Bias, prejudice, partiality and polarization are common today. How important is it to be objective in our judgments and evaluations of circumstances?
Frederick Douglass was perhaps the most famous abolitionist in the mid-19th century. He had escaped slavery and become a noted orator and best-selling author. He even had a personal acquaintance with President Lincoln.
Seeing both sides
Douglass gave a speech to the Rochester (New York) Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society at the very grand Corinthian Hall on July 5, 1852.
In his speech he stated, “Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too.”
As a former slave, Douglass knew that men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had been slave owners, yet he was able to acknowledge the contribution so many founding fathers made to the nation. He identified them as patriotic heroes because of their sacrifice, courage, love of country and visionary energy.
He said, “The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration.”
Though Douglass had firsthand knowledge of life without freedom, he did not see matters only through his own experience as a former slave, but could objectively measure and consider all that the founding fathers provided a newborn nation. Though slavery had not been prohibited by the U.S. Constitution at the nation’s founding, he could still ponder and identify the amazing contribution the new nation made to the world.
Douglass went on to say, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”
Despite his praise for America’s uniqueness, Douglass pointed out how the ideals of America’s founding documents—such as liberty, all men being created equal, and justice for all—were not being equally extended to those in slavery.
So, Douglass factually and objectively was able to give due recognition to the greatness of America’s founding fathers and the nation’s institutions. He showed how it looked from a slave’s perspective. And at the same time, he clearly identified double standards that sometimes were evidenced even by America’s founding fathers when it came to denying certain individuals their freedom.
Frederick Douglass’ speech provides a great example of measured judgment, objectivity and impartial evaluation. Though staunchly against slavery, he was able to evaluate matters from an unbiased mind-set and based his conclusions on facts, not feelings.
How many in our society today are able to exercise this same kind of objectivity or neutrality? It seems our thinking and reactions are too often grounded in strong polarizations.
It is very important that Christians not be caught up in or swept away with partisan thinking in any area of life. If our side (whatever side that may be) commits a sin or breaks a law, it is minimized as a slipup or isolated lapse. However, if the other side commits the identical sin or breaks the same law, we conclude it is characteristic of who they are and is an identification of their fundamental character. We are thus far more outraged by others’ behavior, even if their sin or infraction is the same as our own.
Too often we see issues of life through a biased mind-set. If an issue involves our political party, our religion, our family, our team, our country, our social agenda, etc., then we often find it very challenging to be objective or unbiased.
It is the rare person today who will demonstrate a measured response or impartial judgment.
The blame game: lack of objectivity in the sports world
My father was a sports official for over four decades. Growing up, I would often travel with him for college games when he was either the referee for football or one of two officials calling a basketball game.
As a young boy, I was often startled by the intense reaction fans had toward my dad after he had thrown a flag or blown a whistle. I am certain he had his share of missed calls over those more than 40 years, but the response of the crowd had everything to do with whether or not the called infraction was for or against the home team. If favorable, they interpreted the call exactly as the officials saw it. If the whistle or flag penalized their team, then they were convinced the officials were wrong.
The primary purpose of sports in education has often been said to be the development of character and leadership. Two critical traits of leadership are objectivity and approachability. Leaders must be seen as fair-minded and easily entreated.
This topic is especially important in the world today since partisan political ideologies are so prominent and seem to impact every segment of society. It seems every institution or establishment is identified as representing or favoring one political persuasion or another. Once a label is applied, then actions taken or statements made by that entity are no longer judged based on their truthfulness or merits. They are instead interpreted through a biased perspective.
It is very important that Christians not be caught up in or swept away with partisan thinking in any area of life. One definition of being objective is: “Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices” (American Heritage Dictionary, 5th edition). Jesus was not biased. Though He was a Jew (Hebrews 7:14) and loved His people, He was not one-sided when it came to judging their actions.
Jesus called out the religious sect of the Pharisees for their hypocrisy when circumstances dictated (Matthew 23:13). But He was also not opposed to accepting an invitation to dinner at the home of a Pharisee (Luke 7:36).
Jesus loved His disciples and knew they were specially chosen (Matthew 13:11). However, if any of them acted improperly, He did not make excuses or judge their actions by a double standard (Luke 9:54-55; Mark 8:33). He evaluated each action or circumstance based on the values of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus chose to bring out a lesson of impartiality by telling a parable about a good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Most religious Jews considered themselves spiritually superior and more righteous than any resident of Samaria. But in Jesus’ story, a Jewish priest and a Levite lacked brotherly love and kindness toward a stranger who had been beaten, robbed and left for dead. It was a Samaritan who had the godly compassion to assist the man and pay for his recovery out of his own pocket.
After hearing Jesus’ parable, those listening were forced to acknowledge that it was the Samaritan that had true love for his neighbor. They had to confront their own biases.
Our world today
We all want judges, jurors, referees, arbitrators, those in authority and all of our fellow citizens to be objective, unbiased and fair-minded. These are traits God told ancient Israel they were to have toward all men, even non-Israelites.
A Christian should be seen as steady, impartial, unbiased and fair. The wisdom of God, which is found in His Word, helps us be this kind of person.“You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15).
Too often today, people judge based on whether someone is liberal or conservative, black or white, young or old, rich or poor, from the North or from the South, male or female.
But the Bible tells us to have righteous (unbiased) judgment (John 7:24).
Notice what was said about Jesus: “And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men’” (Matthew 22:16).
Jesus was not a politician who changed based on circumstances. His standard of right and wrong was the same at all times.
Biased toward the Kingdom of God
There is only one prejudice or bias a Christian is permitted to have, and that is a partiality toward the way of the Kingdom of God. This is the prism through which all of life should be seen and evaluated.
A Christian should be seen as steady, impartial, unbiased and fair. The wisdom of God, which is found in His Word, helps us be this kind of person.
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17, emphasis added).
The people of God should not be seen as polarized toward anything except the way of the Kingdom of God and the values of Jesus Christ. Not all biases or prejudices are wrong. We all have preferences for our family, hometown, nationality, favorite team, etc. It is only a problem when fondness overrides fairness and righteousness.
Just as Frederick Douglass objectively spoke of his world in 1852, we are to be objective in our judgments. Our friends, coworkers, children, mates, etc. should see us as people who live life and interact with others based on the solid foundation of the Word of God.
If we do not objectively weigh matters according to God’s standard, we are in danger of being swayed socially, politically, doctrinally and emotionally, and our judgment will be distorted.
Study more about this in our article “Prejudice: Why It Exists and How It Will End.”