Why Jesus wants y’all to speak Southern

April 14, 2014

“Y’all” is one of the finest words in the English language.

It is an inclusive and precise term.Y’all is a second-person plural, meaning it is a plural version of “you.” So, for example, somebody would say: “You want to go to the game?” if referring to a single person, and “Y’all want to go to the game?” if referring to a group of people. The distinction seems to me as linguistically important as the distinction between “I” and “we” and between “he/she” and “they.”

At one time, English used “thou” as second-person singular and the word you as the plural form, but that usage faded in America about a century and a half after the Mayflower dropped anchor, leaving Americans with the imprecision of you performing double duty. Southerners came to the linguistic rescue of their fellow countrymen with the wonderful word “y’all.”

It is common for those outside the South to malign and misrepresent Southerners’ use of the word y'all. Famed Southern author Lewis Grizzard explained once,

The biggest mistake people from outside the South make in the y'all area is they don't think we say y'all at all. They think we say “you all.” A Southerner visiting the North surely will be mocked the first time he or she opens his or her mouth and out comes a Southern accent. Northerners will giggle and ask, “So where are you all from?” I answer by saying, “I all is from Atlanta.” …  Southerners rarely use “you all” in any situation but they never, never, ever, ever, use it when addressing just one person.

My primary interest in the word y'all is its theological importance. Here is our persistent problem: The Bible is most often written in the plural but most of us read it in the singular. We tend to come to Scripture for individualized answers to individualized questions. We read the Bible as if it is all about us as individuals. Thus, every time the Bible uses you we most often read it as a second-person singular when it is almost always a second-person plural — y’all. Our captivity to individualized grammar makes the gracious gift of cruciform community largely unintelligible.

In The Unnecessary Pastor, author, educator and Northerner Marva Dawn perceptively explains “We all need to become Southerners to read the Bible correctly, because to inhabit its world is to speak about our lives as ‘y’all’ (plural), instead of ‘you’ (singular).” She further notes, “To distinguish between ‘you’ as an intimate acquaintance, ‘you’ as someone I do not address in intimate terms because of respect or a less-developed relationship, and ‘you’ as a larger group in which I am but a part helps me to have a more truthful sense of my place in the whole.” Dawn adds, “It takes a long process to change the Western individualized vocabulary that is ruining our church.

Inhabitants of Western culture tend to view the world with self at the center of everything, but there is no room for radical individualism in the church. Christianity provides an alternative concept of the individual, one that locates the individual’s identity and value in Christ, his Kingdom and his church. The three are inextricable. The New Testament goes so far as to say  Christ does not even reckon himself complete apart from the church. In Ephesians 1:23, Paul describes the church as “his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” John Calvin, in his commentary The Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, explains the implications of the same Pauline verse:

This is the highest honor of the Church, that, until He is united to us, the Son of God reckons himself in some measure imperfect. What consolation is it for us to learn, that, not until we are along with him, does he possess all his parts, or wish to be regarded as complete! ).

If Christ does not even reckon himself complete apart from the church, how can the individual Christian do so? The individual believer is a citizen of “the Kingdom of his beloved Son” and is a part of a community of believers who are called to fight the spiritual battle together, not as isolated individuals (Col. 1:13, Eph. 6:10-18). The believer initially comes to Christ individually by faith, but no follower of Christ should envision living the Christian life outside of Christ or his Kingdom outpost — the church. Even our thoughts about corporate church life tend to be too often individualized, as though the church exists as an instrument to fulfill our personal needs rather than as the body of Christ to transform the cosmos.

Our individualized thinking and imprecise grammar have served to eclipse the subversive nature of Christian community, faith and living. When someone conceives of Christianity in an isolated and individualized manner, the tendency is to focus on personal contentment and survival. When we disregard the fact that Christ purchased our unity with himself and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22), we lose a sense of the grand eschatological story of Christ that we have been swept into, and we often vainly attempt to co-opt Jesus for our own story. This is why we often think a sermon podcast is as good as being in the corporate worship service; after all, we still get the biblical information we personally need to live our best life now.

But what if we thought about our lives in the plural and acted on that plurality? What if we thought of preaching as a gathered flock communally hearing the voice of our Shepherd-King, who is forming us together as cruciform community by the authority and power of his word? What if we thought about the Great Commission in terms of cosmic warfare to which we have been summoned together as an army of good soldiers of King Jesus? What if we thought of sanctification itself as a community project, rather than an individual experience?

Consider how a more theologically precise gospel grammar rescues us from the hopelessness of thinking of ourselves as a church of one:

The power of Christian community is profound. Together we hope, together we count it all joy, together we are strong in the Lord, and together we put on the armor of God. As individuals we will struggle, but our lives are woven into the fabric of the Gospel community. That is Good News so “Keep on rejoicing y’all” (Phil. 4:4).

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