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Bias refers to the inclination or prejudice for or against someone or something. It often manifests as an unfair preference for or against a particular group, individual, or idea. Bias can influence decisions, perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors. Unfortunately, bias can lead to unfair treatment or judgment. One of the most powerful Bible verses addressing bias is found in the book of James.

(James 2:1-4)1NIV New International Version Translations – “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

God intends to treat all people equally. This means that we are not to show either favoritism or manifest thoughts of predisposed bigotry toward anyone over factors such as wealth or appearance. God does not, however, prohibit us from having differing opinions. Our personal experiences, both positive and negative, shape our biases. The culture and values passed down to us through generations contribute to the formation of biases. Culture is based on shared beliefs, values, customs, traditions, and behaviors. Biases, however, reflect a predisposition toward each other. Biases all too often result in unfair treatment or judgment. Beliefs and attitudes learned from family, peers, media, and the community influence how we perceive and interact with others. Unconscious biases, also known as implicit biases, are the automatic preferences or prejudices that we hold without even being aware of them. Implicit biases are the most dangerous! Marketing, media, and politics feed on implicit biases.

(Proverbs 21:2) – “A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart,”

The Bible does not explicitly use the terms “unconscious biases” or “implicit biases.” These are modern psychological concepts. However, our Bible emphasizes the importance of introspection, humility, and fairness in our interactions with others.  Additionally, the Apostle Paul tells us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

The question before us is how to avoid or correct unconscious biases. To help us, we will look at the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs are not unique to Christianity. They can be found in many cultures and traditions. The Book of Proverbs is attributed primarily to King Solomon, with contributions from other authors as well. A proverb is typically drawn from observations of human behavior and the natural world. They convey timeless truths about human nature and the world around us. They are meant to be both instructive and thought-provoking.  Here are four to help guide our thinking on unconscious bias.

  • (Proverbs 18:17) – “In a lawsuit, the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.”
  • (Proverbs 18:13) – “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.”
  • (Proverbs 18:15) – “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.”
  • (Proverbs 18:2) – “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”

In media, whether social or news-related, advertising, or politics, our best advice from Solomon seems to say that we should be careful, give consideration, listen, and seek understanding before making judgments or decisions. While these passages may not explicitly state “hear both sides of an argument,” they underscore the principle of being fair-minded and open to different viewpoints. Slogans and headlines are all sensationalized today to establish or trigger unconscious biases in our society.

Biases can distort judgment and decision-making processes. They lead to suboptimal or even harmful outcomes. They harm any society or nation. Whether in personal interactions, organizational policies, or societal institutions, biased decision-making undermines fairness, effectiveness, and trust. Prejudiced attitudes and behaviors are formed, leading to misunderstandings, conflicts, and feelings of alienation or marginalization. We can see in the world’s history how enemies take advantage of prejudice. We can find an example in Luke 10:25-37. The well-known “Parable of the Good Samaritan” is a story illustrating how prejudice and stereotypes blinded individuals to the needs of others. The story shows us how compassion and kindness overcame prejudice, as demonstrated by the Samaritan’s actions.

Ignoring bias is dangerous because it undermines trust.  If people perceive that the information they are consuming is slanted or unfair, they become skeptical of all information. This erosion of trust can have far-reaching consequences for democracy and informed public discourse. When media, marketing, or politics prioritize sensationalism, spin, or partisan agendas over facts, they have falsely altered public opinion, undermining the democratic process. The public’s ability to make informed choices has been damaged.

God, in His Word, has been clear about bias, whether unconscious or not. He states:

Love Your Neighbor – In both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible instructs believers to love their neighbors as themselves (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39). This principle underscores the importance of treating others with compassion, empathy, and respect, regardless of their background or identity.

Equality Before God – The Bible teaches that all individuals are created in the image of God and are therefore equal in dignity and worth (Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:28). This principle emphasizes the inherent value of every person and rejects discriminatory attitudes or practices based on factors such as race, ethnicity, or social status.

Justice and Fairness – The Bible repeatedly calls for justice and fairness in dealings with others, urging believers to act with integrity, honesty, and impartiality (Deuteronomy 16:19-20; Micah 6:8). This includes advocating for the rights of the marginalized, defending the oppressed, and standing against discrimination and injustice. Proverbs 18:5 reminds us, “It is not good to be partial to the wicked and so deprive the innocent of justice.”

Avoid Partiality – The Bible warns against showing favoritism or partiality based on outward appearances or social status (James 2:1-9). Instead, believers are called to treat all people with equality and respect, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Repentance and Transformation – The Bible acknowledges the reality of human sinfulness, including biases and prejudices, and calls individuals to repentance and transformation (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:22-24). This involves acknowledging one’s own biases, seeking forgiveness, and striving to live according to the principles of love, justice, and reconciliation.

Throughout our world’s history, God has been addressing issues such as justice and equality and condemning attitudes and actions that promote bias or unfair treatment of others based on their characteristics.

(Job 36:17-23) – “But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked; judgment and justice have taken hold of you. Be careful that no one entices you by riches; do not let a large bribe turn you aside. would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts sustain you so you would not be in distress? Do not long for the night, to drag people away from their homes. Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction. God is exalted in his power. who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, ‘You have done wrong?’”

This is why the Bible is so critical to us, teaching us how to avoid the ideas and biases that are offensive in God’s eyes. That is why without God, the world is biased, prejudiced, and discriminatory. Without God’s Word, we have no hope; without Christ, we have no forgiveness.

Contemplations

  • Where do you see the media, advertising, and/or politics taking advantage of unconscious biases?
    • Ideas to Explore: The repeated use of short phrases or acronyms such as MAGA, LGBTQIA+, and DEI.
  • Where do you see the use of difficult-to-define terms that are often misunderstood or misrepresented?
    • Ideas to Explore: Where or who uses these terms: Social Justice, Equity, WOKE, non-Binary, racist?
  • How do you protect yourself against the influence of your own unconscious biases?
    • Ideas to Explore: Always seek opposing opinions before making decisions; avoid the use of stereotyping; use the Bible as a guide to decision-making.”
  • When was the last time that you realized what you had believed for years was wrong?
    • Ideas to Explore: Unfortunately, unconscious biases are static. If you have trouble here, this could indicate you need to put more effort into fact-finding.
  • What do you personally do so that you do not pass on your personal biases to your children?
    • Ideas to Explore: This may be the most prevalent way hatred is passed on to subsequent generations. Everyone needs a plan on how to filter their own biases.
  • Are all biases bad?
    • Ideas to Explore: We all love sports teams, a certain college, a favorite restaurant, a type of car, our neighborhood, etc. These are normal biases. However, when they interfere with our ability to respect others or become hateful, one might want to do some self-examination.
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    NIV New International Version Translations