Family and freedom: Lessons from President Tyler’s legacy

March 30, 2016

His birthday came and went this week with little fanfare. John Tyler’s life dates back to the inaugural year of Washington’s presidency, and his own presidency commenced two decades prior to Lincoln’s. But unlike the first and 16th presidents, whose esteemed memories are marked by calendar and commemoration, the 10th U.S. president is little remembered, if not largely reviled. For many, his memory begins and ends with the catchy campaign slogan of 1840, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.”

But the all-but-forgotten antebellum figure leaves behind living reasons to remember him today: two grandsons, along with the president’s 18th century home that’s still in the family’s care.

And imbedded in the Tyler family legacy are lessons for us on slavery and bondage and freedom and a home—schoolmasters reminding us of a bloody yesterday and pointing us toward a bright tomorrow.

Tyler’s ‘quiver’ full of children

Born on March 29, 1790, President John Tyler would have turned 226 on Tuesday, and April 6 will mark the 175th anniversary of his swearing-in to the Oval Office upon the sudden death of his predecessor, William Henry Harrison, who succumbed to pneumonia after just 31 days in office. “His Accidency,” as detractors dubbed the Virginian who replaced Harrison, fathered 15 biological children with two wives over the course of a 45-year span. He breathed his last on January 18, 1862, at age 71.

Yet, remarkably, Tyler grandsons Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., 92, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler, 87, still walk among us today. Late-age procreation helps to explain: President Tyler fathered son Lyon at age 63 with a second wife 30 years his junior; in turn, Lyon fathered Lyon Jr. and Harrison in his 70s with a second wife 36 years younger. Like father, like son, one might conclude.

The two grandsons serve as living reminders that our history as a nation, blood stains and all, is not all that distant, and that our struggle for her soul is still very much alive. Home and family, the Tyler grandfather-grandson legacy further remind us, stretch beyond brick and mortar and bloodlines and mortality. They reach forward into eternity.

I was reminded of these things not long ago.

‘Conversations’ with grandfather Tyler

“Closed for a private event,” the apologetic voice explained. The news came as a disappointment. I had hoped to walk the weathered wood floors and roam the ornate rooms of President Tyler’s Sherwood Forest Plantation home just outside Williamsburg, Virginia, during a recent visit. Instead, a peek through the windows would be the closest I’d get to gracing the door of the 300-foot-long residence, the nation’s longest frame house. Nor would I find grandsons Lyon and Harrison seated on the front porch, waiting to greet this uninvited guest.

But as I ascended the front steps, I envisioned the brothers there—heirs of history eager to relay stories of their grandfather from a bygone era. Lyon and Harrison, of course, never knew their grandfather. They didn’t get to ask him about Washington and the founding, about Lincoln and emancipation. Yet they heard the stories from their father.

John Tyler was a man of presidential firsts—first to assume the presidency upon the death of the chief executive; first to marry while president (his first wife died in 1842); first to be subject to impeachment proceedings; and first to govern the nation without a party (the Whigs forsook him).

Tyler was also the first (and only) president to later become a sworn enemy of the United States with his election to the Confederate House of Representatives in 1861. And President Lincoln, a political rival, ensured Tyler became the first former president to receive no official recognition from the White House upon his death. Put another way, in the Union’s eyes Tyler was decidedly not, as Henry Lee eulogized of General Washington, “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

John Tyler was, in one sense, a man between the times.

Slavery and freedom, then and now

In the mid-19th century, slavery ripped the fragile fabric of the American experiment woven with the “self-evident” truth, expressed by Tyler’s one-time mentor Thomas Jefferson, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The “house divided” that Lincoln long lamented had not yet truly united. Freedom fashioned friends only among the fairer-skinned. Millions, meanwhile, stood on the outside looking in.

As I stood on Tyler’s Sherwood Forest doorstep, peering in, on that overcast March day, I thought about the slaves who labored on the 1,600-acre plantation, some of whom would one day find freedom. The price to secure that freedom meant, tragically, the blood of more than 600,000 slain.

My mind journeyed back further still. I thought about the children of Israel, enslaved for 400 years in Egyptian bondage before finding freedom from their chains. The blood of lambs, painted across their doors as a symbol of a Lamb to come, secured that freedom.

In the absence of a word from the Tyler grandsons, my mind hearkened back to the voice of Moses, relaying the Lord’s commission to the Israelites standing at the edge of the Promised Land. His was a command to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” a charge they were to pass down to “your son and your son’s son,” to teach “diligently to your children” (Deut. 6:1–9).

Family and freedom in Christ

Still standing at Tyler’s door, I thought, too, about the freedom to which Moses and the children of Israel pointed with that blood across the doorposts. That freedom was not bought by the blood of animals or common men. Nor was it a struggle between North and South, a Civil War of Tyler’s and Lincoln’s time. It was, instead, a cosmic war between the powers of heaven and hell, and the victor was and is the person of Jesus Christ.

He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, he announced, “to proclaim liberty to the captives” and “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18). This deliverer paid, with his own blood, the price for original sin common to all of us through Adam’s blood.

By his resurrection, he broke the bars of death and breaks our chains of sin, no longer to “receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” He goes yet further, granting “the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ . . . and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:15–17).

What this Man called the Door opens to us, I remembered at Tyler’s door, is a freedom and a family, a Father and the fortune of his Son.

Jesus Christ was—and is—a Man between the times. More than that, he rules outside of them, seated supreme, inviting others inside.

The chains of our forefathers

I’ll leave it to others to write the history of the man called “His Accidency,” a man who stood between the times, at water’s edge, of slavery and freedom. But whatever the 10th president’s legacy, let us learn from the bloody final days of Tyler’s time and look forward to a day beyond Lincoln’s and our own, one in which wars shall cease and God alone shall grant a “just and lasting peace.” No more shackles, no “house divided.”

The living presence of two of the 10th president’s grandsons is, if anything, a reminder that our history is not all that distant after all; that our forefathers didn’t always get it right. Many of them carried troubled consciences over America’s “original sin” to their graves.

And, today, many find themselves, like President Tyler, a person without a party. Wars and factions may demand as much of us. But let none of us die a man or woman without a home. Each one of us can dwell as son or daughter in a Father’s house with “many rooms”—space aplenty for innumerable quivers full, like Tyler’s (John 14:1–4).

The future land of the free is the home of the forgiven and the Man truly called brave. Christ’s ascension to the highest of thrones was anything but accidental, and it required the death of no life but his own, of his own accord.

Retelling our story

Ours is a bloody history, to be sure, but one the next generations need to hear. Let none of us wear the chains of our past, but let’s not forget them, either. And let’s point those coming behind us to the freedom we’ve found.

We should tell them our national story, yes, but let’s not neglect our spiritual one: that we were once “slaves to sin” and that “the slave does not remain in the house forever,” but that “the son remains forever”—and sons now we are, set free by the truth in God’s Son (John 8:34–36). Let’s tell them we have, in Christ who “is faithful over God’s house as a son,” found freedom, a home (Heb. 3:6).

May fathers and grandfathers—mothers and grandmothers and all who have left their chains—be faithful to share that story with children and grandchildren everywhere. May our story become their story. And may none of them, none of us, die an outsider looking in.

There are, after all, no grandchildren in that “house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1). Only sons and daughters, adopted and set free—free indeed.

Doug Carlson

Doug Carlson came to the ERLC in 2004 and serves as the Leland House’s Office Manager, overseeing the administrative and organizational needs of the Washington office. A Fort Wayne, Ind., native, Doug attended Word of Life Bible Institute and received his B.S. from Liberty University and his Master of Public … 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