Unconscious bias affects everyone – including Christians

Last November, the Latin American Club of Southern Adventist University (SAU) invited Willy Ramos, better known as the “Ghetto Preacher,” to share his testimony during some of SAU’s worship services. I remember sitting that Friday evening in the pews and seeing Ramos walk on stage.

He wore a black leather vest and some dark shades. There were chains attached to his clothing and a big silver cross pendant pinned to his shirt. To me, he looked like a wannabe-rapper, and the first thing that popped into my mind was, why is he here?

I did not think someone with a “gangsta” look could help my spiritual life in any way. Within a few seconds, however, I realized how wrong those thoughts were. I realized that judging someone like that is not correct. And even though I reprimanded myself within a short time, where did those thoughts come from?

I realized that judging someone like that is not correct. And even though I reprimanded myself within a short time, where did those thoughts come from?

Unconscious bias, also referred to as implicit bias, is an involuntary response towards a situation or person based on previous experiences, cultures, attitudes and background. We put individuals in boxes and act accordingly based on their gender, age, race, as well as what they do for a living, what they wear and many other characteristics.

According to an article by Forbes, there are over 150 forms of unconscious bias. Three of the most common ones are affinity bias, performance bias and confirmation bias. The first one refers to the phenomenon that happens when individuals tend to like or favor people who are most like them. The second means that “we judge the ‘ingroup’ based on potential, and the ‘outgroup’ based on performance.” Finally, confirmation bias means that one is actively seeking proof and easily accepting evidence that might back up that already-made assumption.  

Many people may feel that they have escaped this way of thinking, but the truth is that unconscious bias is simply repressed prejudice – and most people are guilty of it, according to experts. Everyone has his or her own culture, background and experiences that lead them to think, even if it is for just a moment, a certain kind of way.  The question that remains now is: How can this implicit bias affect a church? To answer this question I will go back to my first illustration and compare it with the three most common forms of unconscious bias.

Many people may feel that they have escaped this way of thinking, but the truth is that unconscious bias is simply repressed prejudice – and most people are guilty of it.

Ramos had never done anything to me. He had never offended me; he had never hurt me; we had never even spoken. Yet, the moment I saw him walk on stage my mind was clouded with prejudice. Why? Because he did not look like me and did not look the way most people in the church looked. I was overcomed by affinity bias. He was not wearing a suit or dress shoes. He did not have a tie or a white collar shirt. His look was like that of someone off the street, not someone on the pulpit. He simply did not fit in.

I think this is a common problem with the church. We speak of preaching the message and loving our neighbor but we judge when our neighbor comes from a different “neighborhood.” Maybe we do not discriminate directly based on race, but we discriminate about makeup, tattoos, marriage status, political views, etc. We do not like it when others do not act the way we act or look the way we look. On the outside, we are smiling and shaking hands. But on the inside, we are examining from head to toe.

When Ramos walked on stage, it was obvious that he was not your usual preacher. He did not look the role; and unless he proved himself, I was not going to give him the part. Yet, there have been times when other well-dressed-holding-Bible-in-hand pastors have appeared on the platform and I got ready to hang them the oscar even before they had gotten the chance to act. This is performance bias. Those who fit the “ideal preacher” image received my full attention, but those who did not show those “characteristics” only received partial listening until I could decide they could “play the role” too.

How many times have you observed that same phenomenon in the church? How many times have you found yourself guilty of the same reasoning? Sometimes people in the church categorize others based on in-groups and out-groups; those who fit the role and those who don’t.

“She is the pastor’s wife?! Why does she wear so much makeup?”

“I do not know about her, she was baptized two months ago but still wears her skirts so short.”

Too often in the church, if someone does not fit the stereotype then we mentally require them to prove their worthiness.

Sometimes people in the church categorize others based on in-groups and out-groups; those who fit the role and those who don’t.

The hard thing about unconscious bias is that we do not realize it is there until it reveals itself (note that you cannot unhide it, you just recognize it after it comes out). Sometimes rather than addressing this bias problem, we try to make it seem “less problematic.”

If we can find “actual proof” for that repressed prejudice that just popped into our minds, then it means we had a legit reason to feel the way we did. It means that we are not such horrible human beings after all. As I realized the error in my thoughts, I found myself paying close attention to Ramos’ vocabulary and expressions. In a way I wanted him to say a word I knew was wrong  or make a connotation I knew was inappropriate for a church setting because then my unconscious bias could have been justified. I was turning from affinity bias and performance bias towards confirmation bias.

However, no bias is acceptable. All biases cause the same level of harm. If the church is free from affinity or performance bias but is still chained to confirmation bias, then we we are still slaves to prejudice. If we are looking at the actions of our neighbors, watching their vocabulary, appearance, friendships, etc., expecting to find faults, then we are but captives to hatred, discrimination and injustice seen everywhere in the world.

Humans are all guilty of unconscious bias. It is a poison in everyone’s mind and this poison has even intoxicated the church. Just because it is there, however, does not mean that we have to welcome it.

When I realized how wrong my thoughts towards the Ghetto Preacher were, then I knew I had to clean up of my mind. The church needs to do the same thing. It is not always easy but it is necessary if we are trying to live a life like Jesus. It is time we get rid of this poison called unconscious bias and clear the cloud of prejudice.

Just because it is there… does not mean that we have to welcome it.

Have you ever felt guilty of unconscious bias?

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Have you ever been a victim of unconscious bias?

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Have you ever felt victimized by unconscious bias in the church?

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Learning about the 10/40 Window

 By Paola Mora Zepeda

The 10/40 window refers to the countries located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator.  Within this region are 61 countries that have the least access to Christianity in the entire world. Most countries are predominantly  Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu, though some are dominated by other religions.

When I first heard of this term, I was intrigued. Throughout my whole life, I have lived in an Adventist environment. So, it was hard for me to imagine a place where Christianity is almost non-existent. Hence, I saw this interactive map as an opportunity to learn more about these countries and the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) presence within their borders.

The map contains four variables: Population of the country, main religion, SDA church membership and percentage of Adventists according to the population. All of this information comes from data collected in 2016, as I was unable to get more updated results for all four categories.

What I discovered, left me in shock. I was not expecting a large SDA church membership, but I never imagined how ignorant my guesses were. My jaw dropped as I found out that some countries had less than 100 Adventists — some as low five or zero. 

I know that there are cases where not all church members are reported due to the political strife and/or lack of religious freedom. But as I analyzed the numbers, I found it bizarre that the building I was in, my school’s library, had a bigger SDA presence than an entire country.

Then, when I came across countries with 2,000 members or more I found myself saying “Hey, that’s not too bad,” while ignoring the fact that these countries have millions of inhabitants. Yes, 2,000 is better than 20, but the percentage of SDA always remained under 0.2 percent and most did not even reach 0.1 percent.

The Seventh-day Adventist church has grown significantly in both terms of numbers and diversity, but this map is proof that there are still hundreds of millions of people that have not yet been reached.

What do the colors represent? 

The colors represent the SDA divisions to which these countries belong:

Light Blue: Northern Asia Pacific Division (NSD)
Purple: Southern Asia Pacific Division (SSD)
Yellow: Southern Asia Division (SUD)
Pink: Euro Asian Pacific Division (ESD)
Light Green: West Central Africa Division (WAD)
Teal: East-Central Africa Division (ECD)
Orange: Attached to the General Conference (MENA)
Dark Green: Israel Field
Red: Does not belong to any conference

360° VR Walk Through Southern’s Promenade. Click and learn.

By Paola Mora Zepeda

Southern is a bustling school, and it happens often that life becomes too busy. If you don’t have a class with someone, it’s sometimes difficult to intentionally see them during the week.

That’s unless you’re taking a stroll on the Promenade, of course.

For those unfamiliar with that legendary stretch of campus, the Promenade is more than just a walkway. It is the location of most of Southern’s academic and administrative buildings.

It has become the location to meet all kinds of people  — art majors, biology majors and history majors, for example. You also will find students from every background — white, black, Hispanic and Asian students — all gathered in one one place.

I recently used information from Southern’s fact book to document ethnicities represented in each area of study.  To report those findings, I decided to use a 360-degree camera to show what the Promenade is like.

The video captures, from end to end, the walkway students take almost every day. Buildings are labeled with their names and departments.  Additionally, the tags show the distribution of ethnicity by department.

Southern Adventist University (Southern) is a school whose history traces back to 1892. Growing from 23 to 3009 students, it has not only increased in number but also in diversity. According to U.S. News and World Report, Southern is the third most diverse university in the South.

The demographic breakdown according to the area of study is as follows:

It takes courage to sell books door-to-door. These students welcome the challenge.

By Paola Mora Zepeda

As I grabbed my camera and jumped into the car, I did not know what to expect. Growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist church, I had heard of ‘canvassing,’ a practice by which students go do-to-door selling books. However,  I had never actually taken the time to learn much about it.

Now, I was ready to record the “canvassers” and their activities, not knowing how the day would unfold. But right away, I was pleasantly surprised.

First, I noticed that participants in the Literature Evangelism Adventist Discipleship (LEAD) program were students, just like me, who actually had to muster the courage to talk to strangers.  They spent hours trying to get individuals to purchase books but didn’t get discouraged. 

Canvassing, I learned that day, requires a lot of walking, smiling and getting the door shut in your face.

Why would anyone put themselves through that? There are so many other job opportunities out there, why pick one that requires you to carry heavy books, meet all kinds of people and work for long shifts? 

By working on this video project for my Interactive Journalism class, I learned the answers to many of those questions.

For a church to grow, it cannot confine itself to four walls. It needs to get out and reach the unreachable.

Canvassing, I realized,  is not for the faint at heart, but it’s well worth the time and effort.

Watch the VIDEO on YouTube here

A 5-step plan for exploring other culture


When I was 11 years old, my world was turned upside down. Up until that time, I had spent most of my life in Chile – a place where my family and I were foreigners, but we still called home.  I embraced the environment that surrounded me and celebrated the same traditions as my friends.

Everything changed in 2009 when my family decided to move to the Philippines.

I felt completely lost. Everything, from the language to the food, was different. It was an immense cultural shock that left me crying for some normality.

What made things even more difficult, however, was that the shock came from various cultures, not just the Filipino one.

My father was a professor at an international institution, where than 50 countries were represented. Many families – – just like mine — had been living in their home countries, emerged in their cultures. They had just moved to a new environment, which became a melting pot.  

For a long time, it was a struggle. Yet, as time progressed, I  actually learned to appreciate the various cultures around me as much as my own.

Here are five steps that helped me do so. And I hope they help you, too.

I knew my  own culture

This may sound silly, or even counterproductive (why am I looking at my culture when I am trying to learn about a different one?). But getting to know one’s own culture is the first crucial step to take when learning to appreciate others. We may not always realize it, but the culture in which we are raised has helped shape the way we view the world. Our opinions, assumptions and even the way we think is somehow shaped by the customs we follow.

There are certain things we may scorn because our own culture has taught us to do so. For example, why was I disgusted when someone would slurp on their soup? Because in my culture that is impolite to do. But just because it is rude in my culture does it actually make it wrong?  If we understand from where that judgment originates, then we open ourselves to see things from a different perspective.

Ask yourself:

How has my worldview been affected by my culture?

What part of my culture is holding me back from understanding someone else’s?


“Your culture is your limit; if you can’t go beyond it you will remain as a frog of your little lake.” – Mehmet Murat Ildan

I was open to other cultures


One of the things that bothered me in the Philippines was having to take off my shoes whenever I went to a friend’s house. What if their floor was dirty? What if my feet got cold? What was the point of all this fuss?

To me it was ridiculous. Then I learned that in many Asian cultures home is viewed as one’s private space and traditionally history most things were done on the floor (Yes, even eating and sleeping).  So, the fact that someone is inviting you to their personal space, means they are opening themselves to you. Taking off your shoes means that you appreciate and respect that act of kindness.

If we do not try to learn about someone’s culture, then we will miss the chance of seeing the beauty behind each tradition.

Ask yourself: What can someone’s culture teach me about the person?

How will understanding their culture help me see the beauty in their traditions?


“When you learn something from people, or from a culture, you accept it as a gift and it is your lifelong commitment to preserve it and build on it” – Yoyo Ma


I tried new things


Growing up, I was a picky eater. That is why my first potluck in the Philippines consisted of me wrinkling my nose as I scanned all the dishes I knew I was not going to eat. This was the first time I had seen food from places such Thailand, Kenya or China. The food looked weird; it looked different. Even with the variety of choices, I ended up having what my mom had brought.

Now, imagine my surprise when I tried all those different foods and found out how delicious they actually were. Soon enough, dumplings, pancit, tkeok-bokki, curry and chapatti became my favorite meals. But even more importantly, I became a fan of trying new cuisine.

One of my personal and favorite theories is that to truly know a country’s culture you have to try their street food. Yet, this was something I would have never discovered if I had not allowed myself to try.

Ask yourself: What could I be missing because I am not trying? What choices could I make to change that?

“Never be afraid of trying something new, because life gets boring when you stay within the limits of what you already know” – Unknown


I respected other traditions


While I tried to learn and appreciate other cultures, there were certain things that I could not fully comprehend. I learned that we are all unique and hold various viewpoints.

Disagreements are bound to occur. However, it is important to realize that though we may different times, it does not give us the right to disrespect other people or their cultures.

No culture is superior to another. Despite what ethnocentrism tries to teach, all cultures hold the same value and are special in their own ways.

Ask yourself: Do I want others to respect me and my culture? Am I showing that kind of respect to those who are different from me?


“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”  – Audre Lorde

I built relationships

One of the cultures I had the hardest time relating to was the Korean culture. Though I had tried my best to enjoy the traditions,  it just seemed like I could never quite get there.

A majority of my classmates were Koreans, and whenever I was around them I felt lost and out of place. I respected them, but I still was unable to appreciate their traditions like I appreciated others.

Then during my freshman year of high school, I became friends with a girl named Deborah. I did not know it then, but she would become one of my dearest friends. Talking to her did not only give me the chance to get to know her as a person but also a chance to see the Korean culture in a new light.

Ask yourself: What have I learned from the friends I already have? How can I expand my circle of friends?

“Every person is a new door to a different world.” – Unknown

Ethnicity and Dating

Before dating someone, there is a lot of thought that goes into that decision. After all, every relationship is full of potentials: potential break-ups, potential dates, potential memories, potential engagements, potential families, potential tears, potential laughs. And, if you are blessed enough, there’s  a potential happily-ever-after.

No two people are alike, which is why relationships in themselves are hard. Adding another layer of dissimilarity, then, may make things even more difficult.

I recently conducted a survey trying to find out a bit more about one of those extra possible layers. There were 103 participants, and I  asked them all the same question:

Would you rather date someone who belongs to a similar ethnicity as yours or someone who is from a different ethnicity?


Before sharing the results (and voting for yourself), you should understand the definition of ethnicity. According to CliffsNotes:

Ethnicity is shared cultural practices, perspectives, and distinctions that set apart one group of people from another.

It is important to note that ethnicity is not the same thing as race. While race deals with the physical characteristics of a person, ethnicity has to do with their cultural traditions.

Take your time to vote too!

Would you rather date someone who belongs to a similar ethnicity as yours or someone who is from a different ethnicity?

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Though I was not expecting any particular answer, I was still surprised by the results. Out of 103 people, 57.3 percent said that they would rather date someone of similar ethnicity while 42.7 percent said the opposite. This means that, if having to choose, the majority (59 individuals, to be precise) would choose to be with someone who has similar customs and perspectives.

What I found more interesting, however, was the reasoning behind their answers. Those who wanted to date within their own ethnicity speculated that the differences between cultures would cause profuse misunderstandings. In a way, many were afraid of the possible cultural shock. It seems easier to be with someone who has common values as it avoids the need for compromise.

 Sometimes being different causes drifts between individuals,one participant wrote.

There was a pattern, however, that stood out the most. On the one hand, it seemed like those who chose to date someone of a similar ethnicity were thinking of long-term plans when they made their decision. On the other hand, those who picked someone of a different ethnic background made their choice based on the “now.”

For the latter, they thought it would be amusing to learn about different cultures, try different foods, or even pick up another language. Though all great things, these responses reflect the fun of the moment. Contrastingly, the first group worried about the cultural disagreements that may arise once the relationship developed into something bigger.

Different cultures have different customs and values. Things that may seem insignificant, like where to go for holidays or what to eat at home, can cause disagreements. Other things, however, such as the right way to discipline children or handle money, has the potential to completely destroy a relationship.

There was no right or wrong answer to this survey. However, I was bothered by people’s unwillingness to compromise. Even as I thought of my own answer, I realized that I also have some set perspectives that I do not want to change.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We all have fundamental values and beliefs that should not, under any circumstances, be compromised. But ethnicity should complement one another, not challenge each other’s distinctions.

Why is it that many of us believe that, in the long run, cultural differences cannot work ? Why is it so hard for us to see a future with someone who was not raised in the same way?  I think this is a lesson for me and everyone else.

Relationships may come with potentials, but which potential wins should depend on the individuals, not on the factors surrounding them.

Paola Mora – Growing in Diversity

My name is Paola Mora and I had a problem with belonging.

My parents are missionaries and, as a result, I moved around a lot. In my twenty years of life, I have lived in eight different countries: Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Argentina, Chile, Philippines, Hong Kong and, finally, the United States.

It sucked. I just wanted to go somewhere where I belonged. I wanted to nd a culture that I could entirely embrace or a country that I could call home. Instead, I was a mix of various customs, values, and beliefs. I was like a puzzle piece that could never just quite fit in.

But as the years passed I learned about the beauty of diversity. I realized that things that separate us have the power to unite; the things that make us different are what make life worth living. When I became aware of this everything changed: It changed the way I viewed the world and the way I viewed myself.

That is why I am so excited to be working on this project. I hope that our research gives some insight into the diversity around us; its conflicts, its strengths and what it all means. I hope that this study helps others realize that unity is not always perfect but it is always beautiful.