How we can be beautifully distinct in our conversations on race

June 15, 2020

The following is an extract by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson as part of her contribution to the new book Beautifully Distinct: Conversations with Friends on Faith, Life, and Culture

Racism and society

I often compare racism to pollution. It is created by humans, it negatively impacts every one of us, and because it has been around for so long, we have become comfortable with its existence: so comfortable that some would deny it is even here.

In their classic book, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, Christian sociologists Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith describe the American nation as a “racialized society.” They write:

“A racialized society is a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships. A racialized society can also be said to be ‘a society that allocates differential economic, political, social, and even psychological rewards to groups along racial lines; lines that are socially constructed.’”

God has given us ethnic and cultural differences, which are not for the purposes of division, yet that is the exact purpose of the social construct of race. Race is a defining part of our society—affecting basic things such as where we live, as well as educational achievement and financial prospects. The racializing of America’s society has a long and often neglected history. The idea of race as division was the seed planted in America’s soil which birthed the trees that bore the fruit of racism. This fruit is tilled, fertilized, and replanted throughout generations, until we look up one day to realize that there is a whole forest around us with tall trees entrapping us all, making it hard to see the light.

In 2012, CNN released a report which stated that children are learning racist thought processes in their homes—and then expressing them—when they are as young as six years old. They start becoming aware of racialized attitudes as young as five. The report stated that “making friends with kids of other races is hard, and only gets harder as they grow up.”

The problem does not start with children. The Public Religion Research Institute has reported that the majority of white Americans have very few non-white friends, and are very unlikely to have intimate relationships with non- white people—the type of relationships in which they have important conversations or consider the person trustworthy. If their parents’ friends are all of one skin color, it should not be surprising that children find engaging with individuals from other people groups hard.

We all have an implicit bias: that is, our thoughts and actions are based on assumptions that we have been trained in since childhood and that we are not even aware of making. Because they are subconscious, these assumptions are the easi- est to adopt unwittingly, and the hardest to identify or correct once they have taken root in our hearts. When unchallenged, such implicit biases have a profound effect not only on our own relationships but on those of our kids, and therefore on the society at large and on our collective future.

We must look at ourselves and seek the truth about how our lack of knowledge, history, or understanding, and our silence, anger, or apathy prevent the message of Jesus Christ from going forth to all people.

I was struck by the perspective shared by Patricia Raybon in her foreword to Amy Julia Becker’s book White Picket Fences. Mrs. Raybon is an African American woman and a wise Christian writer. She is a product of the civil-rights movement and the Jim Crow era. She is also a mother of black children. All this came into the conversations she had with Amy Julia—a white woman—about race and privilege. Mrs. Raybon wrote:

“She and I went back and forth on when to tell children about hard things such as racism. I argued that the question itself is a luxury allotted to children who don’t have to worry about this particular terror— while children of color, by default, are forced to see from their earliest months that they are targets, often, of many kinds of racism.

Thus, all children, I argued, should see that racial terror exists—just as they’re taught that a stove is hot, a speeding car can kill them, and sadly so can other mayhem. Racism kills, too, and all children, no matter how young, should know about it.”

As a black mother, daughter, sister, wife, and friend, I know this trauma that does not escape us. But not everyone knows it. That is why talking about these things, however painful, is vitally important for unity and for the preservation of life. 

As Christians, we must awaken ourselves to how God calls us to live for him in this world that is so drastically broken. We all need to consider how to prevent ourselves from inadvertently picking up those “racialized” seeds and planting them again.

Many people of color are tired of speaking up about race. Others are afraid to do so. Some people in our society are confused, and others frustrated; some simply feel they don’t know what to say. The temptation for all of us is to remain silent.

But if we are to challenge a racialized society, we need to speak. We all need to be honest about the ways in which racism impacts and affects us. We need to confess and challenge the implicit bias that directs our actions and our words. We must look at ourselves and seek the truth about how our lack of knowledge, history, or understanding, and our silence, anger, or apathy prevent the message of Jesus Christ from going forth to all people.

Becoming advocates

There is an old saying which encourages us to have “a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.” Too often we have a newspaper in one hand and a Twitter feed in the other.

The media can shape our responses to racism and the solutions we endorse. But as Christians we need to respond to media stories concerning racism in a biblical way.

How do we allow the Bible to shape our thinking on this issue? It is important that we pay attention to the voices that are present in each Bible passage, asking who is speaking and from what perspective. This will help us to understand any injustice or marginalization that is taking place as the Bible describes sinful people and their attitudes. An astute Bible student often asks, “What does the word say?” but the fact that Jesus came to earth also enables us to consider, “What does the Word do?” How does Jesus respond to the vulnerable—including the poor, orphans, women, children, strang- ers, those in prison, and unbelievers? What is his attitude and why? Prayerfully asking these questions under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit will, I hope, lead us to greater compassion, wisdom, and understanding.

This, in turn, will help us respond to news stories with an informed, biblical viewpoint, and can also help us become wise, active advocates locally, nationally, and beyond. Rather than just responding to what’s trending, we can consistently show a genuine pursuit of racial justice and a love for our neighbors. To do this, we can seek out, follow, learn from, and actively support the churches and organizations that are doing important work both in our local communities and nationally. It is also important that we read and listen to Christian witness- es who are people of color that are committed to the Bible, the good news of the gospel message, and justice work.
In this way we can all become advocates against racism. We can prayerfully shape our world so that it looks like the one we are ultimately looking forward to: a world in which people from every nation, tribe, people, and language will worship together before the throne of God, united eternally.

This article was originally published here.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is an international speaker, leadership consultant, diversity and mentoring coach with nearly 20 years of leadership experience in the military, federal government, church, seminary, and nonprofit sectors. She is the author of A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World, Mentor for Life and its … 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