What my African-American sons taught me about race in America

August 28, 2014

“He is my son!”  

The man behind the counter felt my anger.  I stood beside my black son as the man rolled his eyes and glared at my son with disgust saying, “I can’t do anything for him without his parents.” I was there to sign him in for a birthday party at a kid’s recreational place. There was no mistaking his racial contempt (I saw it all too often in my rural hometown) as he began ranting about those people who would just dump kids off. I quickly interrupted him and said, “He is my son!”  

I’m white. Two of my sons are black. One of my white sons walked in later, not even on the party list, and strolled right by the desk without a word or being asked to sign in at all. Seemingly, it did not matter whether he had a parent with him or not. I could cite countless other examples. Being the white dad of white and black sons has allowed me to unmistakably witness that many people treat them differently because of their skin color. We have many humorous stories about our trans-racial family but we also have too many that evoke tears.

My wife and I have worked hard to communicate that all our kids have the same rights and privileges in our family. We believe the truth that, by faith in Jesus Christ, we are adopted into a family called the church. In God’s family, no matter your skin color or background, you are granted full rights as a child of God. We believe such multi-ethnic love is a visible display of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our desire is to reflect this gospel reality in our home by the way we treat our kids. We are also abundantly thankful that our kids are growing up in a church full of diversity where this reality is being fleshed out.  

I have not wanted to believe that my sons are looked at differently because of the color of their skin—but they are. My family and friends are just as offended as I am when hearing the stories of people treating my black sons differently. They think, “Why would anyone treat Isaac or Jonah that way?” They know them. They love them. And that is the problem.

The world in which my sons live does not know their story. They do not know their siblings died of malnutrition. They don’t know they are ours—they are Haskins. All they know at a glance is that they are young black males. I hate to say it, but in totally neutral situations, there is no actual neutrality. Too often they are being judged, directly and indirectly, by preconceived notions about who they may be. In the end, it’s a direct assault on who they really are. I’ve seen it. My family lives it.

This knowledge has made me shudder as I have watched the events in Ferguson, Mo. Details concerning the evening Michael Brown was killed are still evolving. I’m not sure at this point anyone really knows exactly what happened. I am not sure we ever will. However, I am certain of one thing: After seeing the response to this tragedy, we are still tragically a racially divided nation. I also know that I have to prepare my black sons for situations my white sons will never have to face. They will have to work to gain respect that my other kids will naturally be given. I have learned from my African-American friends that there are certain things my black sons must do to avoid conflict and suspicion. Five years ago, when we adopted Isaac and Jonah, I naïvely had never considered these things.  

Not only does my personal experience lead me to believe that such problems really do exist, the ruins of an ancient tower found in Genesis 11 tell me why they exist. Men walked away from the kingdom of Babel with hostility in their hearts toward their Creator. This rebellion is the source of our racial animosity. It is through our enmity that we have all sought to create kingdoms of power and privilege that divide and war against one another. The sin in our hearts that first led us to alienate ourselves from God continues to cause us to alienate one another. This is a crucial chapter in our story that we must not deny.    

Sadly, I have not only experienced feeling racially superior—I have expressed it. As a white man born and raised in a rural community in Tennessee, I am well aware of the tendency I have to hold on to certain prejudices. It is easy to excuse them as the way I was raised. Desegregation, alone, never has and never will transform a racist’s heart. The Christian knows that the only ultimate hope for the racial divide in America isn’t some sort of generic sentimentality about a peaceful society. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is why I am so troubled that at times like the events in Ferguson, Christians of all colors tend to become much more committed to defending themselves and their group than admitting our hostility and working to end it through the mission of the church.     

Our reluctance to acknowledge racial sin and injustice makes me fearful for the future of my sons. I am also fearful about what our reluctance means for the church’s witness to the world. In the shadow of Ferguson, our churches are to be a beacon of racial harmony. And yet, when we look at our black brothers and sisters nonchalantly, as if to say, “Oh come on get over it,” we deny our gospel family identity.  

The tragedy of Ferguson has angered me in many ways. I have been angered by the fact that an unarmed black man was shot six times. I have been angered by the horrendous riots, looting and unjust treatment of good police officers. I have been angered by the misinformation. I have wept for my children. I have been angered most by the responses of many conservative whites to the tragedy. Many white evangelicals have acted outraged at any suggestion that black Americans face unique challenges in a white-dominant culture. Some have sounded gleeful over any snippet of evidence that would seemingly prove Michael Brown was not an upstanding citizen. It is sickening to hear evangelicals say things like, “See, he was drunk. See, he robbed a store. See, he was a thug.”

Is this a gospel response in the face of unspeakable tragedy? Is that what we would say to parents in our church whose son was killed while doing things he should not have been doing? I fear many evangelicals would give a safe head nod to racial reconciliation and equality without really taking the risk of identifying with our suffering black brothers and sisters. It is easy to deny the reality that being white in a white-dominant culture makes your path easier—if you are white. Too often, our response to racial injustice becomes a self-protecting mockery of the self-sacrificial One who bore the penalty for our racism.   

The only hope for my racial sin is found in a backwoods Galilean who was willing to pay the penalty for my sin, one who was willing to suffer discrimination in order to identify with me. As he declared himself to be God’s Son, the question was asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” As he was crucified, he was humiliated as a pathetic King for the Jews. In his afflictions, he too felt the rage of Babel.

Just as Jesus identified with us, we must be willing to identify with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ—no matter their color. In doing so, we must realize we will never totally understand their sufferings. It also means we must repent of denying such suffering and injustice exists. We must stand beside one another knowing that through faith in Jesus we have the same heavenly Father. And, standing together, we must seek to reflect the love of our Father who stands with us, black and white, and says, “He is my son!”   

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