Raising a family, lamenting, and trusting in God amid racial injustice

An interview with Jimmy McNeal

June 17, 2020

Like most of the world, Jimmy McNeal, a worship leader at Austin Stone Community Church, has watched in horror at the racial injustices being continually revealed in our country. As a black man, he relates to the fears of many and is seeking to raise his family intentionally. Most importantly, he is crying out to the Lord for change. We asked him a few questions to get a better perspective about how the injustices our society faces affect someone on an individual level. 

Tell us a little bit about your family. 

Jimmy McNeal: For me, family has always been more than just the immediate. My family is huge! I am told that my ancestors resided in Benin, a country in West Africa, before being abducted and sold into slavery. I’m unsure of how my family got to the 1900s, but ancestry.com has shed light on what has been a seemingly forgotten lineage of history. My dad’s side of the family came to Texas from Oklahoma, and my grandfather on my mom’s side has told me of a great-grandmother unlawfully being married to her slave owner in Austin, Texas. This was one of many well-crafted nuggets that he gave me when I told him I was moving to Austin. Austin is where I met my wife of seven years, and we’ve been blessed to hold three of our beautiful biracial children (“black and white”). I love my family, and I’m so grateful to God for these beautiful additions to our family unit.

What’s it like to raise your sons in this environment?

JM: We’re raising my kids just like I was raised: to be aware of racial division, tensions, and how to handle those both internally and externally. I want my kids to be proud of who God has made them and not let confusion cloud what race(s) they are associated with or who God is calling them to be. For my sons, and my daughter, being “mixed” will be a hard road to navigate in America. Because I’m black, my three kids are called “black kids” by many. Their mother’s white heritage is tainted by my blackness and not even acknowledged. I hate this for my kids. Their differences bring about fears that I see from a different lens than just being a part of one race. I see the racism they can receive from any and everyone who doesn’t look like them.

What is going on inside your heart as you look at your sons and worry about their everyday safety? Would you mind sharing some of your fears?

JM: Some of my fears have already become a reality. At my son’s preschool I had to have a talk with parents whose children wouldn’t let my son be the “good guy” because he was darker and therefore was always the “bad guy.” My son was 3. I fear my sons will be confused about who they are as men in this world. I fear they will be pulled over and asked to get out of the car and have it searched for a broken tail light instead of given a warning. I fear them being racially profiled no matter what group of friends they are with. I fear them being the minority. I fear them being told that they are only black because of me being their father. I fear the racial slurs they will hear from both sides of their heritage. I fear they will not be accepted, but hated because of the color of their skin or their size and frame. I fear my sons getting into fights because someone does or says something racist to their sister. 

And for my daughter, I fear these things, but I also fear that her beautiful curly hair and tan skin tone will make her a target. I fear her being called an “Oreo” (black on the outside, white on the inside). I fear that all the mean girls she will meet in her lifetime will contaminate her narrative. 

I fear my kids hating that they are biracial because of the way that they are treated. I fear them being treated less than because of the way that they look. These are just some of the fears that are deeply embedded in my prayers for my beautiful biracial kids. 

If you could tell your non-black friends anything about raising your boys, what would it be? 

JM: I’d tell them to see them—see their color, see their differences, and try to embrace those, not just physically, but holistically. I would tell them to teach their own kids these same principles as well and to talk about the hard parts of our history. Being raised as a black boy wasn’t easy in modern-day America. I saw my skin tone and knew I was black every day. That will be the same for my kids. They are and will be seen as different their entire lives, and they will know that they are different no matter what ethnicity, class, status, job, or group of friends they are with.

After a tragedy like Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, or the many other precious lives lost, what does it look like for your family to lament? How does it affect your family?

JM: There have been a lot of tears and grief as we’ve mourned with the rest of the black community. I’ve seen these things happen my whole life. But to my wife, like many others who are white, this is new to her, and every tragedy is real and raw to the core. She fears my death at the hands of racism and laments that this has become a new normal for her life. We have grieved together and with others as we’ve vulnerably processed and used our spheres of influence to bring these daily occurrences to light. My kids are so young that they aren’t yet aware, but for myself and my wife this is something that has rejuvenated a new sense of hope. Our lament may seem helpless, but it is not hopeless. Our hope is found in the hands of Christ our King! 

What Scripture has provided comfort and space to lament? 

JM: Romans 12:9-21 is teaching me and many other Christians how we ought to be living in this day and age. It shows biblical next steps, and it is this portion of Paul’s letter that I’ve prayed often during this epidemic and now during these tragedies.

You have called for a fast throughout the summer for the black community. What led to that, and what does it entail? 

JM: The day that George Floyd’s death was realized and shared with the world, my heart was grieved and troubled. My first response needed to be to God and no one else. So, I lamented to him, mourning and grieving yet another black murder. As this was happening, I looked around and saw no one calling people to this type of action. So, I took what little voice I had and shouted from the mountaintops to pray and fast. It was meant to just be one day, but after some wisdom from a friend, I ended up asking folks to join me once a week for the entire summer to pray and fast for the black community. Every Tuesday morning, I post a passage and prayer prompts on social media and ask folks to join us by fasting from one or more meals. 

Truly, what else can the church do to stand with you and serve your families? 

JM: Be Christlike, and if you need more tangible specifics, you can live out all of Romans 12, especially keeping the black community in mind as you strive after these truths. There’s so much more I could say here, but why not fast and pray? I’m praying for a miracle, yes, yet racial reconciliation is not something that can be changed in a few weeks or months. But we sure can keep asking God to produce bridge-building change in our hearts and others. 

It's evident that your heart is tender as you continue to trust in the Lord. How do you maintain this posture when confronted with such tragedies and evils? 

JM: The grace of God. As finite as I am, I understand my need for Jesus and salvation. I know that this world is not my home, but while I am here I’m called to imitate Christ as I follow him. Only by his grace can that be made true for me. 

Lindsay Nicolet

Lindsay Nicolet serves as the editorial director for the ERLC. She oversees the day-to-day management of all content and resources from the Nashville office. Lindsay completed her Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is married to Justin and they have a daughter and a son. Read More by this Author

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