On Faith: We need to break down the walls of bias


March 12, 2021

I find myself saddened by a painful change in our community: It is harder to listen to each other and to understand each other. That difficulty then makes it harder for us to care for each other. As a follower of Jesus, I believe I am called and equipped by God's Spirit to care like Christ. If I do not listen to you, how can I really care for you?

Why is this happening? Pastor and author Brian McLaren (author of "The Great Spiritual Migration" and "Faith After Doubt" and others) suggests that we are allowing ourselves to be crippled by our biases.

Brain McLaren describes how those biases wound us in his e-book, "Why Don't They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself)," writing: "People can't see what they can't see. Their biases get in the way, surrounding them like a high wall, trapping them in ignorance, deception, and illusion. No amount of reasoning and argument will get through to them, unless we first learn how to break down the walls of bias."

Pastor McLaren then goes on to describe those biases:

Confirmation Bias: We judge new ideas based on the ease with which they fit in with and confirm the only standard we have: old ideas, old information, and trusted authorities.

Complexity Bias: Our brains prefer a simple falsehood to a complex truth.

Community Bias: It's almost impossible to see what our community doesn't, can't, or won't see.

Complementarity Bias: If you are hostile to my ideas, I'll be hostile to yours. If you are curious and respectful toward my ideas, I'll respond in kind.

Competency Bias: We don't know how much (or little) we know because we don't know how much (or little) others know. In other words, [we] ... underestimate [our own] incompetence, and consider [our]selves at least of average competence.

Consciousness Bias: Some things simply can't be seen from where I am right now. But if I keep growing ... someday I will be able to see what is now inaccessible to me.

Comfort Bias: I prefer not to have my comfort disturbed.

Conservative/Liberal Bias: I lean toward [actions]... as an expression of my political identity.

Confidence Bias: I am attracted to confidence, even if it is false. I often prefer the bold lie to the hesitant truth.

Catastrophe Bias: I remember dramatic catastrophes but don't notice gradual decline (or improvement).

Contact Bias: When I don't have intense and sustained personal contact with "the other," my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.

Cash Bias: It's hard for me to see something when my way of making a living requires me not to see it.

Conspiracy Bias: Under stress or shame, our brains are attracted to stories that relieve us, exonerate us, or portray us as innocent victims of malicious conspirators.


I find many of these biases painfully at work in my life. Those biases are part of why I struggle to listen.

What can be done? I am certain God has way more ways to heal us than the wounds we bear. I have found that turning more diligently into God's love helps. At Our Savior's Lutheran in Cloquet, where I am one of the pastors, we are on a spiritual journey that is meant to help us turn into that love of Jesus. It is a path we take every year, called Lent. Other worshipping communities also share this practice, finding it to be a helpful time of healing leading to remembering Jesus' death on a cross and celebrating Jesus' resurrection on Easter. In these weeks, we try to encourage each other to deepen our understanding of the kind of love it took for Jesus to die for us. If we can grow more deeply in our shared understanding of that love, I believe Jesus will show us "a still more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:30) to embrace God's love for all people.

If I can remember that God made you and loves you, God can help me acknowledge and let go of the biases that keep me from hearing you. If I can really listen, I can more readily really care. What if we all did that together?

Writer Chris Hill is the Senior Pastor at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Cloquet.


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