Book Review

The Church and racial unity

A review of "No Flesh Shall Glory"

November 23, 2022

In No Flesh Shall Glory: How the Bible Destroys the Foundations of Racism, civil rights leader Rev. C. Herbert Oliver provides sound biblical exposition of the foundational biblical truths concerning race, racism, and segregation and denounces historic Christian justifications for racism and segregation. This revised edition includes his 1964 essay, “The Church and Social Change,” addressing the Church’s role in responding to sinful cultural norms. Both the original text and the added essay have much to offer contemporary efforts to pursue racial unity within the Church. 

Oliver grew up in the segregated city of Birmingham, Alabama. He dedicated his life to implementing the gospel of Christ to confront the intense cultural conflicts within his city, state, and nation. Throughout this book, he discusses a wide variety of topics including: the unity of the human race; God’s creativity in diversity; God’s purpose in diversity; different biblical interpretations of race; a biblical anthropology of humanity; and the practical Christian response to setbacks of racial reconciliation. Oliver’s work remains a significant landmark within the civil rights movement as well as an empowering encouragement to the followers of Christ in the 21st century.

All men are created equal

Throughout his book, Oliver offers many themes that challenge common beliefs regarding race relations, especially in the context of the 1950s and 1960s South in which he was writing. The first half of the book focuses on the biblical, historical, and anthropological realities regarding race and culture. In the second half, Oliver provides practical applications for the Church on how to approach the difficult issues of racism and segregation from a biblical point of view. This updated edition provides readers within a modern context a history of race relations as well as a reminder of how that application of biblical truth is needed today. 

Oliver states that the foundation for discourse within the Church regarding race relations must be rooted in God’s design and heart for human existence. Through the numerous mentions of nations, people groups, and genealogies, the Bible remains consistent to its core that all of humanity is equal, being made in God’s image and likeness (Gen. 1:27). From Genesis to Revelation, God exemplifies that he remains the God of all peoples, nations, and backgrounds. 

Yet, this truth by no means ignores the wide diversity of God’s creation. Although it is true that man is unified as one distinct race, it is also true that God created humanity containing a multitude of differences. In this, as Oliver explains, God demonstrates his love for creative action by, “refusing to create any two things exactly identical” (18). These differences exist to form a harmony of humanity and to serve unique purposes within God’s overarching meta-narrative of creation.

Oliver raises questions of concern over the popular 1950s term, “racial solidarity.” Racial solidarity ultimately refers to “the cohesion of a group around a few physical characteristics such as skin color, hair texture, and facial features” (19). Of the numerous unique traits designed and instituted by our perfectly creative God, it is concerning that history seems to value the pigment of one’s skin as the most defining characteristic. It is shallow and cruel to value something so narrow in determining the worth of an individual; especially an individual designed in the image of God. Instead, Oliver calls upon the church to focus on what he calls “Christian solidarity” to replace the evil notion of racial solidarity. As Oliver explains, the worldly presuppositions of racial solidarity do indeed value unity. However, it values a unity that is based upon sinful and divisive notions that essentially serve to divide rather than unify the culture. 

Oliver then addresses multiple false biblical claims that were often used to justify segregationist behavior. These popular segregationist justifications use Genesis 9:24-27 and the so-called, “mark of Ham,” as well as Acts 17:26 and the reference to God as the original segregationist. He provides a thorough historical analysis of biblical anthropology in tracing all existing races from Adam and Noah, to the descendants Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and to all of the races of the world. In this section, Oliver shows that claims of biblical segregation or racial preference are not rooted in proper interpretations of the text. They are the result of individuals using misreadings to justify their own racial bias. This abuse of the text and using it as a tool should be called what it is: the work of Satan who seeks to divide and destroy what God has called good. 

Oliver calls the Church to be seen as the people who value the character and uniqueness of every individual regardless of their race or ethnicity. Oliver states, “The Christian historian must be guided by a higher motive than race. He must see the earth as the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (45). God’s calling of salvation focuses not on the tribe, tongue, or nation of man. It certainly does not focus on the pigment of skin. Such understanding is a shallow view of God’s creation. 

Why is this relevant today?

No Flesh Shall Glory was a challenge to the Church during a time of severe segregation and egregious racism in the 1960s. Olivers discusses particular racial issues that were not widely accepted by evangelicals such as segregation, interracial marriage, the Bible’s embrace of racial diversity, and the association of different races. At the time of publication, these were contentious issues, but Oliver wisely uses the Word of God to approach each of these topics and challenges the Church to do so along the way.

Why is this relevant today? Children from different races are legally allowed to attend the same school, men and women of different races are legally allowed to marry, and there are numerous laws making discrimination illegal. Oliver’s work extends far beyond the racial injustice of his day. This work presents a responsibility that the Church should hold far into the future. While racism looks different, tragically, it still exists today. 

There are also new issues which are attacks on the dignity of individuals within our culture such as abortion and sexual violence. The principle of Christian responsibility to bring the full weight of Scripture to bear on the moral issues of the day that Oliver lays out before us applies to all of these issues, especially the idea that the Church ought to be the one pushing for a change in culture, not the other way around. 

The call of this book for the church to meet the problem of racial prejudice remains relevant today. Racism still exists, therefore, the same call to action that Oliver made to the Church in the civil rights era still remains true today. Our current moment calls for the Church to lead on the question of racial justice and reconciliation from our conviction that Christ enables a unity that crosses racial boundaries. The Church is an institution uniquely capable of doing this work, not the wider culture. Christians must esteem the worth and dignity of every boy and girl, man and woman, no matter our outward distinctions. And we must extend the call of reconciliation to them—reconciliation to God through Jesus and to one another. 

Eli Pattat

Eli Pattat is a student at the University of Memphis and a former intern at the ERLC. 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