“A Champion of the Christian Way in Race Relations”

Brooks Hays’ legacy in the Southern Baptist Convention

Amy Whitfield

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has seen hundreds of leaders throughout its history. Typically, pastors of large churches or entity leaders are among the most commonly remembered, but the contribution of lay leaders is often just as instrumental. In a time of national and denominational turmoil, one Southern Baptist layman served at the highest levels of leadership in the United States government and the SBC, with equal commitment to both and a desire to make a difference. 

Born at the close of the 19th century, Brooks Hays (1898–1981) saw tremendous change over his lifetime—in the world around him, in the culture of the South, and in Southern Baptist life. He would witness the establishment of the Executive Committee, the development and subsequent revision of the Baptist Faith and Message, the invention of the Cooperative Program, massive growth and institutionalization of denominational structures, the golden age of the layman’s movement, and the tortured Southern Baptist conscience of the civil rights era.

A thoroughly Baptist beginning

Hays’ childhood was entrenched in Southern Baptist culture. His parents were devoted to their local church and were highly engaged in convention life. His father was an attorney but served as both clerk and moderator of his local Baptist association for years, setting the example for his son of what it meant to be a devoted layman. Brooks was attending associational meetings as a child with his father as soon as he was old enough to sit through them.1“Brooks Hays’ Father Dies In Arkansas.” (1959, June 10). Baptist Press, 2.

At 10 years old, he went to the Arkansas Baptist State Convention’s annual meeting and was captivated. He attended his first SBC annual meeting in 1920 in Washington, D.C. Having graduated from college, he was working as a Treasury Department clerk and attending law school at night. The convention had come to his city, and he was not going to miss it. He observed messengers and was “thrilled” by what he witnessed. 

After law school, Hays returned to Arkansas and quickly established himself in state government, but his commitment to public service never eclipsed his commitment to the Church. He taught a popular Bible class at Second Baptist Church in Little Rock that was incredibly diverse for its time, became a deacon and Sunday school leader in his early 20s, and was president of the Arkansas Sunday School Convention before he turned 30.

A leader in Congress and the Convention

By the time Hays was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1942, there was no question that he would be just as much of a churchman as he was a congressman. In 1953, he introduced House Concurrent Resolution 60 to establish a prayer room for members of Congress. Now 70 years later, the Congressional Prayer Room still sits near the Rotunda and has been the space for countless senators and representatives to quiet their hearts and minds as they approach their work. 

In 1950, he was elected second vice president of the convention, serving alongside President R.G. Lee of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. At the time of his election, he was not in attendance, but he sent a telegram to the convention from his House of Representatives office: “Please convey my profound thanks for the high honor conferred upon me by my fellow Baptists. It will be a great pleasure to work with them in carrying forward the great program of our denomination.”2“Brooks Hays Announces As Governor Candidate.” (1966, April 14). Baptist Press, 1.

His service on the Christian Life Commission began with his appointment to the Committee on Progress on Race Relations in 1953. He was chairman of the CLC for two years beginning in 1955, and in 1957 he was elected president of the SBC, being the sixth out of seven total laymen to hold the office. 3“Hays Is Sixth Layman Chosen SEC President.” (1957, June 13). Baptist Press, 1. These were tumultuous years for the Commission, specifically in its relationship to the convention as a whole, and most difficulties came down to one major issue.

A tenure during tumult

Both Hays’ congressional career and convention leadership were marked by the primary matter that captured the South throughout the 1950s. Segregation was as much a battle in the churches as in the culture, and as the unity of Southern Baptist cooperation was tested, Hays’ search for a middle ground came at a personal cost. The Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education caused turmoil throughout the South and within the SBC. As Southerners resisted the enforcement of desegregation, churches saw division and disunity among their members. 

Hays wanted Southern Baptists to focus on doing good and improving race relations, but the path that he tried to forge was initially inconsistent as he navigated his two worlds. The CLC encouraged acceptance of the Brown decision in its 1954 report, yet Hays was one of 82 members of the House to sign the Southern Manifesto attacking the decision. He later expressed regret for adding his name, but the contradiction was stark. A few years later his public stance was more clear and had lasting personal consequences.

In 1957, shortly after his election as SBC president, Hays inserted himself into brewing trouble at home by appealing to Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus to stop his defiance of the federal government over desegregation. He arranged a meeting in Rhode Island between Faubus and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but his attempt to bring them together and forestall the crisis failed. Faubus enlisted the National Guard to stop the Little Rock Nine from entering Central High School, and the stand-off ended with Eisenhower’s executive order to federalize the National Guard and desegregate the school by force. 

His opposition to Faubus’ refusal to comply with Brown had career-ending implications for Hays. His attempt to broker peace cost him his seat in Congress when he lost to a last-minute write-in segregationist candidate.4Encyclopedia of Arkansas. (2022, November 16). Encyclopedia of Arkansas. https://encyclopediaof arkansas.net/entries/lawrence-brooks-hays-506/ It was not enough to cost him favor with the majority of Southern Baptists, who reelected him in 1958 for a second term in spite of two surprise nominations of candidates to challenge him.51958 SBC Annual, 50-51.

The messengers were still wary of the CLC’s support of desegregation, but Hays encouraged trust in the organization. In his 1958 address to the convention, he commended to messengers the importance of the Commission to the churches. After acknowledging its mandate of speaking for Southern Baptists where authorized, he added, “Equally important is its role of familiarizing our people with problems of this nature, supplying counsel and advice on the subject as well as information on the Scripture teaching in specific areas, and to seek a sensitizing of the Christian conscience wherever evil, injustice and oppression exist anywhere in the world.”61958 SBC Annual, 79. 

The issue of foreign relations was also important to Hays, particularly the Church’s role in the world. As SBC president, he traveled to Russia and connected with local Baptist churches as well as other Christians. Some of his congressional colleagues were troubled by the trip, but he assured them that it was a non-political visit. Some Southern Baptists were not pleased that he was interacting with people who had other religious beliefs, but Hays stood up for religious liberty and the need to live at peace with others. 

Hays also recommended an SBC presidential committee on world peace, which served for a time and then gave its work over to the CLC.7Ibid., 80 In 1959, the CLC appointed him to be the first Southern Baptist observer to the United Nations, where he witnessed “a deep appreciation of Baptist influence and our point of view in world affairs.”8“Hays Reports His United Nations Visit.” (1959, October 10). Baptist Press, 1

Hays finished his career speaking, writing, and teaching in law schools and universities. He continued to build up the Church and encourage Southern Baptists as the devoted layman he had always been. On March 1, 1965, the Christian Life Commission awarded Hays its first-ever distinguished service award, “in recognition of unique and outstanding contributions to Southern Baptists, the nation, and mankind in the interest of world peace, racial justice, and Christian citizenship.”9“Hays Receives Award For Role in Ethics.” (1965, March 3). Baptist Press, 2-3.

Brooks Hays never felt the call to vocational ministry, but he took seriously the responsibility to serve the Church. At the heart of his efforts was a desire for cooperation—that people would stand together and do what is right. When he died in 1981, he was remembered as “one of the great lay presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention” and “a champion of the Christian way in race relations.”10“Former SBC President Brooks Hays, 83, Dies.” (1981, October 12). Baptist Press, 4–5.n

Amy Whitfield is Director of Marketing and Communications at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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