How God showed me the reality of racism in my heart

November 11, 2015

I live in a segregated part of the mid-South in an affluent suburb; we spend a lot of time and effort and money here insulating ourselves from All-Things-Unpleasant. This isn’t a malicious effort. It’s an understandable human aspiration—to provide for our families, to send our kids to good schools, to work hard and enjoy the fruit of that labor.

Here we have manicured lawns and well-maintained houses. Somebody repairs the potholes in our streets almost as soon as they appear. A local parent live-tweets our county school board meetings so parents at home can follow along. We spearhead clothing drives for “the less fortunate,” and we hike for the homeless. We put stickers on our back windshields with how many miles we’ve run and where we vacation. Flags from our alma maters wave in the wind, anchored to the brick beside our garage doors.

We don’t like to think about things like racism around here. At least I didn’t. I didn’t have to.

All of that began to change for me one sunny morning through no fault of my own—believe me. I was inching forward through the drop-off line at our local elementary school. Our third-grader was quietly reading; our six-month old daughter was sleeping in her car seat, and I was listening to NPR’s morning news.

The topic was racism in America and specifically the death of Eric Garner. For reasons I can’t explain—the detail of the reporting, the injustices highlighted there, my sensitivity to the subject at that moment—I dropped off our son and pulled into the parking lot to listen to the rest of the report. Trying to understand it better, I pulled out my phone and pulled up the video of Garner’s encounter with the police. I had never seen the actual footage.

As if technology had transported me through time and space to that sidewalk on Staten Island, I watched the horrific scene unfold on my phone’s tiny screen. How could this be happening? I thought. Was this for real? Did this really happen just a few months ago?!

Heat rose in my cheeks, tears in my eyes, anger in my chest. The longer the footage rolled, the more my disbelief grew. I wanted to run into the scene, jump on the back of one of those officers and scream, “Stop! Let go! Can’t you see this man can’t breathe?”

Meanwhile, right outside my window, well-groomed children with monogrammed backpacks were trotting along the school sidewalk. Little girls’ pony tails bounced as they made their way down the bus steps, and teachers with steaming cups of coffee were smiling and welcoming our little ones.

Looking through my eyes, from my white, suburban perspective, that brutal scene on Staten Island seemed like an alternate reality. I might not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself. But I had seen it. And I couldn’t unsee it.

“My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (Ps. 119:136).

I had to pull myself together. I had groceries to buy, a baby to care for, a home to run. All the way to the grocery store, the tears kept spilling. I couldn’t stop crying. Hot, angry tears puddled in my lap, and prayers rolled right out with them.

The Holy Spirit was working in my heart, pressing me down with the weight of what I had just seen. Even now, I think those officers were not even aware of what was happening — of the part they were playing in this drama that is so much bigger than that moment on that day — and that thought terrifies me all the more.

My mind reeled, replaying all of the racism I had witnessed and been a part of in my own life. Jokes I had heard and re-told as a young girl. Confederate flags waving from the backs of trucks in my high school parking lot. The “n-word.” The more polite and socially nuanced racism of my adult life. Allowing comments to pass without rebuke. Tolerating it. Ignoring it. Ignoring it. Ignoring it.

Ignorance. Willful and plain.

Grief swelled and began cracking my heart open, forcing its walls to widen. Sorrow and repentance started pouring out from somewhere deep inside. I didn’t even know where this was coming from—I was experiencing a one-woman gospel-driven revolution in the middle of the most ordinary day in the world.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice!” (Ps. 130:1-2a).

I arrived at the grocery store and sat there in the parking lot, trying to pull it together. I reined in my tears, aware of those around me, of those who looked like me, lived like me—my tribe by all outward standards. In the parking lot of a grocery store in the safest suburb you can imagine, I cried out to the Lord quietly.

God in heaven. My Father. You are the Father of us all. Your throne is built on a foundation of righteousness and justice. You hate injustice and oppression. You hate it. It breaks your massive heart into a million pieces, and now it’s breaking mine. I can’t change this world Lord, but you can. I break things, but you—you do the exact opposite of that. You mend broken things. That’s what you do. You heal our brokenness.

Give your people eyes to see what you see. Bring repentance and true healing to your Church. Make us instruments of your grace and peace. Let your church rise up now, O Lord in righteousness and justice. Show the world Jesus through us.”

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2a).

That morning, in a tiny but powerful way, the Lord began to open my eyes to the reality of racism in America. I had lived much of my life with the luxury of not really having to think about it. Had you asked me, I would’ve acknowledged that racism existed, but I would’ve simply been giving you information from my head—not my heart.

But our God is a God of wisdom and compassion—of head and heart—of justice and mercy. Who else is like him?

I wonder where you are in your personal narrative of racial reconciliation? I wonder if, like me, you’ve had the luxury of living much of your life without really thinking about it. I wonder if, like me, you’ve felt helpless and even defensive when thinking about racism in America and in the church.

Or maybe you’re living every day of your life with the harsh reality of racism shaping your experiences and opportunities. Maybe you are fighting to love like Jesus and extend grace and forgive in ways I will never fully understand. Maybe your story is completely different from mine.

Oh, may the love of God unite us. May he make us one in such a powerful and supernatural way that the world won’t be able to deny the reality and the deity of Jesus Christ. May the world come to know of Christ’s love for for us all by the healing of racism in the Church and its ripple effect on our nation and world.

Only he can make friends out of enemies. Only he can heal us. Our only hope is in him.

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23).

Jennifer Case Cortez

Jennifer Case Cortez writes about autism, culture, and women’s issues. Her work has been featured in The Devotional Bible for Dads (Zondervan), The Life Promises Bible (Zondervan), The Mom’s Bible: God’s Wisdom for Mothers (Thomas Nelson), and Women on Life: A Call to Love the Unborn, Unloved, & Neglected (Leland Press). Jennifer also partners with Bombay Teen Challenge as a consultant, teacher, … 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