Rejecting separate but equal again

December 5, 2014

NOTE: The 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit will address “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families, and their churches. This event will be held in Nashville on March 26-27, 2015. To learn more go here.

We are praying for the day when saying multiethnic church will be a needless redundancy in evangelicalism. The church of Jesus Christ is the community of Christ-redeemed image bearers from every tribe, tongue, and nation who will ultimately be gathered in the consummated kingdom of Christ. A local church is an already visible outpost of the kingdom of Christ. A local church provides a vertical display of gospel reconciliation (God-to-man) but also a display of horizontal gospel reconciliation (man-to-man). Those normally divided by racial and ethnic differences are now counted as “one new man,” a new race of blood-bought brothers of the household of God (Eph. 2:15-17). The triumph of the gospel on display in Christian churches necessarily involves not only the reconciliation of people to God but also to one another (Eph. 2:11-22).

The inclusion of ethnically diverse peoples in the household of God is God's intention, fulfilling his gospel promise (Gen. 3:15, Gen. 12, 15, Ps. 67, Acts 2, Rom. 4, Gal. 3, 4, Eph. 2, 4, Rev. 5, 7, 14). It was followers of Christ in the multiethnic church of Antioch (Jews, Africans, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Asians) who were first called Christians (Acts 11:19-26) and who took the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world (Acts 13:1-3). The glory of the triumphant eschatological kingdom of Christ will be demonstrated by the multi-ethnic diversity of worshippers who exult, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

Ethnic majority Christians must not simply say to ethnic minorities that we would accept you in our churches should you want to attend. For instance, the historically sinful refusal of white evangelicals in America to include African-Americans led to segregated white and black churches and a simple “y’all can come now” rings hollow. We must intentionally pursue ethnic diversity as a means of reflecting the glory of the Christian gospel. Ethnic minority Christians must not embrace segregated churches by saying we want to maintain our distinctive ethnic identity and not be absorbed into the dominant culture. The Bible calls us to celebrate our ethnic identity and heritage, not as ultimate, but as a providential marker of the expanse of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Our ethnic and racial identity must be reshaped by the gospel and subordinate to our shared identity in Christ. Consider our suggestions for Christ-centered gospel psychology for those in the ethnic majority and those in the ethnic minority in evangelical denominations and local churches.

Gospel Psychology for those in the Ethnic Majority

  1. Realize that the majority ethnicity must not define the identity of any denomination or local church: Being the ethnic majority in a denomination or local church should not constitute that denomination or local church being identified with the ethnicity of the majority. In other words, whites are the majority ethnic group in the Southern Baptist Convention (our denomination), but Southern Baptists are biblically wrong to think of the SBC as a white denomination. The same is true for any majority ethnicity. Christian denominations and local churches are inherently called to transcend ethnic boundaries because of the reconciling work of Jesus Christ. Our impoverished biblical-theological convictions and malnourished gospel-identity has brought us to a place where we are at peace with denominations and churches we consider to be separate but equal. The homogenous unit principle has become, far too often, the homoethnos principle of church growth.

  2. Avoid a paternalistic ethos and humbly learn from ethnic minorities: The ethnic majority should avoid paternalistic attitudes in relationships with ethnic minorities in their ecclesial context. An imperialistic ethos rightly turns off our ethnic minority brothers and sisters in Christ. For instance, without any conscious intent to do so, white evangelicals often communicate that living out the gospel means absorption into white evangelical culture. In my experience, minority evangelicals have been far more willing to humble themselves and learn from white evangelicals than the other way around. Well-intentioned social ministry to ethnic minorities in our churches can proceed with an aura of evangelical aristocracy, albeit a benevolent one toward needy people. Ethnic majority Christians should see ethnic minority Christians as vital Christian co-laborers from whom they need to be learners.

  3. Use your advantage as the ethnic majority for the advantage of ethnic minorities: The ethnic majority group has the responsibility to be self-sacrificial initiators in welcoming and learning from ethnic minorities. The majority group’s numerical advantage must not be used for its own privilege but for the advantage of the ethnic minority (Phil 2:6-7). In so doing, the majority group proceeds in a way that reflects the self-giving mind of Christ (Phil 2:3-7). The ethnic majority is not walking in line with the gospel by simply tolerating ethic diversity if it comes; a denomination and local church is only walking in line with the gospel if it sees ethnic and racial minorities as vital co-laborers. Ethnic diversity ought to be celebrated and not simply tolerated. The ethnic majority ought to be intentionally praying for and pursuing ethnic minorities for leadership positions in the denomination and the local church. A church at peace with ecclesial ethnic separatism is at odds with the mission of Christ. Serving the interests of the ethnic majority and counting them as more significant runs counter to the gospel (Phil 2:3-4). Upsetting the peace of anti-gospel attitudes and actions is the courageous work of a faithful shepherd of Christ. It is theological and ecclesial cowardice to say “Peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14).

Gospel Psychology for those in the Ethnic Minority

  1. Reallocate the source of your identity: Both, the ethnic majority and ethnic minority must come to the realization that what defines the life of a Christian is not nationality or ethnicity, but what Christ has accomplished on the cross. For the most part, patriotism, nativism and nationalism are the primary sources of an individual’s identity, but in Christ, one’s nationality, earthly citizenship, cultural preferences and cultural ideologies ought to become secondary and, in certain cases, abrogated all together. The primary demarcation point of any believer should be their positional relationship with the Father as sons and daughters of God. This is where horizontal reconciliation begins. As Paul writes, “…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace… So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:15-19).

  2. Fight against inferiority complex, even if it doesn’t go away: Every member of an ethnic minority group has experienced silent racism, micro-aggressions, rejection, stereotypes, derision and in many cases direct forms of prejudice in the church. Due to this, feeling inferior is a constant temptation. The easiest response is to avoid the ethnic majority altogether and find a place of acceptance among people who are culturally and ethnically similar. The problem with this paradigm is that both groups (majority and minority) end up arriving at the same problematic and anti-Gospel reality, homogeneity. The majority out of preference and apathy and the minority out of seeming necessity and comfort. However, in order to experience horizontal reconciliation (the immediate implication of vertical reconciliation) ethnic minorities compelled by the gospel must risk vulnerability, even if the fear is present and never goes away. You must fight against it.

  3. “Us vs. Them” mentality must go: The ethnic minority needs to understand a fundamental truth; racism is not a geographical problem, but a problem of human nature. Racism is one of the manifestations of a morally depraved and sin-enslaved nature. All humans, regardless of their ethnic background are born with racist and ethno-centric hearts because they are sinners (Rom 3:23). Racism (direct or indirect) exists wherever sin exists and knows no ethnic boundaries. Understanding this reality means we can no longer envision the world us vs. them, but instead it is us vs. us. All people, including ethnic minorities, struggle with racist attitudes. Some have the power to institutionalize their prejudices but we all struggle with them. What do we do with this humbling reality? We flee to the cross as our only hope. The gospel is the ultimate identity equalizer. We all needed the gospel, and as believers, we are all transformed by the same gospel.

  4. Together and Equal: Acts 2 and 4, demonstrates the man-to-man reconciling power of the gospel for those who believe. The context is key to understanding. During Pentecost, when the disciples received the Holy Spirit, they started to proclaim the good news to all who were there. There were Jews from all ethnos (nations) under earth (Acts 2:5). They marveled at the fact that simple Galileans were preaching the good news in their own language. What happened after they put faith in Christ reflects the subversive countercultural kingdom of Christ. People from different tribes and tongues and nations came together as family. Acts 2 tells us that they had everything in common and Acts 4 tells us that they were in one heart and in one spirit. How could it be that people from different languages, cultural backgrounds and cultural ideologies were able to come together in such a beautiful familial embrace? Because that is what the gospel does. There is no room for ethnic sectarianism in the church. It is antithetical to the gospel.

Our Gospel Mission does not Allow Excuses

Having segregated churches is settling for far less than the gospel promises. We have no biblical right to voluntarily choose to function in the same locale as ethnically separate but equal churches. The unique difficulties and challenges in aggressively pursuing an intentionally multi-ethnic congregation should not be used as a case against attempting to walk in line with the gospel in regard to race and ethnicity (Gal 2:14). Taking up your cross and following Christ is always difficult. It always will be. Our Great Commission responsibility has always included challenges related to differences in cultural and language.

The theological conviction and missiological practice of a local church must center on and be energized by the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Great Commission. The obstacles to gospel fidelity are not a reason for surrender but rather the reason we exist as the cruciform community of the risen Christ who herald the coming eschatological kingdom of Christ. Cross-cultural vocational missionaries overcome cultural boundaries, language boundaries, and personal style preferences for the sake of the gospel and missional Christians must do the same in their own communities. The church is a cruciform missional community subversive to the satanic idolatry that animates racial and ethnic hostility. Suggesting cultural differences in music, worship, and style preferences as an excuse for being content with ethnically segregated churches is a rejection of our mission.

When congregations become preference based affinity groups they are not bearing witness to the unifying work of the Spirit of Christ. We fear that too often the make up of our churches testifies to the triumph of affinity based marketing more than it does to the power of the gospel and the coming kingdom of Christ. A local church that is not spiritually battling to be as multiethnic as its broader community is revealing that it is theologically anemic and missionally impotent. Our culture declared war on separate but equal Jim Crow laws in 1960’s and it is about time we do the same with the ghost of Jim Crow still haunting too many of our evangelical denominations and local churches.

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