Three Life-Changing Words to Overcome Implicit Bias

Published June 26, 2017

Two weeks after the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum opened, I went with some friends to tour the museum. There were 50 people waiting in the lobby area when the tour guide walked up and said, “Before we begin the tour through the Museum, I want to ask a simple question. Do any of you have any bias, any way you prefer one race over another, any stereotyping, prejudice or racism in your life? If you do, would you please walk through Door #1. If you don’t, would you please walk through Door #2.

Fifty people, just stood there looking at each other before 48 of them quickly went through Door #2. A buddy and I stood there reflecting, “Man, any? Any bias in us?”

Everything in me wanted to suppress the word “any” and follow what everyone else was doing. But I just couldn’t because I knew in my heart that I do have some implicit bias in me. So did my buddy. We walked through Door #1, half expecting to end up in the parking lot. To our surprise, the door led to a room where the other 48 people were.

The tour guide declared, “Every one of you has bias. And if you are not aware of your implicit bias, your subconscious bias, you might find yourself being part of something that caused the Holocaust.”

In the Book of Acts, before Jesus ascends to heaven, he describes where the gospel will take the disciples.

Acts 1:8 says, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

How would a first-century disciple have understood these four places?

For them, Jerusalem represented the familiar. It’s what they had become accustomed to. It’s what they knew. Who they knew. It’s what made them feel safe and comfortable.

Judea represented all the people who were seen as less civilized. They didn’t have the schools. They didn’t have the institutions Jerusalem had. They didn’t have the temple. The disciples heard Judea and thought of people who were less-than. Do you have any of those people in your life? Any people you just look down on?

Jesus is not just trying to get us to Judea; he’s sending us to Samaria. And Samaria is not the people we look down on as less-than; Samaria is the people we can’t stand. The Samaritans were the half-breeds. They were half Jewish, yet they were Gentile. Do you have any of those people in your life who are kind of like you, yet they’re different—and you just can’t stand them? They’re American, yet they watch CNN. They’re American, yet they watch Fox. They’re American, yet they’re Ohio State fans. And you simply say: I can’t stand you.

Jesus is not done yet. He’s still inviting us to Judea, Samaria and now to the ends of the earth. It is not just people who are less-than or people you can’t stand. The “ends of the earth” are the people we have no desire to understand. Inside us there’s a wall that gets built where we willfully choose to become indifferent. Turn on the news and notice what gets stirred up in you when you hear words like “Aleppo, Isis, Immigration and Muslim.” Chances are it’s apathy. Or it could be fear. Guess what? Apathy plus fear equals a phobia. These unchecked phobias have a power over us that God wants to break.

God has a bias, too. Do you know what it is? It is love, grace and peace. He invites us to receive it, to live it and to give it. But that can’t happen if we find ourselves stuck within our comfort zones and refusing to venture outside of what’s familiar.

If you decide to stay only in the familiar, you’re missing out, because this invitation from Jesus’ is preparing you for what eternal life will be.

But how do we do it? How do we overcome implicit bias and break through to reach Jesus’ vision?

Let’s look at three words. Okay–four.

  1. AWARE. You must be aware. You must learn to be aware whenever you find yourself thinking someone is less than. Get curious and spend time reflecting on why you have those feelings. Become aware of that person.

But it has to go deeper than just being aware.

  1. INVEST. The second word that will lead us to breakthrough is invest. Many of us know what’s happening in Syria, but we haven’t invested any of our time, talents or resources into alleviating the suffering that’s running rampant in that part of the world. When you’re invested, you become an actual advocate for the people because they are your friends and not some news item you’ve read about.
  2. SUSTAINABLE FLOURISHING. Lastly, work toward sustainable flourishing. Do things that are going to last—and flourish over long periods of time. It’s not just us trying to teach them; it’s us also receiving and learning and becoming.

We have the chance to bear witness to what God is doing in us—not just in Jerusalem, but in Judea, Samaria—and the ends of the earth.

May we Love Everyone, Always.

About the Author
Steve Carter

Steve Carter

Lead Teaching Pastor

Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, IL)

Steve Carter is the teaching pastor for Willow Creek Community Church and a well-received speaker by both adults and students. Steve is the author of This Invitational Life and also a founding member of both Rock Harbor Church and Solidarity—a non-profit organization based out of Fullerton, CA. He lives outside Chicago with his wife, Sarah, and his two children.