Many Racisms, One Solution

March 16, 2015

Racism is the idea that racial dissimilarities correspond with intellectual dissimilarities or behavioral dissimilarities. When you see the color of a person’s skin, racism whispers into your subconscious mind that you have thereby learned something about his or her intelligence or character. Almost always, racism whispers the same conclusion: “You are superior to that person.”

Even if the basic message of racism is universal, the outworking of racism is not. People come in a bewildering array of dispositions and aptitudes, and different personalities will exhibit racism in vastly different patterns of behavior. Considered behaviorally, there are many different kinds of racism.

Consider, for example, two figures from Southern Baptist History.

Benjamin Bogard and James P. Eagle found themselves on the opposite sides of many debates during their lives. They differed over politics: Eagle was more of a sophisticated Bourbon Democrat, while Bogard was more comfortable with Agrarian Democrat demagoguery of the muckraking variety. They differed over religion: Bogard led a large number of churches out of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention in 1902, while Eagle desperately and unsuccessfully tried to keep the coalition of Arkansas Baptist churches together and within the Southern Baptist Convention.

They differed over race, too. Bogard’s beliefs about race led him in the 1920s to join the Ku Klux Klan. Bogard was the most virulent and dangerous kind of racist. Eagle—and the contrast here is stark—was a war hero, a gentrified planter, a statesman, and something of a fledgling Progressive (due in no small part to the influence of his wife, Mary Kavanaugh Eagle). Riding around terrorizing the population and fomenting lynch mobs while wearing a bed sheet would have been entirely out of character for him.

And yet, all their dissimilarities and quarrels notwithstanding, they were both racists.

James P. Eagle was not a harsh, violent racist simply because James P. Eagle was not a harsh, violent person. Nevertheless, Governor Eagle signed the “Separate Coach Law” that inaugurated the era of Jim Crow in Arkansas. Eagle was a deliberative, politically savvy person, and therefore his kind of racism was more subtle and legislative than Bogard’s, but Eagle’s more benign paternalism was, in the end, no less damaging than was Bogard’s more militant sabre rattling. After all, laws like Eagle’s provided the legal context that enabled the violence of men like Bull Connor in the decades to follow.

Eagle was also, by the way, thrice elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The danger of defining racism merely as one particular set of behaviors is that it always permits a James P. Eagle to contrast his behavior with a Benjamin Bogard and to exonerate himself. It provides that most prized possession among humans: A fig-leaf suit to obfuscate our own sinfulness in order that we might pretend that nothing is amiss.

Bystanders tell themselves that they are not racists. But maybe they are racists. Maybe they are just racists with a more passive disposition than that held by the most vocal bullies. The oppressed tell themselves that they are not racists, and the Liberation Theologians encourage them in this belief. But maybe they are racists. Maybe they are just racists who momentarily lack sufficient opportunity to act upon it. The Hebrew children like to remember what Pharaoh did to Moses; they like to forget what Abraham and Sarah did to Hagar when the shoe was on the other foot. So long as we can exonerate ourselves easily, racism has room to survive.

Racism is a sinful idea that prompts sinful people to act in sinful ways that are as variegated as are the sinful personalities involved. Because the idea lies at the root of all of those different forms of behavior, the solution to racism is both singular and simple: Refute the sinful idea and replace it with the truth. “[God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…‘For we also are His children.’” (Acts 17:26a, 28b) We are all related. We are all the same. The genetic variation within each race is as profound as the genetic variation between the races. Every nucleus of every cell in all of our bodies announces in symphony with the word of God that we are one family.

The most promising developments in the eradication of racism, then, are not the efforts to rehabilitate behavior, although restraint of sinful behavior is an important aspect of this effort. No, the trends that encourage me the most regarding the future of racial reconciliation are the informal, non-judicial, non-legislative changes that are making untenable the major premise of racism.

Last Sunday night the First Baptist Church of Farmersville (historically white) and the Mount Calvary Baptist Church of Farmersville (historically black) met for an evening of fellowship. As I approached one table, one of my middle-aged white ladies (may God grant that she doesn’t read my having called her “middle-aged”!) was locked in an embrace of one of the middle-aged black ladies from Mount Calvary. “We’re both grandmothers of the same grandson,” she explained to me. Two tables away, a white church member updated Mount Calvary’s pastor about the three black grandchildren that his son and daughter-in-law had adopted. When you are part of the same family, somehow it is easy to remember that you are part of the same family. When the family connections become real to us, white people and black people encounter one another while thinking, “There goes someone like me.”

Some important and eloquent work is being done these days to demonstrate how the unfettered growth of the gospel will give rise to the fall of racism. I think we also ought to consider how the fall of racism can give rise to the unfettered growth of the gospel. The words “someone like me” are an important part of what motivates us to carry the gospel to the lost. Jonah could not bring himself to comprehend them, and so he made a poor evangelist. Paul embraced them in the most radical way, and so he excelled. Southern Baptists are engaged at present in a coordinated effort to pray for spiritual renewal and spiritual awakening. If we will open our hearts to the brotherhood of all men, if we will build family ties across racial boundaries, and if we will silence the sinister voice of racism by confronting it with the truth, we may find in that private act of repentance the answer to our public prayers.

Bart Barber
Bart Barber is the pastor First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas.

Bart Barber

Bart Barber has served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, since 1999. He is married to Tracy (Brady) Barber. Bart has a B.A. from Baylor University in their University Scholars program, an M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a Ph.D. in … 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