Good Grief: The gospel, race, and our experiences

November 25, 2014

I haven’t spoken on race much since I’ve been a pastor. But like the great songwriter said, “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” (Ecc. 3:7 ESV) Now is a time to speak.

My background

I grew up in an environment in the post-civil rights era when every message from the pulpit was racially charged.  I grew up around black nationalists who saw a conspiracy everywhere,  and went to one of the oldest historically black colleges in the country, during a time when hip-hop artists had an activist edge to their craft. 

In the home where I grew up, I was raised by a mom and dad 50 years older than me. They grew up in the Jim Crow South (South Carolina) and experienced lynching and racism at its height. Growing up in DC in the crack era, we were trained to interact with police in a way to keep ourselves safe.  I have been racially profiled on more than one occasion.

Fast forward—I get called to ministry and head off to one of the premier seminaries in the country.  This was my first experience in a majority white evangelical culture and the broader majority white world, for that matter.  As I walked in this world for the first time, my eyes were opened to what upbringing was preparing me for. 

What I was not prepared for, however, was the naivety and lack of empathy among my white evangelical brothers.  Because some of the progress that had been made up to that point (in terms of opportunities for African Americans), many evangelicals seemed to view racism as a thing of the past. As I entered conversations on race in this sector, it was clear to me that there was a common misconception that any talk of racism was seen as whining, or an attempt to utilize the past as justification for laziness in the present. 

During my sojourn in seminary, I went into radio silence on the issue.  As I began to complete 8yrs of post undergraduate education (Masters and Doctoral), I feared that sharing my experiences regarding racism with my white brethren, largely due to the cynical responses that I have received from those I encountered.  However, there were priceless relationships that I built with my white brothers, and I continue to build strong relationships to this day. 

Now that I am pastoring an inner city (Philadelphia, PA) church that happens to be multiethnic, I still feel the effects of racism.  Even in planting Epiphany Fellowship Church, with all of the earned theological education I have received and over two decades, I have to borrow the credibility of white pastors to help get resources to plant the church. 

I cannot tell you some of the ways that I was treated in that process by some pastors and churches.  I can’t tell you how broken hearted I am when someone tells me that I am a credit to my race.  Incidentally, I am angry that I still have to work through these challenges, and the fact the racism still exists.

Good Grief

It grieves me that in the multiethnic church that I pastor, that when I engage SOME of our white congregants, I have to have one of my white elders present to make sure they (whom I will give an account to God for) feel comfortable when they meet with me. So much so, in fact, I fear I’ve under-pastored the whites in our church, because of my sensitivity to being in a cultural environment where one is a minority. 

It grieves me that when I speak at events with thousands of attendees—my face pictured on the brochures and screens—only to be mistaken for “the help.”  Because of how I have been socialized, and because of my experiences, I am working to take race off the table in many instances—like the current trial of Mike Brown’s killer. 

It is impossible for me to shake off my experiences though.

From Rodney King to Trayvon Martin, these trials seem doomed from the start.  They act, for many African-Americans in the post civil rights era, as a barometer for where the race issue stands in this country.  Even now, with Mike Brown, it seems to be in the same place the issue has been in the past.  I don’t pretend to speak for all African Americans, yet it is obvious to most that race really does still matter. And there needs to be healthy and honest dialogue about the subject. 

How does the gospel speak to the current issue?

I took to Twitter last night to come out of my radio silence.  I don’t know if that was the right platform, but what is done, is done. 

I tried to make equitable statements that spoke to both African Americans and whites in the Christian world.  What I found was profoundly grievous from some of my white brothers.  The lack of empathy and ignorance and the depth of naivety was heart breaking.  Comments went through my Twitter line from white brethren stating stuff like, “Did you view the facts?,” and, “Did you want an eye for eye?” and “Obama race baiting,” “Due process,” “Color has nothing to do with it,” “What about the looters?” and “The grand jury did their job.”  In short, I was blown away by some lacking the spirit of sacrifice stated in Romans 12:1,2 and then applied verses 9-21. 

In light of these verses this is what I’ll say, “Mourn with those who mourn”.

After instructing Christians to respond to outsiders with love and forgiveness, Paul now turns back to the Christian community, enjoining a sincere identification with others whatever their state might be. Note how Paul’s commands here echo what he says about relations within the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” But the need for such mutual identification is found in Jewish sources as well (Arnold). [1] 

Many times in the ancient world people entered into mourning with other—even if they didn’t know all the details. The main issue is this: someone is hurting.

Where do we go from here?

Regardless of the outcome, this situation carries so many elements of past high-profile cases involving blacks in our country as well as the over all weight of the issue of race. This only reinforces some of the pain of the experience with race that too many African Americans I know feel, including myself.  Additionally, the faulty response of non-empathetic brethren exacerbates the pain. 

Just as some of the very high profile civil rights cases made way for greater progress for civil rights, so also the Mike Brown case was for how civil the rights of ethnic minorities has come.  Cases and verdicts act as reference points for similar cases in the judicial system.  They help perpetuate the outcome in light of similar issues being taken into account. 

Even with the outcome of the current case being what it is, you’d expect, “how can I pray?” “Help me understand the emotions you are dealing with”?  “Help me to understand how you are processing this?”  “I want to empathize, but I’m struggling!”  Understand this, all of us interpret facts in light of our social experiences.  Even Van Til believed that the Christian and the non-Christian have different ultimate standards, presuppositions that color the interpretation of every fact in every area of life.  Because of the experience of many minorities with racism, when there is a scenario that mirrors and reeks of injustice, there is going to be a sensitivity to how “facts” are handled.

So what should we all do?  Do this: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas 1:19-20 ESV).

In other words:

• Whites: mourn with hurting blacks and listen…
• Blacks: mourn, be angry and do not sin…
• All people: seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

The cross is a meeting place of conflict.  Let’s go to the cross together and deal with issues.  Jesus died on the cross to face our sin and brokenness, not to ignore it.  Let’s head there together.


[1] Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Romans to Philemon. (Vol. 3, p. 76). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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