The need for gospel-centered racial reconciliation

May 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.

President Obama’s historic election to the White House in November 2008 spoke volumes about how far the United States has come on the race issue since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement. Unfortunately, many Americans, and especially Americans of color, were naively under the delusion that an African-American elected to the United States presidency would end certain forms of racism and racial discrimination. Some initially promulgated at water cooler conversations that Obama’s victory proves that we are now living in a post-racial America. Even some voices in the media and in different political organizations declared that the election of President Obama and the emergence of several African-Americans to positions of power in the public square demonstrate that there is no longer a need for basic civil rights organizations that work to fight for the equal rights of people of color.

However, the numerous racially motivated crimes in the United States alone (not to mention in other parts of the world); the recent racist remarks directed toward African-Americans recorded in the media, and the recent legal decisions not to allow race to play a role in college admission suggest that racism still exists. In light of the nation’s current racial strife and our recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington — noted from the White House press room to the dining room, and from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to the steps on many front porches — African-Americans, people of color and other Americans are asking why so many blacks fall prey to gun violence. Why are African-Americans and people of color often racially profiled simply because of the color of their skin, even racially profiled, I might add, by other African-Americas and people of color? Additionally, many African-Americans and families of color are forced to answer difficult questions from their children about racism, and to have difficult conversations with them about the great injustices that many people of color still experience in the 21st century despite the election of Obama. But the question remains: why does racism still exist in 2014?

Many people of color blame racism on the “white man.” However, in my view, to do so is racist. The Bible explicitly states that racism exists because of sin. Sin alienates all races from one another—not just blacks and whites. Sin is the reason why the entire human race needs to be reconciled first to God and secondly to one another. Racism should not be limited to the black and white divide. Race is a biblical category for “otherness.” This otherness can be classified as Jew and Gentile. The gospel suggests that racism is a universal power that rules and reigns like an evil tyrant over all Jews and Gentiles–over all of the different races scattered throughout the world due to the universal power of sin (Rom. 1:18-3:20)–and because of the fall of Adam and Even in the Garden (Gen. 3-4, 11). Yet, the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus died and resurrected from the dead to kill all forms of sin (John 1:29; Rom. 3:25; 5:12-8:11; 1 John 2:2)–even the sin of racism, so that Jews and Gentiles would be firstly reconciled to God and secondly to one another (Eph. 2:11-22) so that those who have faith in Jesus Christ and who live in the power of the gospel can experience genuine reconciliation with God and their fellow-man (Gal. 2:11-14). This way racial reconciliation would actually be practiced and experienced in both church and society in practical ways by those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ (Rom. 14-15).

Over the course of three blogs, I want to foster a discussion about race and racism in light of the conversation about race that has emerged in recent days. The blogs will emphasize some gospel-centered answers in Scripture with the intent of moving the current discussion of race and racial reconciliation from the political, legal and public relation realms to the biblical, theological and spiritual realms. This approach serves to point people to the eternal hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of the despair that comes from living in a sinful world dominated by sin, especially the sin of racism. My approach is especially necessary since secular discussions about race, racism and racial reconciliation continue to offer the hopeless solution of tolerance, since many Christians unfortunately do not think of race, racism and racial reconciliation from a biblical and theological perspective. Many Christians do not think of racism as a gospel issue, and many people continue to ignore that the category of race or racism exists. To the contrary, I propose that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the life changing solution to the problem of racism. I additionally propose that if Christians believe, live and boldly proclaim the message of a Christ who died, resurrected and who transforms by the power of the Holy Spirit all of those who have faith in him as the Jewish Messiah, then the sin of racism would be mortified. The result of faith in the proclamation of the crucified and risen Christ would translate into Spirit-filled love that would move all people from all nations within the Christ-following community to endure one another in love.

In the rest of this blog, I want to discuss sin as the root cause of all forms of racism and suggest that racism is in fact sin against God and that racism had its origins in the historic fall of Adam of Even in the Garden of Eden. In the second blog, I will discuss that Jesus’ death for all sins and his resurrection from the dead are God’s provision for all forms of racial hostility. In the third blog, I will discuss that Jesus’ death for all sins and his resurrection from the dead actually (not hypothetically) accomplished reconciliation for all who trust in Jesus by faith. The latter blog will also suggest that racial reconciliation must be and can be pursued in practical and intentional ways by those redeemed by Jesus and by those who want to experience it in the real world in both church and society.

Sin as the root cause of racism

Genesis 1-3 is the foundational biblical text that informs us about the reason for racism. In Genesis 1-2, God created the heavens and the earth. The entire creation is perfect and without sin, so God calls everything that he makes good (Gen. 1:18, 25). In Genesis 2:17, God commands Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil lest he dies. Unfortunately, both he and Eve listened to the voice of the serpent, disobeyed God and brought the curse of death and sin into the world (Gen. 3:1-19). In Romans 5:12, Paul emphasizes that death and sin entered the world through Adam and death through sin with the result that all without exception now sin. In 1 Corinthians 15:22, Paul states that “all die in Adam.”

Immediately after Adam and Eve sin in Genesis 3, both their relationship with God is severed (Gen. 3:8), which is why they run away from him. Humanity’s relationship with fellow-man is severed (Gen. 4), which is why Cain murdered his brother. Humanity’s separation from God and ethno-racial division are fundamentally the result of the devastating consequences of sin’s entrance into the world through the sin of our first parents: Adam and Even. Before racism can be obliterated, its chief cause must be destroyed. In my view, the gospel of Jesus Christ suggests that Jesus’ death dealt with humanity’s sin-problem, killed the enmity between Jews and Gentiles and reconciles them to God and to one another when alienated sinners place faith in the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:11-22), who died to deliver sinners from every tongue, tribe, people and nation from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4; Rev. 5:9). The first step toward racial reconciliation is to recognize that racism is sin and the direct result of the historic fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden.

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