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Botham Jean’s death shows how implicit bias stains our society and our churches

Iwas devastated to learn of the tragic death of Botham Jean. Many of us from Churches of Christ in the Caribbean knew him from the annual Caribbean Lectures. The news of this senseless loss shook me. I was very saddened and also felt searing anger.

Related: Fatal mistake: Harding graduate known for his ‘beautiful’ singing voice killed

I understand why this tragedy has ignited racial tensions in this country. I grew up in Jamaica but spent my college years at Abilene Christian University and now live in the U.S.

Dr. Jared Kiddoe

In the past 10 years, working as a psychiatrist, I have been called the “N” word, “half-breed” and worse by my own clients. The truth is that the black experience in America is very different from the white one.

I believe that part of the problem is implicit bias — the hidden fears and prejudices we have about others, stemming from how we grew up and the messages we get from society and media. We are usually unaware of our implicit biases, and I don’t believe that they make us hateful people. We all are sinful beings in need of God’s grace.

When those who work in law enforcement grapple with these biases in the heat of the moment, there can be tragic consequences.

Churches grapple with implicit bias, too. As a body of believers, we have long-standing problems bridging the racial divide within. Do not be mistaken to think that, because you attend a church where people of different races attend, the problem has been dealt with. Even in diverse congregations, too many of us are living separate lives.

This is unacceptable and contradictory to the unity of the faith. The divide within our churches has prevented us from coming together to challenge societal evils and is emblematic of the racial discord we see in society.

Do not be mistaken to think that, because you attend a church where people of different races attend, the problem has been dealt with.

Here in the U.S., despite significant effort, I have found it challenging to make deep connections with my white brothers and sisters in Christ, despite their friendliness. Just as disconcerting to me is that we, the church, have seemingly decided to pick and choose what sins we will take umbrage at and which ones we will use our powerful voices and votes to deal with.

Despite a mountain of evidence showing the racial inequity in America, we have not leveraged our prayers and political power to help address these issues.

Though the church’s primary responsibility is to seek and save the lost, we are also commanded to seek justice and provide mercy. Out of true spiritual transformation broader changes can happen. But it must begin with our taking accountability for where we have failed, within our body and in the larger community.

To address these problems in our midst, I humbly offer these suggestions:

• Pray to God for guidance about this topic and for an open mind and heart.

• Re-read scriptures that address discrimination and subtle prejudice. A wonderful example is Jesus navigating powerful gender and ethnic obstacles to engage the woman at the well in John 4.

• Push your local, state and federal representatives to address the issue of racial inequity by your phone calls, letters and your vote.

• Intentionally spend time with someone different from yourself outside of worship.

• Ask your congregations to do intensive Bible studies on racial reconciliation (not to be confused with racial diversity training). Having an expert on racial reconciliation to help facilitate discussion on this issue is essential. An excellent book on this topic is “Reconciliation Reconsidered” by Tanya Brice, and an in-depth social media resource is the “Be The Bridge” Facebook group.

Related: 50 Years: Racial Reconciliation and the Church

By doing these things, we can make a powerful impact for the Lord in the world. Let us use this tragic loss of our dear brother as an opportunity to truly apply the Gospel in the revolutionary way Christ intended.

Dr. Jared Kiddoe grew up in the Mona Church of Christ in Kingston, Jamaica, before moving to the U.S. in 1999 to attend Abilene Christian University and Duke University School of Medicine. He and his family recently moved to Atlanta, where he works as an outpatient psychiatrist.

Filed under: Botham Jean Opinion Racial reconciliation and the church racial unity Views

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