Racial reconciliation and responsibilities: An address at OBU

January 15, 2018

This is the final post in a two-part series. You can read the first part here.

What does the call to action for racial reconciliation mean for us as believers in general and what might that mean for us at distinctively Christian universities?

Stan Norman, in a lecture he gave at Oklahoma Baptist University, reminded us,

We are people of redeemed words, redeemed feelings/passions, redeemed thinking, and redeemed actions. . . . As a Christian university, OBU is to reflect the reality of the Kingdom of Jesus. OBU must be a place where the ideals of Jesus are lived, taught, declared, and practiced. As a Kingdom university, OBU should be a place where the power of the gospel transforms enemies into neighbors, where those who speak, look, and act differently are transformed into brothers and sisters.

So, I believe that as Christ followers, as people of redeemed words, feelings and passions, thinking, and actions, we must continue to speak out on issues of racism, especially when they are brought to the forefront.  When Nazi, neo-Nazi, and white supremacist groups march and demonstrate, we must clearly condemn such groups.  But posting on social media is insufficient—it is often the extent of lazy activists who falsely believe that 140 characters is somehow equivalent to action and personal responsibility.

Starting with our communities

Speaking out should be followed with actions, and for Christians, that begins in the church and in the local community. Jarvis Williams, in a book he co-authored titled Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, offers 15 exhortations related to removing the stain of racism from the SBC, which are good starting points for us to consider as we begin to think through our responsibilities. I summarize them in brief:

  1. Be quick to listen and slow to speak on race when we do not understand the issues; spend more time listening instead of trying to speak to, at, about, or for black and brown brothers and sisters.
  2. Pray for and support multi-ethnic church plants in our cities and communities.
  3. Stop making excuses for why our denomination still has the stain of racism.  
  4. Stop limiting the racial reconciliation discussion to the black versus white divide in our convention. There are many gifted and underrepresented minority groups in Southern Baptist life.
  5. The movement of gospel-centered racial reconciliation within the SBC does not need an African-American, Asian, Latino, or a white savior. We need a multiracial partnership of churches working together.  
  6. Enlarge our ethnic circles to include more black and brown believers.
  7. Recognize that black and brown people can minister to white people and teach them many things about many subjects, including race.
  8. Understand that black and brown Southern Baptists need white allies in the work of gospel ministry.  
  9. Understand that the kingdom of God does not revolve around whiteness or blackness or brownness.
  10. Recognize that whiteness is not normal and everything else abnormal; neither the vast majority of the world’s population nor the vast majority of those who still need to hear and respond to the gospel are middle-class white Americans.
  11. Do not claim to view all people in a color-blind fashion. Black, brown, white, and everyone else in the SBC must acknowledge our differences and pursue love, unity, and reconciliation in the gospel.  
  12. Do not play the race card just to serve our political agendas, to get television appearances, to increase Twitter followers, to gain more friends on Facebook, or go get invites to the big white or black and brown conferences.  
  13. To gain credibility in black and brown contexts on matters of gospel reconciliation, we must befriend black and brown people lacking celebrity status.
  14. Recognize that the evangelical movement generally, and the SBC specifically, still lack credibility with many black and brown communities in part because of their historic failure to do the things mentioned above.
  15. Black and brown Southern Baptists are not off the hook. Black and brown Southern Baptist churches need to become more diverse and inclusive as well.  The message of racial reconciliation in the gospel is a universal message for all people throughout the world who claim the name of Jesus Christ.   

The authors also caution us against easy fixes, including defining or thinking of racial reconciliation as simply diversity. Williams and Jones write, “To define racial reconciliation as simply diversity is misleading. . . . The gospel includes both entry language (repentance and faith, justification by faith and reconciliation with God) and maintenance language (walking in the Spirit, reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles, and loving one another in the power of the Spirit).

Understanding corporate responsibility

I think too, that those of us from the white American culture have much to learn about corporate identity. In this sense, we are very unlike most of the rest of the world around us. We understand the world largely from an individualistic, highly personal worldview. The concept of being identified with and within a larger group or a culture is very foreign for most of us. And because of this, white American culture struggles mightily with the concept of corporate responsibility and the concept of systemic racism or systemic evil.  

Tim Keller, in his essay, "Racism and Corporate Evil: A White Guy’s Perspective," gets to the core of the issue. He writes:

In Romans 5, Paul goes way beyond the idea that you are responsible for what other members of your family did and he goes way beyond the idea that you’re responsible for what other members of your culture do. He says you are responsible and you are condemned for what your ancestors Adam and Eve did. That is, just by virtue of being in the entire human race, you’re responsible for things that you didn’t individually do. You are condemned for what they do and then of course he turns around and says, ‘But by connection to Jesus Christ, you can be saved not because of what you have done, but through your connection to him by faith.’

The whole structure of the gospel is based on corporate responsibility. If you really want to go all the way down and say I’m only responsible for what I have done and only I have done, there is no gospel. . . . At the very heart of protestant understanding . . . salvation ends up being corporate. It’s not something we earn. It’s something that comes to us by being joined with Christ, but our sin is there not just because, of course, we do sin ourselves, but we’re also sinful and condemned because of our being part of the human race.

At the very, very heart of the Bible, at the heart of theology, not just what the Bible says about you and your family, not just what the Bible says about you and your culture, but what the Bible says about you and the human race — how sin happens, how salvation happens — there’s corporate responsibility. . . . [T]o some degree, Western people and white people in particular don’t realize to what degree they filter out all kinds of things the Bible says. They just don’t see them or they resist them because of that individualism. It’s not biblical. It’s not gospel.

Let’s talk then about systemic evil. Here’s what I mean by systemic: if you’re part of a community, there are systems that the whole community participates in. Things get done by the system, and you, by participating in the community, are to some degree getting that done. . . . You might be in the community and know exactly what the system is doing and be happy for it and actually actively doing it. Or secondly, you might kind of know what’s happening in the system and you don’t think too much about it, but you’re in favor of it. Or . . . you know what’s happening but you don’t do anything to stop it. Or . . . you don’t really know what’s happening and you don’t care and you don’t even care to try to find out about it.

[Take] for example, the Holocaust. At the top of the system, at the most responsible, you had people that had set up the death camps. Underneath that, you have guards and people who are in the death camps who were . . . following orders. . . . Underneath that, you had people in the town, civic leaders who know what was happening there but they didn’t want to know. . . . Then you go down to the citizen, the German citizen who had heard rumors but didn’t want to know, and didn’t do anything about it, and just [paid] their taxes and worked. [A]t the one end, you’ve got people who are more corporately responsible, at the bottom a little less corporately responsible, but . . . all those people died because the whole system was working and everybody who was in the system, everybody who wasn’t resisting the system, was part of it, because the system couldn’t kill all those people unless everybody was doing their job, even just looking the other way.

I share this lengthy quote because it gets to the heart of one of the biggest failures of American Christianity, particularly white American Christianity: a failure to understand the biblical perspective of corporate responsibility. Because of our rugged individualism and our love for the priesthood of the believer as opposed to the priesthood of believers, we carry in Protestantism a bent toward an unhealthy understanding of autonomy.

In so doing, we often miss the obvious when talking about issues of systemic problems when it comes to race in society. I share this quote also to suggest that beyond the starting points—the 15 suggestions offered by Williams—that we at places like OBU must begin to look at our own systems and structures honestly and openly. I am convinced that we must use the creative skills, talents, and intellectual gifts that God has granted us as different communities to work together toward solutions that foster shalom.

At OBU, we seek shalom. It is at the root of who we are. OBU is a distinctively Christian university that transforms lives by equipping students to pursue academic excellence, integrate faith with all areas of knowledge, engage a diverse world, and live worthy of the high calling of God in Christ.

In seeking shalom, we own up to the failures of the past. We reject outright the wrongs of our present state, and we reject the ungodly, evil vestiges of racism. We confront areas in our lives, institutions, and our own university where we find systemic bias and prejudice. We pledge to be patient with one another as we have frank and open discussions, allowing each other to make mistakes and learn from one another.

May we remember, as we navigate the waters ahead, that love covers a multitude of sins. So let us determine that we are going to love one another. May we embrace the best of our history and build upon the good foundations constructed by brave builders who have gone before us. And may God grant that our Christian communities be places of shalom.

Editor’s note: Racial unity is a gospel issue and all the more urgent 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. Join the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition at a special event, “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” taking place April 4, 2018, in Memphis, Tenn. Key speakers include Russell Moore, Benjamin Watson, John Piper, Jackie Hill-Perry, Matt Chandler, Eric Mason and many others. Learn more here.

David W. Whitlock

David Whitlock is the president of Oklahoma Baptist University. Active in a variety of professional organizations, Whitlock has served as a consultant-evaluator with the Higher Learning Commission since 2006. He has completed four academic institution evaluation visits, including a site visit to a Chinese institution. He also is an evaluator and mentor … 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