Why my church is attending MLK50

March 26, 2018

“I want to adopt from Africa.”

The first time my wife said this, I secretly hoped that if I ignored it, she would move on to some other idea that was less threatening to me.

She never moved on. So we moved forward. A white family bringing home a black child.

In the spring of 2007, I had to begin exploring the nature of my fear. I wasn’t afraid of adoption. We had already done that. But the last time, we brought home a white baby. Turns out, I was afraid of being the white father of a black son. It wasn’t because I thought that being white was better than being black. I just didn’t know anything about being black, and I was afraid I would let down any young black kid who ever called me “Dad”. It sounds silly, but I had never even touched a black person’s hair before—and now I was supposed to teach my son how to take care of his?

“Separate but equal” isn’t best

As most white kids that grew up in the South in the 1980s and 90s, the faint remnants of a much more explicit racist past bubbled up to the surface from time to time in the form of a comment or a joke from others. I remember one relative saying to me, “Separate but equal is best.” Even as a kid, I couldn’t understand how separation would ever result in equality. I remember watching “The Cosby Show” and feeling like that could be my family. I remember when I had my first black friend. I knew something wasn’t right about “separate but equal.” I knew that anyone who used that phrase really just meant “separate” and didn’t care about “equal.”

But even with all of those small moments of revelation in my life, I never pushed against it practically. I kept myself separate from black people. It was easy. I was a part of the majority in a majority culture. Years later, through my fear when my wife first told me she wanted to adopt a black baby, I realized that even though I scoffed at the idea of “separate but equal,” I had been living it passively.

My parents didn’t ever say much to me about Dr. King. Neither did my teachers or pastors. I didn’t read Letter from Birmingham Jail until just a few years ago. That’s where Dr. King—and the Lord, too—confronted my passivity with these words:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in this stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.”

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Becoming an extremist

In that paragraph, I saw myself—a white moderate. And if Dr. King was right, I was a greater stumbling block to justice than the overtly racist Ku Klux Klan. It was the white moderate pastors who called Dr. King “an extremist”. In reply, Dr. King roll-called faithful people from biblical and church history in Hebrews 11 style.

Jesus–an extremist for love

Amos–an extremist for justice

Paul–an extremist for the spread of the gospel

Martin Luther, John Bunyan, Abraham Lincoln–all extremists

“So the question is not whether we will be extremists,” King wrote, “but what kind of extremists will we be? Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

Dr. King was saying that Christians are to be extremists for love. And love creates. It doesn’t destroy, or tear down. It creates. Love fulfills the cultural mandate that God gave human beings at the creation of the world. Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the Earth. Take the Garden into the wilderness. Create instead of destroy.

Now, thanks to God’s Word and his Spirit, and through the words of Dr. King, I have committed my life to being a “creative extremist”. Not only that, but as a white pastor, I am committed to leaving behind the moderation that passively allows for systemic racism to go unchecked behind the guise of “keeping order.”

As a creative extremist, that doesn’t mean destroying; it means building up. It means sacrificing and laying aside my own privilege for others, especially for my black brothers and sisters—and son. It means leading my church, with varying opinions on systemic racism, through difficult waters. It means openly talking about it and seeking opportunities to think deeply and act creatively regarding race and justice.

That’s why all of our elders and staff and some of our members will be at MLK50—to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy, to learn from other creative extremists, and to sit down together over three days, planning, praying, and asking the Lord to make our church a bunch of creative extremists. We have a long way to go, but, there is a rejection of passivity and privilege that I see happening in my heart, in my family, and in our church that I believe will bear fruit in our city, state, and country.

I’m so glad the Lord awakened me to my passivity, especially in my family. Now, one of my favorite moments of the day is my children’s bedtime. My two youngest sons–one black and one white–share a room together. When I turn their light off, I kiss them each on the head. Nothing lights up my heart more than leaning toward the two inches of curls on top of my 11-year-old’s head and feeling it brush up against my cheeks as I kiss him goodnight. It reminds me how perfect love drives out fear, and that being together is so much better than “separate but equal.”

Racial unity is a gospel issue and all the more urgent 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. Register for “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” taking place April 3-4, 2018, in Memphis, Tennessee, here.

Trevor Atwood

Trevor graduated from Middle Tennessee State University and then proceeded to get his Master of Divinity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He completed the Summit Network Church Planting Residency at the Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, which led him to plant City Church in Murfreesboro. Trevor … 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