Lost: Bias and social justice

by | Feb 26, 2023

We begin our new series, Thirsty, talking about social bias. This is important since, as we dive deeper into the subject of clean water, we’ll need a language with definitions for clarity in our discussions. Our goal is to better understand clean water as an issue of social justice, why clean water matters to God, and our role.

Eric Nilsen writes, “We all have biases. Bias is a natural human trait that results from our intrinsic tendency to classify individuals. We do this to process information quickly and make sense of the world around us.”

Our bias is part of what makes us human. Even when we don’t have a choice, we still have a preference. And there is nothing wrong with preference unless our bias leads to harming others. For example, stereotypes refer to bias that categorizes persons based on their skin color, age, gender, race, or other characteristics, presuming commonality.

Attitudes, on the other hand, are based on feelings. Therefore, our attitudes result in positive or negative feelings about the traits we associate with others.

Often our bias is said to be implicit, meaning we’re not conscious that we have a bias. In other cases, we are aware, and our bias is explicit. Again, there is no judgment of right or wrong at this point because bias isn’t always harmful.

But bias can be deadly when attitudes prejudice groups of people and discriminatory actions result in harm. For example, access to clean water, a human necessity, is greatly affected by racial and ethnic prejudice. Yet scripture is filled with stories illustrating God’s disdain towards attitudes and actions that harm people or our planet. Moreover, divine justice removes any and all prejudice and discrimination.

Yet, people, time and time again, turn away from God’s guidance in favor of our own biases. We prioritize ideas, needs, choices, and opportunities inconsistent with God’s directive to love God first and to love each other without fabricating exceptions based on bias.

Nevertheless, advocating for policy that reflects divine justice is often exhausting and depressing. Elijah’s story offers a great illustration.

Elijah was a prophet who stood against public and political pressure to advocate for policy prioritizing God’s ways. And as a result, he became a threat to the reigning monarchy. We pick up on Elijah’s story at the low point of his career.

Public opinion, led by the reigning king and queen, had shifted its priority elsewhere from faithfulness to God. Scripture refers to such a shift as worshiping false gods. On the surface, the problem with false gods is that they turn people’s attention to religious rituals that worship another god.

However, divine wisdom is more often found below the superficial. A closer look reminds us that that a big problem with an allegiance to fa lse gods is preferences and attitudes that foster harmful and unjust ways.

A contest initiated by Elijah doesn’t end well for the home team. And Elijah is on the run with a price on his head. Elijah’s idea backfired. His victory didn’t change public opinion, and he gave Queen Jezebel justification for mandating that Elijah be punished.

Suddenly an angel touched him and said, “Wake up and eat.” Elijah saw a loaf of bread and a jar of water.
1 Kings 19:5-6

Elijah is alone in the wilderness, physically exhausted from running, and emotionally drained. Depression overpowers Elijah, and he cries out to God to end his life. Elijah hit bottom.

Fortunately, an angel appears, and instead of a pep talk, the angel tends to Elijah’s most basic needs: water, food, and rest. Elijah needs to regain his strength before he can regain his confidence.

Note how there is an economy of words found throughout scripture. Stories get told using only the most essential details. In this case, Elijah’s story includes details about three of life’s most basic needs.

So doesn’t it make sense that we also prioritize basic needs? But not just for ourselves and our family and friends. And not just for people who support the decisions we favor or who look like us, sound like us, dress the same way we dress, and eat the same foods. Social justice doesn’t favor one group over another because God doesn’t favor one group over another.

Basic needs are critical for everyone regardless of their group or our bias towards them. Nevertheless, our policies and practices suggest that we suffer from similar struggles that Elijah took issue against.

According to research conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, access to clean water in the U.S. is affected by bias. Their study discovered a correlation between safe water violations and sociodemographic characteristics. Race stood out as the most consistent bias. Communities with higher percentages of residents who are people of color are 40 percent more likely to be plagued by water systems that constantly violate clean water laws.

The residents of Flint are familiar with what happens when our public water is presumed safe but isn’t. In our case, policies and practices failed to adequately protect the public from consuming unsafe water.

Eric Nilsen reminds us, “True social justice would be impossible to achieve in the presence of our biases, preconceptions, and negative stereotypes.” And makes this charge, “Therefore, the onus is on us to reflect, identify our biases, and positively address them on an individual level.”

Our new series concludes on Easter Sunday. Meanwhile, I pray that you’ll choose to join us on our journey towards clean water for the world.

You can join us each Sunday in person or online by clicking the button on our website’s homepage – Click here to watch. This button takes you to our YouTube channel. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.

A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to connect@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.

Pastor Tommy


Our series was inspired by and relies on content provided by CleanWaterfortheWorld.org.

Content for this series is also based in part on:

Eric Nilsen. Understanding Social Justice. © Eric Nilsen, 2022. Independently published.

Margie Kelly, Eric Whalen, and Fabiola Nunez. “New Drinking Water Report: Communities of Color More Likely to Suffer Drinking Water Violations For Years.” © NRDC, Sept 24, 2019. Retrieved from: link

Keith Mulvihill. “Causes and Effects of Lead in Water,” © NRDC, July 09, 2021. Retrieved from: Link

A Community in Love with God, Each Other, and our Neighbors.