From the Rector
Last weekend I preached on the gospel story of Jesus’ return home to Nazareth, and the hostile reception he received to his first sermon there. Surprisingly, the people of Nazareth seemed comfortable enough with Jesus claiming to be the fulfillment of the prophetic vision of Isaiah, but when he extended the scope of God’s liberation to include the traditional enemies of Israel…well, they quickly become so angry that they transformed into a lynch mob and tried to throw him off a cliff. As good as they must have been, the were not immune to the corrupting influence of bias on their moral imaginations. That’s what bias does to all of us. It degrades our spiritual vision and impairs us from seeing one another as equally worthy of God’s love and mercy.
But bias exists in many forms, and we are mistaken if we think the only forms of prejudice are overt. In my sermon I spoke about the impact of “unconscious” or “implicit” bias, or the subtle but toxic influence on our actions from ideas or experiences that we are not even aware of. Psychologists and social scientists who study implicit bias have examined the ways it affects all manner of personal behavior in our modern society, from hiring to health care, and education to law enforcement. Even people who otherwise reject prejudice of any kind can be, and usually are, influenced by biases that influence their unconscious decision making.
I suggest, if you’ve never taken an implicit bias test, that you try one. There are several, but one that seems to be extremely well-regarded was designed by Harvard and is free of charge. I took the “Race Implicit Attitude Test,” but you could take one that evaluates biases around a wide-range of biological or social differences.
Let me be absolutely clear: I am not even close to an expert in this field, nor am I particularly qualified to guide people through this work, but as a pastor, I know just a few simple truths.
First, this is not just a matter of contemporary “political correctness.” The gospels reveal a Savior who tries again and again to break down the walls that separate and divide us, and when the Apostle Paul says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, he is describing the nature of the Kingdom of God, which has no room for prejudice of any kind, conscious or unconscious. For the Christian, uncloaking the layers of sin that cling to our sight and corrupt our moral imagination is holy and necessary work.
Second, the more vigorously we object to the accusation of bias, the longer we’re neglecting the truth about ourselves (1John 1:8). And it’s not just overtly prejudicial people who fall in this category. Scientists say that those who claim to “color blind” or “gender blind” are naïve, and actually hurt their ability to act in truly unprejudicial ways, because they believe they are immune from the effects of bias. The sooner we wake up to the “log in our own eye” (Matt 7:3-5), the sooner we can grapple with how it is keeping us from being who we’re intended to be, and do the work necessary to heal and grow.
Finally, we really can do better, so we must be patient – with ourselves and one another. I know it seems at times like we have gained little ground in matters of racial, gender, or ethnic equity, and there is so much work still to do, but our church and our society more broadly are capable of remarkably rapid transformation about matters of human dignity. As Christians, even as we endeavor to treat every single person as a beloved child of God today, we are also playing a long game, and we recognize the divine truth in Dr. King’s remark that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
Keep praying, friends, and keep reflecting on how Christ is shaping you more and more into his likeness. With his words and witness to guide us, and his love in our hearts, we can shed the influence of sin to live more boldly and faithfully in the righteousness of God’s Kingdom.