A look inside

A look inside

The State of My Heart

As I reflect on the state of my heart, I realise that there are mental models that I have grown up with, which have shaped the heart choices I have made. I refer to these as implicit biases. Biases are unconscious drivers that influence how we view the world. Biases are the invisible air we walk through – exerting their influence beyond conscious awareness, adaptive mechanisms developed to assist us make quick, efficient judgments and decisions with minimal cognitive effort. In some ways, I am a product of my times.

On the one hand, biases are beneficial and adaptive. They assist us use prior knowledge to inform new decisions, a form of cognitive shorthand, as we do not possess the cognitive resources to make every decision afresh. However, many of our biases can also be unhelpful. They can blind us to new information or inhibit us from contemplating a wide range of options when making an important decision (Lieberman et al., 2015).

Therefore, biases can impact every decision we make. The challenge is that everything we do unconsciously becomes entrenched in neural pathways. The moment we have a neural highway our brain views that as the logical path to follow and automatically takes that path.

My heart and my biases

Once we have a pathway our brain uses it to filter people into an “in group” and an “out group”. ‘In-group’ refers to people who are like you and ‘out-group’ to people who differ from you in terms of inter alia ethnicity, age, gender, disability, religion, language, social standing. Any individual can be both in the “In group” and the “Out group” – it depends on what is important to you – what your focus is and it also depends on what the context is. At its very core bias is merely a preference. When we put those preferences into groups they become stereotypes. When we add a value judgement to our stereotypes it becomes prejudice. When we act on our prejudice we discriminate.

My coming to faith, and experiencing the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, my biases have tended to manifest themselves at an unconscious (implicit) level than the conscious. Unconscious bias has shaped the course of every day: where I live, where I work, where I send my kids to school, who I dream of my children marrying, and where I worship.

I was brought up in a mixed marriage home (black father and white mother), and taught to respect people of all races. Unfortunately, the schooling context I was brought up in, the concepts of stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination, were very prevalent. The lived experience of discrimination manifested itself through racism.

What I have come to realise over time is that the problem of racism is not relegated to the other people out there. It is right here, in my heart. Racism is inside myself and I will go so far as to say, it is inside all of us as well. The solution is for each of us to look inside of ourselves, honestly confront the biases we have, and start to change the evil that is in our hearts.

Interrupting my biases

Studies have shown that one way people who exhibit implicit racial bias can decrease their bias is by practicing empathy. When people practice putting themselves in the shoes of “the other” over time – intentionally educating themselves of the stories of people whose lives are unlike their own and picture themselves living in those shoes – then their levels of implicit bias decreased.

A useful framework that I have adopted to overcome unconscious bias is retraining the way I think – becoming aware of the thought patterns that run through my mind when I am encountering the “other.” This is aligned with Paul when he says, “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5). What experts recommend is focusing on the individual’s distinctives, rather than on the person’s people group.

A useful framework that I have adopted to overcome unconscious bias is retraining the way I think – becoming aware of the thought patterns that run through my mind when I am encountering the “other.” This is aligned with Paul when he says, “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5). What experts recommend is focusing on the individual’s distinctives, rather than on the person’s people group.

But there’s something more we can do as Christians. We have been provided something extremely powerful: The doctrine of the image of God (Genesis 1:27). That means that every person matters to God. Regardless of race. Or nationality. Or background. Including people who are different than we are. I personally have been practicing a new approach when I encounter someone I have been socially conditioned to believe is the “other” – someone who is different than I am in their experience of the world. When I encounter that person and I am tempted to say, “Oh, that’s just a Congolese uber driver” or “That’s just a (fill in the blank)” – I stop consciously. I take that thought captive, stop it, then I literally focus my eyes on the person. If I can make eye contact, I do, and I intentionally remember that beyond their eyes is the image of God.

The significance of that is overwhelming. It means this person was made by God and created with the capacity to exercise dominion. That changes the way I look at that Uber driver, because now I understand he’s an Uber driver because of his circumstances, not because of identity. (Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with driving an Uber vehicle). Now I want to know more of his story, and I see him as equally human.

God loves every individual in the world (John 3: 16). It follows that I, as one of his followers, one of his children, must love all people. John later writes that the believers love for each other is a demonstration of their salvation (1 John 4:7-8). The God who is love calls his followers to love each other.

In South Africa, the issue of race and racism has been and continues to be a prevalent, lived experience for many people. It was not invented by God, it was invented by humans for one purpose: to determine who could exercise dominion in this land. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is created by God. Ethnicity is created over protracted periods of time as people groups move through history and experienced the world in similar ways.

Race is a lie that exists for one purpose: power. The enemy is a divider (Genesis 3:12). Satan has sought to divide relationships since the Garden of Eden, when Adam blamed Eve for the sin of the first couple. Christians who condemn other races or claim superiority for their own, thus creating division if only in private conversations – play into the trap of the enemy. Ethnicity is a natural by-product of God’s command to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28). I think if all of us started to forsake racial categorisation and return to ethnic group identity, then there could be transformation of the power structure in South Africa.

Jesus, my reconciler

In my view, Christ is the reconciler of ethnicity and cultures. Reconciliation and cross-cultural love are evidence of the gospel (Ephesians 2:11-22). The gospel has power to take people from entirely different backgrounds and make them one as the family of God, as brothers and sisters in Christ who are sometimes closer than their families of origin. That outcome is a witness to a fractured hating world.

Christ is the one who can gather people of different ethnicities and cultures together. Christ is the redeemer of ethnicities and cultures. Heaven will be filled with people from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people (Revelations 7:9). Christ brings wholeness and hope to people of all ethnicities and cultures. Christ is the ruler of ethnicities and cultures. He is the One who institutes the standards by which ethnicities and cultures are conclusively to be judged.

The problem under the problem

From a Christian perspective, the problem is not an ethnic or cultural problem, it is a sin problem. I am encouraged because God has provided a solution for sin, through His son, Jesus, and with it a transformed heart and mind. The remedial action and cure for racism is not education or exposure, but the gospel. As believers, we should celebrate ethnicity and other diversity because it is a critical component of God’s creation. All people are made in God’s image with equal dignity and value. As Christians, we need to reflect upon the ethnicity and cultures we see around us in the context of the work of Christ.

I have come to the full realisation that I need to be in right relationship with God, with others, and with God’s good creation. It is the way God intended things to be when He created the universe. I rejoice in the fact that I am justified by faith alone, that the gospel truth that justification by faith alone means that this faith, and nothing else, is the great eternal unifier of all the peoples of the world who trust in Christ.

How are you doing?

Unconscious bias, by its very nature, leads us not to see ourselves as part of the problem of racism, and because we do not acknowledge how pervasive and destructive its ongoing presence is to our society, we as Christians do not actively engage in actions that prophetically rebuke racial inequality and racist behaviour. Our silence makes us tacit supporters of a biased society and party to its perpetuation.

What do you see when you hold up a mirror to your heart? Do you locate yourself in the problem, or outside the problem, believing it does not apply to you? I trust you take the journey of exploring your biases and interrupting them with gospel truth.


Lieberman, M.D., Rock, D., Halvorson, H.G., & Cox, C. (2015). Breaking Bias: The seeds model. NeuroLeadership Journal, 6, 1-18.

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Comment (1)

  • Nontsha Liwane Reply

    Wow!!! What a profound and edifying article! Thank you for sharing Nkulu.

    03/07/2020 at 14:10

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