Race and the problem with apathy

October 5, 2016

One click of the send button can be so revealing and sometimes painful. My young friend in his late 20s didn’t mean to hurt me as he shared that as a white male, he really didn’t care about the plight of African-Americans. The conversation went something like:

Me: “Here are some issues I have seen in the church and society as it relates to the African-American experience.”

Him: “I’ve never really cared. It has never been on my radar. You’ve opened my eyes. Thanks!”

That is an oversimplified version of several exchanges, but in the end, it’s what I walked away with. Our recent correspondence, which he gave approval to share, often left him in shock. He didn’t know that African-Americans had been marginalized. He was unaware that Affirmative Action had been used by many to declare any black achieving person as receiving handouts. And at one point, it seemed to surprise him that one could desire to marry another regardless of ethnicity.

I was thankful for the interactions because he is a humble learner. He didn’t know much about race and other ethnicities. He didn’t understand, so he sought to gain understanding. That is commendable. It takes a level of humility to admit you don’t know—and at one point, didn’t care—and to want to learn.

Looking at today’s segregation

What has been difficult for me, and perhaps even grievous, is the fact that it wasn’t even on his radar before he met me. In his defense, why would it be? He is in a white community, white church, white family, with predominantly white friends. There’s hardly any context for him to think outside of his white suburban culture.

Our segregated neighborhoods and churches help contribute to this lack of context. A 2012 article in U.S. News reported on a study conducted by researchers at Dartmouth, the University of Georgia and the University of Washington, which revealed that not much has changed from the segregated times brought on by the Jim Crow laws. Their study, which may not be a surprise to many, finds that African-Americans remain concentrated in segregated neighborhoods, and diverse neighborhoods are rare. They also discovered that immigrants tend to populate among themselves.

In addition to our segregate neighborhoods, there are stories of racial profiling, such as NYPD’s Stop and Frisk program that targeted 54 percent black, 31 percent latino and only 12 percent white. We’ve seen the story of a couple not allowed to marry because they are interracial. And who can forget the current racial divides, shootings and fear? Or, perhaps we forget too easily.

Asking hard questions

My point is there are plenty of stories about race today that should cause each of us to pause and ask hard questions.

Part of my friend’s struggle to care seems to me to be apathy. It’s simply easier to coast through life not worrying about others who aren’t immediately associated with you. It takes effort to know those not like us, to study history and ask hard questions. This apathy could be masked by the thought, “Haven’t we all moved past racism now?” But the stories above prove otherwise. We get used to “our own” and can soon fall into the temptation to be partial.

James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, spoke strongly about the temptation to be partial toward others, reminding us that it’s ultimately about the second of the great commandments—to love your neighbor as yourself. He wrote: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:1, 8-9 ESV).

This is a serious offense, and we should take heed to his warnings. Yes, he is addressing socio-economic partiality, but as we grow in our understanding of the imago dei, the gospel, the mission of Jesus and the diversity of the kingdom, we quickly see that God is not partial in regards to race and ethnicity as well. And once we’ve sown seeds of partiality, we will reap separation and a lack of understanding.

Are we holding on to sin that we need to confess? The beauty of confession is that it is not received with condemnation, but grace. If we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive and purify us (1 John 1:9).

Forgetting our history

I also wonder if this apathy and partiality has deeper roots than merely not caring. Maybe part of our apathy is that we’ve forgotten our history. Though no one would say it out loud, I wonder if there remains a feeling of superiority rooted in our nation’s history.

Eighteenth century slavery shines a dark and devastating light on the treatment of Africans as inferior and enslaved in our country.  Slaves were desperate for the gospel, yet a stumbling block was put in their way. They were told their only real duty was to submit to their masters. In his autobiography[1], Peter Randolph, a slave until emancipated in 1847, recounts worship times for slaves:

There was another church, about fourteen miles from the one just mentioned. It was called “Brandon’s church,” and there the white Baptists worshiped. Edloe’s slaves sometimes went there. The colored people had a very small place allotted them to sit in, so they used to get as near the window as they could to hear the preacher talk to his congregation. But sometimes, while the preacher was exhorting to obedience, some of those outside would be selling refreshments, cake, candy and rum, and others would be horse-racing. This was the way, my readers; the Word of God was delivered and received in Prince George County. The Gospel was so mixed with slavery, that the people could see no beauty in it, and feel no reverence for it (pg. 64).

Examining our theology

In the antebellum South, pastors and church leaders would use Genesis 9:18-27 to justify slavery and as a proof text that blacks were not only inferior, but destined for slavery. The text describes Noah pronouncing a curse on his youngest son Ham, who had shamed him by looking at his father as he slept naked and inviting his brothers to join. The curse wasn’t actually on Ham; it was on Canaan, the son of Ham, and stated, “a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers” (Gen. 9:25). The curse of Canaan was misinterpreted and applied to all of Ham’s descendants for centuries. Why is this important? Ham’s descendants were most likely black African. Therefore, the curse of Canaan has been used to justify enslaving black Africans.

In his book, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, J. Daniel Hays explains that these beliefs put African-Americans in the inevitable position of inferiority. Slave owners, clergy and the like claimed slavery as a prophecy from God.

After the American Civil War, the “curse of Ham” was used by white clergymen to fight the notion of racial equality and the rights that would accompany such equality (voting, education, etc.). . . . Keep in mind that this position was popularized in the United States primarily to justify slavery . . . This view implies very clearly the theological view that the imposition of slavery on Black Africans by White Europeans and Americans was in fulfillment of a prophecy by God and was, therefore, justified (pg. 53-54).[2]

Choosing to care

We are a country that has been plagued by division and racism, specifically among blacks and whites. My generation is still fighting the effects of the sin from our past. And I imagine the erroneous and harmful teaching in the past still affects those generations before us. Though we may not teach intentionally the inferiority of blacks today, we still see the subtle—and not so subtle—evidence of that mindset remains.

I am not suggesting that every man or woman who doesn’t care about issues of race and ethnicity is automatically cursed by the sins of the past and thinks he is superior. I’m saying it’s worth us considering, given the long history of segregation and racism in our country. It is also worth evaluating when we remember that this belief was preached in our pulpits.  

There are compelling reasons why we should all care about the struggles of various ethnic groups in the U.S. The greatest of these has already been mentioned: love. We should love our neighbor sacrificially through learning, listening, hospitality and sharing gospel truths. God loves so much that he deemed it necessary to give his only Son as a sacrifice for us. The very least we could do is ask God to give us a heart that cares for those he created in his image.

My dear friend who admitted not caring about the issue of race in America has since changed. He does care, deeply. But it didn’t come from remaining apathetic. He dug in, read, asked good questions and began to take notice of his neighbor. God began to change his heart so that what was once an unknowing, uncaring, apathy became a desire to love and serve others—those different from him.

We all need to reflect on our own apathy and ask the question: Do we really care? And then, like my friend, die to ourselves, break free of our self-absorption and learn about others. This will not only impact our own hearts and souls but also the church. Our congregations are going to change, and we will want to be ready.


  1. ^ Sernett, Milton C. African American Religious History, Duke University Press, 1999. “Plantation Churches: Visible and Invisible” by Peter Randolph. P. 63-75.
  2. ^ Hays, J. Daniel. From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race. Inter Varsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois. 2003.

Trillia Newbell

Trillia Newbell is the author of several books including A Great Cloud of Witnesses, Sacred Endurance, If God Is For Us, Fear and Faith,and the children’s books, Creative God, Colorful Us and  God’s Very Good Idea. When she isn’t writing, she’s encouraging and supporting other writers as an Acquisitions Editor at Moody … 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

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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