Article Feb 22, 2017

Evaluating our hearts for signs of bigotry

Jesus said that what comes out of our hearts defiles us (Mark 7:21-23), and bigotry is a harmful example of this defilement. The challenge and problem is that we tend to view bigotry from a behavioral perspective, but it goes beyond vulgar language or violence. A behavioral approach could promote proper behavior but fails to realize that our behavior is a reflection of our hearts.

As Christians, we need a biblical view of problems and responses. While external sins are more obvious in nature, God looks at our hearts. The following suggestions, while not a comprehensive answer, are meant to help you evaluate your heart for signs of bigotry.

Do I have a personal bias? The terms "racist" or "bigot" might sound more appropriate for people who are extreme in their views, language or behavior, but any form of bigotry starts with a personal bias unchecked. Ask yourself, "Do I struggle to be kind to people because of their ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, height, weight, education or sexual orientation?" When we're less likely to respect or listen carefully to someone because of our preconceived notions, we should pause and take notice.

Am I growing in love for God? The remedy for hating others is not loving them more or even being nice to them, but loving God more. Loving others is a good desire and goal, but it's inadequate to motivate us on a consistent basis. People will fail and hurt us. We need to know God more, because he is love, and it's difficult to practice what we don't know.

Am I seeking others’ interests? The biblical concept of love is less about rosy feelings and more about seeking the best interests of others. Thus, bigotry is the opposite of love. It’s self-seeking, while love is others-oriented, rooted in our love for God. In fact, the greatest commandments are to love God with our whole being and to love others as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39).

Loving others is possible even when our feelings don't follow, because love isn’t dictated by our feelings. This thought contradicts our human nature and is difficult and unappealing in our own strength and will. But by God's grace, we can love people who are different than us, offend us, hurt us or seem unlovable. Who do you struggle to love as yourself?

Do I see all people as beings created in God’s image? Ask God to help you. This spiritual perspective puts our external or internal differences into context. Rather than seeing a person solely in terms of skin color, we see a person who has been created in God's image, whose worthiness of respect isn't defined by superficial qualities or views.

Am I spending time with people different than me? I used to teach a group of college students and adult learners that consisted of mixed racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. As a non-white, non-black female, it would have been easy to focus on our differences, but it was evident that our deepest needs and struggles transcended ethnic or any other divisions.

We talked about ethnocentrism, unconscious bias and more, but those issues were not "the" problems or explanations for what we were witnessing in neighborhoods or reading in the news. Spending time with each other was a powerful way of challenging our assumptions and learning about one other.

Am I allowing past experiences to form my assumptions? Negative experiences might have shaped our perception of certain people, but we cannot blame our past for our biased views. It's easier to generalize a group of people based on their external similarities, but each person is unique. Try to understand them by asking questions and listening carefully.

Is my spirit hypocritical? Bigotry is a form of hypocrisy that can't be hidden from God. It is often reflected in a critical spirit (Matt. 7:1-5). God doesn't forbid judging others for sin, but we must take the log out of our own eyes before we can see clearly the fault of others. We need to uphold God's criteria of godliness in judging people, instead of our standards, views or experiences.

A helpful exercise is writing down our reasons for not liking someone. Then, compare them to God's perspective in his Word. If our judgment is based on that person's sin, then we should speak the truth in love—not because we're better but because biblical love compels us to do our part and leave the outcome to God’s control.

Am I meditating on God’s Word and praying? Our love for others displays our obedience to God and the work of his Spirit in our lives (Gal. 5:22). The more we dwell on God's thoughts and depend on the Spirit for change, the less likely we'll be controlled by our sinful thoughts, emotions and desires. Ask God to search your heart, and thank him for revealing sin.

The solution to our guilt is genuine repentance, not more works. If we have sinned against someone in words or deeds, then we need to confess our sins to God and to that person. For those of us who tend to dwell on mistakes, sins or regrets, we can find peace by remembering God's forgiveness for those who seek it. God loves us and desires our best, even when he convicts us of our sins.

Do I have accountability? Ask people to help you. The heart is deceitful. Even when we think we’re doing well spiritually, we’re still blinded to our weaknesses and sin. We need people who fear God more than our opinions. Real accountability involves tough questions that could be uncomfortable to discuss, yet are welcomed because we know they're asked with the right motives.

Bigotry weakens our testimony for Christ and the unity of the church. As we grow in our knowledge of God, our goal should be a heart change that sees people through God's eyes and cares more about his kingdom, rather than outward appearances of being nice, politically correct or religiously clean. This isn’t possible with man. But with our great God who has entrusted us with an unifying message of hope, all things are possible.

This originally ran in the Winter 2016 issue of Light Magazine.