Why the church is the most significant player in the fight against racism

July 18, 2016

Last week, just a few days after two black men were killed by white police and a day after five white officers were killed by a black man who admittedly targeted white police, President Obama stood in front of the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland, and said, “America is not as divided as some have suggested.”

I understand why he said this. He said it for the same reason that you convince your friend who just stopped by for a surprise visit that your house is not always dirty. It’s the kind of thing you say when you are in a room filled with leaders from other countries. Yet, although it sounds like the right thing to say, it might actually have been the wrong thing to say. What if our greatest hope is not in trying to convince ourselves (and others) that we are better than we really are, but in seeing ourselves as bad as we really are?

Good laws don’t change bad hearts

There is no possible way that we can overstate the significance of the Civil Rights movement. Our nation has made incredible strides over the past 70 years. We often forget that there are still black people alive who grew up in an America where they could not use the same restroom or drink from the same water fountain as whites. This is almost hard to believe. We have come a long way as a nation. We have made some good laws that have led to great progress. But the reality is: Good laws don't change bad hearts. Just because the law allows a black woman to sit in the front of the bus does not mean there will not be a white man on the bus who thinks she should be in the back. The law is powerful and absolutely necessary, but it is limited. The law might change the fruit of the problem, but it cannot change the root of the problem.

What has been exposed over the last year, and has been highlighted over the last few weeks, is that no matter what the law says, there is plenty of hatred and racism in the hearts of the American people. And given the right set of circumstances, this hatred and racism will rear its disgusting head. It's not everywhere, but it's still there. And the only hope of ending it is identifying it for what it is; namely, evil attitudes that flow from depraved hearts. This is not a hopeless sentiment. On the contrary, seeing ourselves as bad as we really are is the only pathway to hope.  

There are few things more distasteful—and frankly unhelpful—than when critics and pundits immediately try to politicize a tragedy. It's actually remarkable how quickly it happens. Before the bullet casings are picked up off the ground, people are talking about new laws that need to be made. But no matter how many laws we make, the hearts of people will remain the same unless they are changed by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not a political problem; it’s a spiritual problem. And that is precisely why the church is the primary player in the fight against the heinous sin of racism.

The church is an agent of change

The church is not a group of disgruntled spectators lamenting about the things that need to be changed; the church is an active player and the agent of change. We need to acknowledge that we have a problem that the government cannot solve, a problem that the church has been uniquely equipped and called to solve. It is not enough for us to make statements about the obvious. We must be convinced, deep in our hearts, that we are the stewards of the only truth that will take down the dividing wall of hostility that exists in our nation.

Could it be that God, who brings light out of darkness, would use a tragedy like this to show us that our nation is more divided than we thought? Could it be that God would use this situation to show us that behind all of our good laws there are still evil hearts? Could it be that these tragedies would serve as a reminder of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to change the darkest heart and the role of the church in proclaiming that gospel? Could it be that these tragedies are yet another call for the church to arise and unashamedly proclaim that there is a God who sent his Son to die so that our evil hearts might be changed?

If we, as the church of Jesus Christ, do not see the centrality of our role in a moment like this, then we will fail to offer the world the only hope it has. The church does not, in any way, rejoice in moments like this, but we do rejoice in a God who can take devastatingly painful moments and redeem them for good. Yet, if we fail to do everything we can in these moments to point people to Jesus, we have not only failed to be a faithful church, we have failed to be faithful citizens.  

Brothers and sisters, we must be faithful to enter into the pain and suffering of those around us and weep with those who weep. But we must also point those weeping people to the God who will one day wipe away every tear from every eye of those who trust him. This is not a moment for the church to be silent. This is a moment for the church to proclaim the peace, hope, love and transforming power of Jesus Christ. After all, if we don’t, who will?

J. Josh Smith

J. Josh Smith is the lead pastor of MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, Texas.  Read More by this Author

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