we decided to make a pit stop in Charlottesville in order to see where my great-great-grandfather was buried. Visiting that confederate cemetery and his grave was a surreal experience for me.

My family has always been proud of being from the South. We love the culture, food, and southern hospitality. But standing before my great-great-grandfather’s grave, I felt extremely conflicted. I felt a deep sense of family connection to a man that I never met, but also felt a deep sense of guilt and shame because of the racism and bigotry for which this man fought for and died to protect. The stains on my family’s history are undeniable, but the gospel reminds me that my family doesn’t define who I am, nor does the place that I call home.

Reconciling family heritage with the stains that cover it

In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus shocks those around him. Jesus is told that his mother and brothers have arrived to see him, yet he proclaims to all that those who do the will of his Father in heaven are his true mother and brothers. This message runs counter to the narrative that many in our society believe. We often hold our family up as the central part of our identity.

When my family in Christ is attacked, berated, and oppressed, I will not stand silent or remain passive.

Jesus isn’t denying his biological family. Christ honors his biological family (John 19:25-27) but reminds us that our truest identity isn't in our earthly family. He is showing us that our truest family are those who trust in Christ, no matter the color of their skin nor the families from which they descend. The gospel message transcends all allegiances and heritages, making clean that which was stained through the power of the blood of Christ. My true family are those brothers and sisters that have trusted in Christ. That includes those that my great-great-grandfather fought to keep oppressed and enslaved.

This gospel is revolutionizing the way that I think about my family’s heritage and the things for which they have stood. Being a new creation in Christ, I can see that my connections to my African-American brothers and sisters are deeper and wider than a biological connection could ever be. Thus, when my family in Christ is attacked, berated, and oppressed, I will not stand silent or remain passive. I must speak and stand up for the rights that my brothers and sisters inherently have because each and every person is created in the image of God. It is from that image that we derive our infinite dignity and worth, not the color of our skin.

White supremacy and racial arrogance have no place in the Christian faith because they run contrary to the core of the gospel message that all people are made in the image of God and thus, no one race is superior to any other.

New hope in Christ

Recently, I finished a book by Isabella Wilkerson called The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. It is the retelling of four different people and their move from the South into other parts of the country during the early part of the 20th century until around the 1970s. Wilkerson interviewed many African-Americans as they retold the horrors of Jim Crow and the racism in the United States. I read of murders, beatings, false imprisonments, and countless cases of discrimination that occurred throughout the country during this era. These stories helped shine a light on our nation’s scars and stains for me in a new way and helped me see the deep pain that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have experienced.

Growing up in the South, I grew accustomed to seeing statues, flags, and battlefields that seek to remember these stains on our nation, and in some cases, honor the cause for which the soldiers of the CSA fought. My home state of Tennessee has battlefields and cemeteries scattered throughout her land. These places should serve as a visible reminder of the horrors of what took place at that time and the division that America continues to experience. My family has been a part of many of these sins, but the gospel reminds me that my hope and identity is not found in my family’s history or the place I call home. My hope is only found in the blood of Christ that reconciles sinners and brings about a new family of people that might not have anything in common outside of Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ that breaks down the dividing wall of hostility and brings about one new man through the blood that Christ shed on the cross (Eph. 2:14-16). This gospel creates a new family history for me, one that is summed up in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In light of the events that took place in Charlottesville, we need to be reminded where our true allegiance lies and let these things drive us to stand together as the body of Christ made up of people from all nations, colors, and creeds. We are one family in Christ, and we are called to lay down our lives for our brothers.

Our truest identity is not found in a confederate statue, flag, or even the color our skin, but in the person and work of Jesus Christ who unites all people around the cross, announcing to the world that we are one people and that nothing can divide us if we truly follow after him.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … 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