What “shalom” has to do with racial reconciliation: An address at OBU

January 12, 2018

This is the first part in a two-part series.

The year I began college was a year of international unrest, national anxiety, and angst. It was also the year that I began to understand that the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. was not yet realized. It was the year of my rude awakening about race and the beginning of a lifelong education about race relations—one that continues today.

One of my best friends in college was African-American. One night we were eating at a local restaurant when I became aware that the waitress was intentionally ignoring us and serving others who had come in after us. I became irritated, and when my friend noticed, he cautioned me to never offend a person who handled my food.

There, I saw my friend and his reality with a new perspective, and my heart dropped. It was if scales had suddenly dropped off my eyes and I saw for the first time what was happening. The waitress was intentionally behaving this way because of his skin color. It dawned on me that what was new and offensive and so troubling to me, was nothing out of the ordinary for my buddy. So began a deeper set of conversations between the two of us, and so began a greater awareness of the realities around me when it came to race and race relations.

We still have so much to do when it comes to race relations in our country, in our churches, in our universities, and in our homes.

As far as we seem to have come on so many fronts, there is the tragic reality that we still have so much to do when it comes to race relations in our country, in our churches, in our universities, and in our homes. I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time, but what was missing then is missing still—shalom: completeness, contentment, wholeness, peace.

What does shalom have to do with it?

I want to focus attention on the hard work of shalom as it relates to racial reconciliation. Some may argue that this problem will never be solved, and that focusing on such difficult subjects only exacerbates the problem. But I reject the notion that this topic is too difficult to solve, or that we should ignore the subject because too much focus exacerbates the problem. We must address this because reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel of our Lord Jesus. We cannot ignore this, because we are called to be ministers of reconciliation. We are called to address it because those of us in theological education are Christian scholars, equipped and prepared to think through, work through, and lead through the hard issues of our day.  Furthermore, it is incumbent upon us to speak out when events unfold.  

We must not equivocate, either as Christians or as Baptists. Let us always be clear. We reject white supremacy as un-Christian, anti-gospel, and antithetical to the Word of God. We echo the words of ERLC president, Russell Moore who wrote,

White supremacy does not merely attack our society (though it does) and the ideals of our nation (though it does); white supremacy attacks the image of Jesus Christ himself. White supremacy exalts the creature over the Creator, and the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against it. This sort of ethnic nationalism and racial superiority ought to matter to every Christian, regardless of national, ethnic or racial background. After all, we are not our own but are part of a church — a church made up of all nations, all ethnicities, united not by blood and soil but by the shed blood and broken body of Jesus Christ.[1] 

We must remind ourselves of the message of reconciliation and unity found in the gospel and in passages like 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. Stan Norman reminded us of this in his Hobbs Lecture in 2014 on the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University,

Reconciliation with God brings reconciliation with one another.  You cannot have one without the other. In fact, the biblical witness is that the reality of reconciliation with God is demonstrated by the reality of reconciliation among his people. . . . Racial barriers and hostilities are a festering wound in the body of Christ.  The perversion of both active and passive racism must be confronted and removed.

Because we are a university, charged with thinking, scholarship, and leading, it is incumbent upon us to work through these issues. Nicholas Wolterstorff described a college as a place where disciplined study is at the center of its project, and where shalom and the delight that is found in right relationships energize its work.  He writes, “A college is a school, and as such, it places disciplined study at the center of its project.  But the lure of shalom will direct and energize it.  The goal of the Christian college, so I have begun to think, is to promote that mode of human flourishing which is shalom.”[2]

As a university, we must speak out on these issues because they are matters of great importance and relevance for our culture. We must speak to these issues because we promote that mode of human flourishing which is shalom.  But because we are a Baptist university—because we are a Southern Baptist university—we are especially accountable for speaking out on this particular issue. When an individual or a group has committed a particular sin, there is a commiserate burden. Given the Southern Baptist Convention’s founding, its particular sins of racism in its past, the Convention and its entities and organizations carry the added weight of responsibility for speaking out often and repeatedly against racism. Not just because it’s right or needed, but because we bear particular responsibility.  

Pete Menjares challenges Christian universities seeking to be more racially and ethnically inclusive, writing, “This inclusive model for the kingdom has practical implications for spiritual formation, chapel programming, and leadership. Looking to the future, will the Christian college be directed and energized by the lure of shalom, and will it seek the shalom of the individuals and places it serves?”[3] My answer is yes, the Christian university must seek the shalom of the individuals and places it serves—without question.

In another article, we’ll look at what this means for individuals and Christian universities.

Editor’s note: Racial unity is a gospel issue and all the more urgent 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. Join the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition at a special event, “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” taking place April 4, 2018, in Memphis, Tenn. Key speakers include Russell Moore, Benjamin Watson, John Piper, Jackie Hill-Perry, Matt Chandler, Eric Mason and many others. Learn more here.


  1. ^ Russell Moore, "White supremacy angers Jesus, but does it anger his church?" The Washington Post, Aug. 14, 2017
  2. ^ “Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education”
  3. ^ Pete Menjares “Diversity in the CCCU: The Current State and Implications for the Future,” in Diversity Matters: Race, Ethnicity, and The Future of Christian Higher Education, Longman, Gen. Ed., ACU Press, 2017

David W. Whitlock

David Whitlock is the president of Oklahoma Baptist University. Active in a variety of professional organizations, Whitlock has served as a consultant-evaluator with the Higher Learning Commission since 2006. He has completed four academic institution evaluation visits, including a site visit to a Chinese institution. He also is an evaluator and mentor … Read More

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