Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s video.
Pamela Fuller said, “To be human is to have bias. If you were to say, “I don’t have bias.” You’d be saying that your brain isn’t functioning properly.” It arises because of the brain’s capacity problem. We can take in a vanishingly small proportion of the information that bombards us. The brain builds in shortcuts to handle the gap. The bias takes a variety of forms. If one hundred people praise us and we get one angry letter, that will be the one that affects us – that’s negativity bias. We pay special attention to information that confirms what we already think and discount that which doesn’t – that’s confirmation bias. We prefer the first candidate we meet in interviews – that primary bias. We simply like people who are like us – that’s affinity bias. These shortcuts can be a boon for busy people. However, unacknowledged they lead to a distortion of the facts, inaccurate judgements and sheer injustice.
We can’t really avoid it, but we need to be aware of it if we are to be a community that models justice. I’ve sat under preachers at various points who have demonstrated all of them. I remember a sermon in a quite conservative church where the preacher effectively slalomed around every verse in Acts 8 that mentioned the Holy Spirit. I had a colleague once who would construct a framework to understand the biblical text – not derived from the text, and then use it to cut out of the text everything that was in it. The sermon bore no relation to the text and as it was unprepared went on for 25 minutes! Some biblical scholars do the same thing, albeit in a more sophisticated way.
I wonder whether that’s what Paul had in mind when he wrote in his second letter to Timothy of a time when “to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” The Bible often tells truth through story, or sometimes different voices address the same issue from a slightly different perspective. Life is complicated. When we approach the scriptures, we need to be aware of our own unconscious biases. For example, one of the ways we quite rightly discern which of the Old Testament Laws we continue to keep is to read them through the lens of love. More specifically, through the lens of Christ’s love. But our use of the word is limited. For a Greek speaker in Jesus day it would have made no sense to use a phrase like, ‘love means love’ for example. That’s because there were many Greek words for love, each describing something different. They would have asked, “do you mean eros love – which referred to sexual love, or do you mean storge love – which means family affection, or do you mean Philadelphia, which means brotherly or friendship love, or do you mean agape which is the ultimate self-sacrificial love used by Jesus”? All of these different Greek words are translated as love in our English New Testament, but they may mean very different things depending on context. If we only have a view of love as a form of unconditional positive regard we will likely miss Jesus’ severe words about judgement – many of which we will be reading in Advent.
Each culture has its own innate biases, which often have more influence on biblical interpretation, or our preparedness to accept certain arguments than we realise. I was struck last Sunday at the Remembrance commemorations in Ludlow on the effect of having Pastor Jorg from Langwasser in Germany as the visiting preacher. His words gave the service an entirely different perspective. I wonder if others had the same reaction as I did to some of the hymns we sang with him present. Some do slip from a legitimate commemoration into a sniff of jingoism. Different perspectives open our eyes to things we haven’t seen before.
When Jesus said to Peter, following his confession of Christ’s identity, that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven,” I don’t think he was envisaging solitary decision making. He deliberately chose a group of disciples with hugely different experiences and outlooks. They were not backward in sharing these and their discernment was better as result. That’s why it isn’t ‘wokery’ to strive for racial justice or include LGBTQI+ people. A diverse, multi-cultural, multi-racial church discerns Gods will more faithfully.
As we approach the feast of Christ the King this weekend we seek afresh to submit ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Discerning what obedient submission looks like is a corporate activity as we gather around God’s word together. The more voices and outlooks are allowed space at the table the more likely we are to judge truly what it looks like to proclaim the faith afresh to this generation.