We have seen the danger of prejudice including “implicit bias.” This includes:
- The danger that if I have an implicit bias against others I may misjudge them, I may mishear them. I may fail to see what they have to offer, fail to encourage them in their gifts and fail to hear truth from them.
- The danger that I may experience of perceive implicit bias from others means that I will hear everything they have to say as loaded, subjective and prejudiced. I may miss the truth when it is spoken by them. I may mistrust them and reject the love that freely offer.
Here are some reflections on how we can move forward.
- A heart, trust and a hermeneutic of suspicion
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
”Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”(Matthew 7:5).
Early this year I wrote about what Mike Ovey taught me. Today I want to add a fifth lesson. Academics sometimes talk about having a hermeneutic of suspicion. It means that whenever you look at data and evidence you do so with a critical (sceptical even) eye ready to be misled.
Mike argued that you do need a hermeneutic of suspicion but towards yourself. Are you ready for the possibility that your own eye might be distorted, that you might have blind spots? Are you ready for the possibility that it is your own heart that is deceitful.
This is why I need to exegete myself. It is why I need God’s Word to disagree with me. You see the starting point is to let God challenge me and search me. Have I honestly looked at a situation objectively and Biblically or have I allowed my prejudices and priorities to get in the way and distort the picture?
The other side of the coin is that even when I disagree passionately with another, it is vital that I approach them with a charitable attitude of trust. I give them the benefit of the doubt. It is possible that they are speaking objectively and truthfully for my good. So I give them the benefit of the doubt that what they are saying is not wrapped up in implicit bias. Given that this bias is often subconscious, even if there are affected by it, they are unlikely to be aware of it and so their motives may well be right. Even if there is bias at play, there may still be truth we need to hear from them.
- A right doctrine and practice of body life is vital
“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
A genuinely multi-cultural church is going to have people from a range of backgrounds. At Bearwood Chapel we have people from German, Hispanic, Asian, Eastern European, African and White British Backgrounds. Put that on top of the potential differences between class, gender and age and there is mix ripe for stereotyping, implicit bias, miscommunication and falling out. And yes, because we are works in progress and a work in progress all of those things happen (hence we talk about being a messy church sometimes).
Now, if we were just a social club or institution then when those challenges come, we would so easily be tempted to just walk away and call it a day. Ah, but we can’t because we are not just a bunch of individuals getting together for as long as it suits our needs. We are part of body. We are family. We belong to Christ first and then to each other and that means that when we misunderstand or are misunderstood, cause unintentional hurt through our clumsiness and bias, take offence or hurt even when no hurt was intended etc, that we do not walk out on each other. We listen, pray, confess, repent, forgive, reconcile. And we keep going.
- We have a Lord and saviour who was the greatest target of implicit and explicit bias
“Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.” Matthew 21:42.
Jesus quotes Psalm 118 in conclusion to the parable of the wicked tenants. The tenants are given responsibility for looking after the master’s vineyard. However, when harvest comes, they refuse to give him his share of the fruit. He sends servants to ask for his share, they refuse and beat and kill them. Finally, he sends his son, they beat and kill him too thinking that with him dead they can take possession of the property for themselves. Of course, the master will send in his soldiers to remove them and replace them with faithful servants.
The parable acts as a figurative history of Israel. The vineyard represents the nation and the tenants the leaders. The servants are the prophets and the Master is God. The son points us to Jesus. He is the one rejected like an unwanted stone but in his rejection at Calvary he is exalted to the highest place of honour.
The tenants though that the master was a mixture of cruel and unfair (he had no right to their crops) and weak (they could kill his servants and son and he would be powerless to respond). They were wrong. The builders thought that the stone was useless, just as Jesus was despised and rejected. They were wrong.
This is the history of our relationship to God too. Right from the start, the serpent’s lie was designed to encourage prejudice against him. Our bias against God tells us that he is distant, unloving, selfish, cruel, weak. This bias is wrong. God is all loving and all powerful and he has acted in history to save us.
When we experience prejudice, it is good to be reminded that Christ too experienced it. He understands and empathises. We have a High Priest who knows. When we experience prejudice before we condemn, we are guilty too. It is not just against other people that we sin but against God himself.
A last word from Duncan Forbes:
“We need a deeper understanding of justification by faith. This is necessary, so that we can be honest with ourselves, and admit bias. We need in our teams to be able to admit to bias. Then, from that position, we can start to check our biases, to see how they are playing out. Then, with a secure identity in who we are in Christ, we can ask brothers from other cultures, ‘What micro behaviours do you think I’m giving off?’ From this position, we can then work in more diverse groups, and allow our brothers and sisters from different social groups to have an equal seat at the table where we can theologise together, and love one another better”