Speak redemptively, as Christians should

March 10, 2014

Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for freedom and equal rights for black Americans and other minorities oppressed by the white majority. King and his followers achieved many victories through such laws as the Civil Rights Act criminalizing racial discrimination. But decades after King’s assassination, black Americans experience an increasing amount of rhetorical racism from blacks and whites alike.

Rhetorical racism perpetrated by blacks against blacks can be traced to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s scandalous novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe exposed the horrors of slavery in part by placing at the center of her narrative a house slave named Uncle Tom, presented as a virtuous, hard-working and apparently Christian slave. Against the advice of fellow slaves, Uncle Tom refused to flee his master, instead faithfully serving as long as he was his master’s property.

Consequently, the phrase Uncle Tom entered popular American culture as a derogatory epithet directed toward blacks by other blacks who judged the former group untrue to their African American selves. The phrase accuses targeted blacks of caring more about pleasing whites than about preserving African American identity and particularity.

A good education, proper English, a good work ethic, evangelical Christianity and membership in a multiethnic or mostly white church are among characteristics that might attract the Uncle Tom moniker. White associates, interracial relationships, a traditional family, theological or political conservatism, certain musical and dietary preferences, cross-race adoptions, an honest living and enrollment in certain schools are also among characteristics that sometimes attract the term. Discussions about Uncle Tom-ness in the media support some of the preceding assertions.

A couple of years ago, at least two black former professional athletes publically referred to two black athletes as Uncle Toms, referencing privileged upbringings, attendance at a certain school, a good home-life and an international upbringing.

Ironically, many blacks who call others an Uncle Tom often use the n-word as a term of endearment, in spite of its traditional use by white racists and slave owners to shame and dishonor Africans enslaved in America. Furthermore, racists continue to use the term to dehumanize blacks.

Some blacks use the n-word in attempts to be hip, cool, socially acceptable or funny, but these same blacks often have a double standard. Some of them would be offended if a white person called them the n-word, while finding the term either less offensive or inoffensive when uttered by blacks. In fact a few years ago some very accomplished blacks in the film industry publically criticized a white woman who works in media when she publically stated that no one, white or black, should use the term because it is offensive.

As a black with a multiracial background, born in an extremely racist part of Eastern Kentucky and reared there for 18 years, I have been called a number of racist epithets by both blacks and whites throughout my 35 years of life. White racists have called me everything from a black n-word, a colored kid, to a colored boy for reasons that they deemed appropriate. Likewise, black racists have called me everything from a black n-word, Uncle Tom, whitey, sell out, half-breed, or high yellow.

In my view, the n-word is the most offensive racist slur directed toward blacks, regardless of the ethnicity and race of the person speaking. The reason is quite simple. White racists used this term from its inception to dehumanize, dishonor and ostracize Africans enslaved within what such racists thought was a superior white society. Many black descendants of slaves continue to refer endearingly to each other with this derogatory word in music, movies or casual conversation, thereby reinforcing a racist, non-redemptive rhetoric and worldview of slavery and white superiority.

I am absolutely puzzled that many blacks embrace the n-word as endearing when used within the race, since racists have used and continue to use the term to degrade and dehumanize blacks. Equally, I am baffled that many blacks use the phrase Uncle Tom to shame and paint a negative caricature of certain blacks. I am most shocked that some blacks and whites who identify with the Christian faith have no problem with this sort of racist speech. By contrast, Stowe used the phrase Uncle Tom complimentary and the n-word negatively.

All ethno-racial communities should embrace the Christian identity of Stowe’s Uncle Tom. Concurrently, we should reject the racism Uncle Tom suffered, the racist worldview that enslaved some and promoted superiority in others, and racist speech used in the novel.

All slavery is evil. Those who worked relentlessly to abolish slavery and help slaves escape and attain their freedom did the right thing, indeed the Christian thing! Yet, Stowe suggests that Uncle Tom chose to be faithful to Christ even while living within the evil institution of slavery. Stowe presents a biblical principle that neither condones the evil institution of slavery nor excludes the Bible’s permission to practice civil disobedience.

Regardless of the ethno-racial group using the rhetoric, hate-speech is sinful and dishonors our God and Christ. Consequently, no Christian should use racist hate-speech, even when socially acceptable. Black Christians should speak with redemptive speech to and about all blacks and other ethno-racial groups. We should not tolerate or approve of black church members calling other black members Uncle Tom or the n-word. Regardless of the cultural popularity of racist hate-speech, black Christians should seek to be distinctively Christian, as citizens within the kingdom of God and as members of a new race in Christ, a race filled with different races (1 Pet. 2:9).

Christians from any ethno-racial community should repent of their sins, including the sins of racism and racist speech, and express God’s great work of redemption in our lives through Christ, who is wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).

Regardless of the ostracism we may endure, the gospel must permeate every single area of our lives if we are redeemed by Jesus’ blood. The gospel must permeate our speech to or about the different ethno-racial communities God created, because God sent Jesus to die for the sins of all, and to fashion us into a new race known as Christians (John 1:29; 3:16; Eph. 2:11-22; 1 Pet. 2:9).

God chose to save different ethno-racial groups before the foundation of the world and to unite us together in Christ by faith, so that we would be forgiven our transgressions and sins by the blood of Christ, and sealed by the Holy Spirit. God wants us to hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3-14) and to be new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).

Christians from various ethno-racial groups throughout the world are elect and foreknown — loved beforehand — by God, sprinkled by the blood of Jesus Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 1:1-2). God makes Christians from different ethno-racial communities into a new race in Christ, a royal priesthood, a chosen nation, and a people for God’s own possession (1 Pet. 2:9). By one’s exclusive faith in Jesus’ wrath-bearing death on the cross and by his victorious resurrection from the dead, God will redeem some from every tongue, tribe, people and nation to be Christians (Rom. 3:24; 4:25; Rev. 5:9).

God saves Christians to be holy, to be living sacrifices to him in every area of our lives, including how we speak to and about one another (Rom. 8:28-30; 12:1-2). Scripture teaches us to lay aside filthy speech, coarse jesting and every form of evil. Scripture commands us to be holy and not to let any evil word come out of our mouths (Eph. 4:17-5:20; 1 Pet. 1:3-2:10). God wants the redeemed to speak to and about each other in Spirit-filled love, with words that build up instead of destroy (Gal. 5:16-26; James 3:5-10), because Jesus redeemed our souls and our speech.

May a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled and edifying vision of gospel-centered, ethno-racial reconciliation redeem our speech and empower us to live distinctively as the people of God in this present evil age.

Jarvis J. Williams

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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