It was quite a year: 2016 forced us to consider the refugee crisis… the #BlackLivesMatter movement… kneeling during the national anthem… a polarizing, words-heavy presidential campaign season. Yes, we saw numerous headlines forcing us into self-reflection, sometimes catching us off-guard, and we’re still reading similar headlines. What are our gut reactions to the latest stories? How did we get those opinions, and how did we get so confident in our views?
How did we get so… biased?
Five years ago, I conducted an interview with an African American woman on racism, and she kept redirecting the dialogue toward stereotyping. I’m finally beginning to understand why.
It’s getting near impossible to ignore our biases — those thoughts many of us ignore yet are influenced by daily. Current events shine a light on our thought patterns. It’s uncomfortable, for when news stories call us to sort through our own perceptions of people groups, we come face to face with the ugliness of our hearts.
So what do we do about it? We know we were made to live in community, and we want to. But stereotyping and silent prejudices have us facing the highest of relational walls. How do we uproot biases that have been lodged discreetly (and not so discreetly) in our hearts?
I’m clearly not an expert, and I’m stumbling along, but Scripture is full of guidance. Verse after verse, story after story, we see our Rescuer’s heart and His value of community, unity, the marginalized, the oppressed, and misunderstood people groups.
The apostle Peter, surprisingly, has a lot of relational advice. The man who betrayed his friend, Jesus, and then hid when it really mattered, eventually drank from the cup of forgiveness and grace. (John 18, John 21)
But time often has a way of bringing back our self-protective patterns. And Peter, the guy with the flaring temper and abrasive personality, is openly prejudice as he tries to lead the first century Church. We see him excluding people because of their race and refusing to eat with anyone who doesn’t share his ethnicity. (John 18, Galatians 2)
In true redemptive fashion, God pursues and restores him again, transforming Peter into an advocate for healthy relationships. The one who was an open racist is now giving advice on how to get along with others.
Our Redeemer can do the same transformation for us today. Sure, you may not prohibit someone of a different race from eating with you in the office cafeteria, but are you judging her and feeling superior as you eat together? Where do your thoughts jump when you pass a young man dressed differently than you? In a matter of seconds, we can make judgment calls on someone’s intelligence, value, and worth, all while feeling better about ourselves.
Here are some principles on how to uproot bias in our hearts — even when it’s in there deep.
Bravely Enter into Self-Examination
When we hear about injustice and oppression in our community, we often want to do something. I have been challenged over and over by others lately to first look inward. Sometimes it’s easier to join a movement of mercy or establish a cause for justice than to examine your own heart.
“Get yourselves ready, prepare your minds to act, control yourselves, and look forward in hope as you focus on the grace that comes when Jesus the Anointed returns and is completely revealed to you… Put aside the desires you used to pursue when you didn’t know better.” I Peter 1:13-14
Choose to engage in self-reflection as you search your mind and heart. Get ready for what you’re about to find. But don’t stop there. Look forward in hope to the grace that’s available to you.
A few questions to ask yourself:
What stereotypes and biases have I been entertaining?
What do I assume about certain people before we’re even introduced?
Why am I scared to self-examine?
Discover What’s Been Missing from Your Narrative
While intentional steps are needed to move forward in combating our bias, it’s worth pausing and figuring out what got us here. What’s your story? What were you not told in childhood textbooks? Were photos of different races missing in articles you read throughout high school and college? From TV shows to history lessons and everything in between, sometimes what’s missing from the narrative imprints our hearts as much as the noise.
“You know that a price was paid to redeem you from following the empty ways handed on to you by your ancestors; it was not paid with things that perish (like silver and gold), but with the precious blood of the Anointed.” I Peter 1: 18-19
Peter urges his readers to remember that the blood of Christ shed on the cross — the heart of the Gospel story — can cover the “empty ways” passed down, which includes our ignorance. Once you see, you cannot un-see. And God graciously restores our ability to live in community as He reveals what has been missing from our life’s narrative.
Be in Relationship with Those Different From You
“Live as those who are free… Respect everyone. Love the community of believers…” I Peter 2:16-17
When we develop friendships with those who are different from us, our view of other races and cultures expand. We still see color, for our creative God has proven His love for diversity in the creation of humans and the physical world. But our stereotypes of others don’t have as much power over us when we’re in relationship with people who represent various histories, values, and customs. Instead of “that Asian woman”, I now see a woman that reminds me of a friend. Instead of “that black man”, I remember the seminary student in my small group. Instead of “that poor white guy”, I think of the man who is a greeter at my church.
Relationships turn people into people instead of just members of a larger group.
Be hungry to learn more. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Peter describes it like moving from infancy to maturity:
“Be like newborn babies, crying out for spiritual milk that will help you grow into salvation if you have tasted and found the Lord to be good.” I Peter 2:2-3
When we wrap our minds and hearts in humility, when we listen to learn and not refute, truth will prevail. As we enter into the tension of what we’ve always believed to be true compared to new discoveries God is revealing, we can thank Him for stretching us into the community He intended.
Self-exploration and discovery are uncomfortable, but growth is often preceded by discomfort. Listen first as God reads your heart back to you. And then relying on His forgiveness and mercy, move toward relationships and advocate for truth like you never have before.
photo credit | patrick tomasso