In-Group Bias – It’s In the Church Too

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Understanding In/Out-Group Bias

“We are all routinely, regularly biased, we just don’t know that we are; that’s why it’s subconscious or implicit. The bad news is becoming a Christian doesn’t automatically take this away. In-group Christianity is normal because we’re sinners, we’re fallen, we’re broken,” said Dr. Ruben Rivera at the second Dismantling Racism training at Wooddale Church on March 21.

Dr. Rivera’s definition of persistent in-group bias doesn’t mean ‘I hate those other people,’ it means:
“you reserve the good stuff (the leniency, favoritism, understanding or the free pass) to the folks in your in-group.”

“Just turn on your television and you’ll see in-group/out-group responses everywhere- just pay attention to how Republicans and Democrats respond to scandals within their own party versus scandals in the other party,” said Dr. Rivera.

With in-group bias we:

  • exaggerate our virtues
  • exaggerate our sameness
  • individualize any wrong-doing
  • offer far more leniency, understanding – even a “free pass.”

With out-group bias we:

  • exaggerate the otherness of the out-groups
  • exaggerate the vices of the out-groups
  • universalize any wrong-doing
  • offer far less leniency and understanding

“We know the evil when “they” did it, but when it is one of “us” we are more willing to be more kind, lenient and understanding, and to individualize it,” said Dr. Rivera.

In-Group Bias in Christianity

“I cannot underestimate what a big deal in-group bias is and how it permeates even Christianity. We have a tendency to create universals where Christ did not create any,” said Rivera.

Research reveals if you do all the things you can do to nurture your Christian faith regularly – you will become a better person to the people of your in-group, not to the people outside.

Yet, Dr. Rivera taught how with the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus blows up in-group/out-group bias.

“If we truly understand the radical nature of what God has done for us, we have no business making an in-group culturally-captured version of Christ,” said Dr. Rivera.

“In-group love and in-group Christianity is not remarkable. The point is to take in-group love and give it to the out-group. That’s remarkable,” said Rivera. “Everyone has bias, it’s a universal human invariant, and we need to understand it, bring it to Jesus’ feet and see what he might do with it.”

What attendees gained from Dismantling Racism:

We are growing in diversity at UW Stout, but for so long we have done things out of white majority culture, because that’s what our students were mostly representing. This training will help students understand what their biases are and how they can step out of their own cultural biases. We know God wants us to understand one another and grow together.” – Emily with Cru, at UW Stout

The in-group piece is really important, and it’s an area where we’re continually challenged in the type of work that we do (with international partners). It’s not an “us” getting “them” to conform to our in-group ways. I really enjoyed how Dr. Rivera challenged us to walk with others.” – a Feed My Starving Children staff member

The training clarified some of the systematic reasons as to how we got to where we are as a nation, as a Christian body, and how we were steered in certain directions without our common knowledge that it was being done.” – Rev. Gerald Garth, Associate Minister at St. Peters A.M.E. Church

The churches all need a reset. When you go into the church environment you are automatically overwhelmed with their bias, whether it’s black or white, or green or purple. You have to assimilate if you go to church, and that’s not inviting to the people we are trying to reach.” – Sharon Garth


3 Starting Principles in the Dismantling Racism Process