How the Black Panther has inspired me since I was 9 years old

February 20, 2018

In 1977, I was a fourth grader at Edgewood Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland. My best friend Harry and I collected comic books like many other kids on our block. We would spend hours reading about Spider-Man, the Hulk, Daredevil, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. We would also draw and sell pictures of these musclebound Marvel characters in order to buy a little something extra for lunch.

Everything changed for me and Harry once we discovered an African superhero called the Black Panther. Harry and I naturally gravitated toward this commanding character who looked like us. We took special pride and attention in how we drew him, even down to his striped gloves and boots. We both claimed this smooth, mysterious, agile, and intelligent superhero as our personal favorite.

For two black boys growing up in the hood, the Black Panther increased our sense of somebody-ness before we fully comprehended why we even needed that boost in our psychological development. There was something about seeing the Black Panther on the colorful pages of those comic books that caused me to hold up my 9-year-old head a little bit higher.

How two men challenged white normalcy

Growing up in what sociologist Dr. Michael Emerson calls a “racialized society,” no one had to point out to me how race mattered profoundly for differences in life experiences, opportunities, and social relationships. The lines in our communities were drawn, and seldom were they crossed. Racialization was as natural as the air we breathed. It showed up in racially segregated neighborhoods, churches, and schools. Racialization dictated the friends we hung with, the people we dated, and the books we read. The dominant presence and representation of white people in positions of power, textbooks, and the media painted a picture of what was considered “normal” in America.

Sadly, white normalcy still dominates in a country that has the potential of embracing the beauty of racial diversity as one of its touchstones.

In 1966, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were aware of the times, but they were also ahead of the times when they created the Black Panther. These two Jewish men from New York designed T’Challa to be the wealthiest and one of the smartest figures in the Marvel Universe. This concept of promoting a black, male character to be something other than a gang member, athlete, or a drug addict was revolutionary. Lee and Kirby took a necessary risk to challenge white normalcy, and it paid off socially for us and financially for them.

In addition to my children knowing who they are in Christ, it is imperative for them to know the dignity that comes with being blessed black people made in the image of God.

The Black Panther was a king who had more money than Tony Stark (Iron Man) and was as formidable a fighter as Captain America. He was just as intelligent as Reed Richards and as courageous as the mighty Thor. We cannot forget that in the 1960s, black people were still fighting to gain our rightful place in society. Our real-life heroes were vilified in the mainstream right before our eyes. Therefore, when Marvel first introduced this dark-skinned superhero that single-handedly took on the Fantastic Four in his own technologically advanced African country of Wakanda, the floodgates of hope blew wide open!

Not only did black kids need to see the Black Panther, white kids needed to see him, too. If we are ever going to experience legitimate racial progress in this country, proper representation is crucial to change minds for people inside and outside of any respective culture and ethnic group.

Image is everything

Since the mid–1400s when the transatlantic slave trade began, bestial images of black people were pervasive. Knowing that perception is reality, these racist depictions of blacks reinforced stereotypes that justified maintaining oppressive systems of injustice. After centuries of these godless and unchallenged beliefs, black people in America are still often stigmatized on first glance.

So, this movie came along at just the right time. America needed the Black Panther more than it realized. Carter G. Woodson, the African-American historian who created Black History Week in 1926, once said, “We become what we behold.” This is why image is everything, especially for those of us whose images have been grossly distorted or not included. My three daughters needed to behold how beautiful, black women were portrayed as scientists, royal mothers, and warriors. My son needed to see African men who were full of royalty, purpose, and courage. In addition to my children knowing who they are in Christ, it is imperative for them to know the dignity that comes with being blessed black people made in the image of God.

For many people, the Black Panther is more than a movie. It is a movement that recaptures the value of black personhood and the richness of African culture. This is why my wife and I regally walked into the theater on opening night wearing African robes. We wanted to vicariously experience the honor of being proud descendants of Africa as we watched this amazing display of cinematic artistry.

Keep your head up

As an avid Marvel comic book collector with over 7,000 comics, I made it a priority to acquire all of the original comics in which the Black Panther first appeared. These books are not only valuable on the open market; they are very sentimental to me because they take me back to a time in my childhood when I first began to appreciate my blackness.

If for some reason this is not your experience, and you cannot fully grasp the significance of this movie, I invite you to ponder, converse, and celebrate with the countless people of all ages who left theaters around the world with a renewed sense of confidence, saying, “Wakanda forever!” This 49-year-old black man happily joined along, thankful for the way Black Panther has helped me hold my head a little higher.

Chris Williamson

Dr. Chris Williamson, also affectionately known as “Pastor Chris,” is the founder and Senior Pastor of Strong Tower Bible Church, a multiracial fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee. Since 1995, Pastor Chris has led Strong Tower Bible Church (STBC) in a mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ and a vision of … 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