A year ago, headlines were swirling with the refugee crisis, the #BlackLivesMatter movement and a polarizing election season. This week, the events in Charlottesville have gripped and horrified the nation.
We’re angry. We’re disgusted. We’re in disbelief at the bold portrayal of hate. We’re in disbelief at many white churches’ silence yet again. But dare we advocate for not looking away this time without looking inward first? We may not be lining up with torches proclaiming white supremacy, but what subtle biases are buried within our hearts?
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–even if we’re not blatant about it. How exactly do we uproot biases lodged down deep?
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 Peter again, transforming him into an advocate for healthy relationships. The one who was openly bias 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 judge 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. Might I challenge you to also look inward? It’s often 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” – 1 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 biases, 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 people different of ethnicities 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” 1 Peter 1:18-19.
Peter urges the Church to remember 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 …” – 1 Peter 2:16-17.
When we develop friendships with those who are different from us, our view (and value of) other races and cultures expand. We still see differences, 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 cultures, customs and histories.
Relationships turn people into people instead of just members of a larger group.
Finally, 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” – 1 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 always 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.
Christan Perona is the Director of Communications at Central Christian School, a racially and socio-economically diverse school in St. Louis. She writes about practical theology on her blog, Christanperona.com, where a version of this piece originally appeared. .