We like to think that discrimination and prejudice ended decades ago. We see ourselves and our generation as too sophisticated and advanced to have prejudicial views toward other people for any reason. But the truth is, we are a long way from being free from prejudice, and we need to face the prejudice that is within us because God hates it.
There are many types of prejudice but the one that comes to our minds most readily is racial prejudice. I am a middle-class white woman and though I may think I understand racial prejudice and never participate in it myself, because I am a white woman, I’ll never be able to totally understand what it feels like to be treated prejudicially simply because my skin is not white.
But as a white Christian woman, I have a strong obligation to work hard at rooting out any prejudices toward other races, and to extend myself to understand and relate to the people of other races, particularly my sisters and brothers in Christ.
The Apostle Peter had to learn about racial prejudice. You remember in Acts 10 where Cornelius, an Italian, wanted to know the true God, and Peter was commanded in a vision to share the truth about Jesus with him and his family. Peter didn’t want to do that because he believed the gospel was only for the Jews, and he felt these other races were inferior and unworthy of God’s grace.
But in this vision he saw all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds, and a voice told him to kill and eat them. Peter refused because they were impure and unclean, but God said to him, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." So, Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius and later he said, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." Peter began to face the prejudice that was within him, and to realize how wrong it was.
Jesus made a point of ignoring the racial prejudices of His day and teaching His disciples to do the same. For example, when He chose to talk to the Samaritan woman at the well, He shocked the disciples because Jews hated Samaritans and considered them to be second-class citizens. A Jew never talked to a Samaritan unless they had to, but Jesus chose not only to talk to this Samaritan woman, but to reveal great and marvelous truth to her and lead her to become His follower.
It’s no accident that Jesus used a Samaritan to tell his parable about the Good Samaritan who helped the wounded person. To the Jews of his day, it was a message loud and clear that He harbored no prejudice toward these people and He saw them as equal and gave them respect.
Think about the prejudice that is within you toward other races. Perhaps you were taught it from your parents or your culture. Ask God to help you see it as the sin that it is, and to root it out of your heart.
Let me ask you a question: How many friends do you have of another race than your own? As Christians we should not hold any prejudices toward other people for any reason.
If we’re ever going to get past our racial prejudices, we’ve got to get to know each other better and understand this prejudice through the eyes of our friends. I’ve formed some strong friendships with women of other races over the years, and you know, I rarely ever think about the color of their skin. But when I think about prejudice in our society toward them, I hurt for them. I feel it in a way I never would if they were not my friends. I see prejudice in our society much more realistically because I have some friends who I love who happen to have a different skin color than mine.
If your circle of friends has no color to it, if all of your friends are the same race as you, something’s wrong. You need to make an effort to get to know people of another color so that you can relate and love and get rid of the prejudice within you. I’ve discovered that until I had close friends of another race, I was simply not sensitive to the prejudice in me and in our society.
I go to Africa each summer to teach women there, mostly in Kenya and Rwanda. I’ve got friends there now whom I treasure and love, as we have ministered together through many years. What a wonderful experience that has been for me, because it gives me a much greater understanding of them and it has further helped me to see them simply as people, without thinking about the color of their skin.
I remember when a friend from Africa was visiting Chicago and I met her for dinner in a public place. We were so happy to see each other, and hugged as friends do, and with great enthusiasm, as Africans do. I noticed some white people around us watching as though this were unusual or strange–two women of opposite colors obviously good and dear friends. But we are one in Jesus; we’re going to be in heaven together. What’s so strange about loving each other and expressing it openly? It’s the prejudice within us that causes that kind of reaction.
Can’t you see how this kind of racial prejudice is a weapon used very effectively by our enemy, Satan? He has managed to divide us and cause so much pain and hurt, even within the Body of Christ, based on racial prejudice.
Paul wrote to the Galatians: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)
I’m convinced that racial prejudice is a tool used by our enemy to further divide the Body of Christ. How can you and I, as believers, get rid of the prejudice within us? Here are some things we can do:
- Invite a mixed group to your home for dinner.
These could be people from your church or your job or neighbors, but get together in your home, cook a meal for them, and just get to know them in that intimate setting. And don’t do it as a novelty, but do it to begin that friendship so it can continue.
- If your church tends to be all white or all black or all any particular race, find a way to have fellowship with believers of other races.
Maybe invite them to your church, or plan a meeting where you join together. Start a Bible study with a racial mixture to it. I promise you, one of the sweetest and best ways to eliminate racial prejudice is to pray with and for fellow believers of other colors, and to listen to them pray for you.
Also, share their worship experience. It may be quite different from yours, but you can gain much from worshipping with them. I know that my spiritual life has been greatly enriched by worshipping with my friends in Africa, sharing their joy and excitement and their music. Worshipping together bonds you in a very special way, as does praying together.
- Ask God to show you where you have prejudicial attitudes.
Do you have fears or reactions based on prejudicial stereotypes? We need to rid our minds of these unfair and prejudicial attitudes.
- Talk to your friends of another race and ask them what it’s like to experience racial prejudice.
Let them share their pain with you so you can feel it. We are to bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ, and one way we do that is to feel the pain they feel because they’ve been treated prejudicially in our society.
- The leadership of your groups should represent the membership.
Do you have diverse cultural and racial representation in your church leadership? I see this as a major factor that keeps building walls between the races within the Body of Christ. The staff of a church should reflect its racial makeup. Many times the leadership of Christian organizations is very much unrepresented by race, and that sends out the wrong message. Our leadership needs to be racially mixed.
Make sure you don’t isolate yourself from people of other races. That’s how prejudice takes root and grows and stays healthy. It’s only as we get to know each other and share our lives that we can understand and get rid of the racial prejudice within us.
Are you a prejudiced person? Most of us would readily say, "No, of course not," but the truth is, we’ve all got some prejudice within us that needs to be recognized, confessed and rooted out.
Of course, there are other prejudices within us that we need to face. A very common one is the prejudice we often have toward poor people–our economical prejudices. In Job 34:19 we are reminded that God, shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of his hands…
James puts it even more graphically, in the second chapter, where he writes "Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"
You know, we all tend to judge people by the way they’re dressed, by their accumulation of wealth or things, by the way they walk or carry themselves. An interesting experiment is to notice how you’re treated when you go shopping dressed professionally, versus shopping with your casual jeans or sweats on. The clerks in the stores are just naturally prejudiced toward the sloppy look but give much more attention to you when you’re well dressed. It’s a tendency we all have.
Then we all need to face the career prejudice within us. Recently someone met me and told me of her career position and how successful she has been, and asked if I could connect her with other Christian women equally successful, because she found it difficult to relate to most workplace women. I thought, "That shouldn’t be true; if she is your sister in Christ, you can relate. What difference does it make what job you have?"
If I tell you I’m a lawyer or a doctor or an accountant, it’s likely I’ll get more respect than if I tell you I’m a secretary or a file clerk or a janitor. You know, when we get to heaven those job titles and promotions are not going to count for anything. Please don’t ever say "I’m JUST a secretary, or JUST a janitor, or JUST anything"! Career prejudice is one we need to pull out by its roots. It’s subtle and we fall into it easily.
When I started this ministry, I thought of different names like Professional Christian Women, or Business Women, but I threw those all out because I didn’t want to give anyone the idea that what we classify as professional has any more significance to God than any other career. While we can respect and admire the work and accomplishments of others, it is biblically wrong to treat someone better or worse or think of them differently based on their career.
I’ve looked at racial prejudice, economic prejudice and career prejudice. But did you ever think about the prejudice we have toward gifts? We tend to think some gifts and abilities are more important than others. I happen to have a gift that is visible; it puts me in front of people. And we get the idea that those are the really special gifts, while the gifts of hospitality and administration and mercy get short-changed.
But all gifts are equally important and should be valued and appreciated equally. I often pray "Lord, deliver me from the celebrity syndrome," which is my way of saying, "Remind me often that I’m a servant and my gift is no more special than anyone else’s."
And within the Body of Christ we often detect denominational or doctrinal prejudices. Certainly we need to know God’s Word and stand strong and true on basic doctrines which can never be compromised. But dear friends, there are many areas where we can have differences of opinion and belief, and still have sweet fellowship.
Do you think that your way is the only way there is to worship? Are you prejudiced toward people who do it differently–think they’re less spiritual or something? A good idea is to visit other kinds of Bible-believing churches and see how wonderful it is to worship God like they do. I love the way the Afro-Americans worship, with emotion and gusto and without regard to clocks. I love their music; it touches my heart. I can worship with them without any trouble.
I also love the classical, more sedate type of worship. I’ve visited churches with strong ecclesiastical services, and found great beauty and depth in the rituals. The old hymns can hardly be replaced for meaning and splendor, and we should not overlook them just because we have some new ways of singing now.
I’ve been shocked to discover how much I think in prejudicial ways, because our society has built a lot of prejudice into us. Also, some of you have been greatly prejudiced toward others because of your parent’s attitudes or because you’ve had a bad experience with an individual and you translate that experience to everyone else of that race or that background.
God wants us to see people as individuals, created and loved by Him, of equal importance and value. We must, by His grace, root out the prejudice within us so that we can show the world what God’s love is like. This is especially important within the body of believers, and I pray you’ll get serious about facing your own prejudices and asking God to forgive you and teach you to see others as He sees them. That’s the secret—looking at the world through the eyes of Jesus.