The pastor called about two weeks after I had spoken at his church. As I listened to his words, I felt my defense mechanisms shifting into high gear. In my sermon I had used what I thought was a clever illustration. But the pastor pointed out that my illustration had conveyed a certain bias. I will not restate that illustration because, as much as anything else, I am ashamed to admit that as I listened, I realized the pastor’s rebuke was valid.
I’m glad I resisted my first impulse to defend myself and say, Of course I’m not prejudiced. Don’t you know that I’m Jewish? We Jews know all about prejudice and we avoid that sort of attitude because throughout time we have been subject to the bigotry of others.”
Whether we are Jews or non-Jews, we seldom see our own biases. We all like to think that we are free from prejudice; yet we may unknowingly be afflicted by it.
I couldn’t see that I was prejudiced until the pastor explained that my anecdote implied something negative about another race and nationality. I was truly ashamed and asked God to forgive me.
As I thought more about it, I realized that I had acted like the hypocrite Yeshua described in Matthew 7:3-5 and Luke 6:41, 42—a person with a log in his eye who was trying to pick a speck or splinter from someone else’s eye. Our Savior used ironic hyperbole; yet how well it demonstrates two aspects of prejudice. The first is sight or perception: how we allow ourselves to see things and what we choose not to see. The second is biased analysis or judgment: how we determine value and worth.
Oftentimes we are quick to see in individuals or groups what we are conditioned or indoctrinated to expect instead of what is real. That kind of defective vision makes us blind to our own faults, yet aware of what we consider a flaw in someone else. Actually, it might not be a flaw, but a variance in the way others appear or conduct themselves. But fed with the fuel of self-righteousness and pride, our response to that perceived difference can explode into the conflagration of prejudice.
Prejudice is thinking that we understand something about people we don’t know.
Prejudice is untrue conclusions that lead to unfair expectations and invidious comparisons.
Prejudice is the conviction that we are better than others.
Prejudice is a justification to behave unkindly and suspiciously toward others who do not deserve such treatment.
Prejudice says, “Me and mine first.”
Prejudice says, “You don’t deserve as much as I do.”
Prejudice is based on illusions of our superiority and “their” inferiority.
People with small minds and even smaller hearts need to cling to their prejudices in order to believe that they are worthwhile.
Sadly, people don’t need to be conditioned to despise or envy or denigrate their neighbors. It is part of our ordinary human self-righteousness and pride. We all have certain prejudices instilled in us from childhood. Most of them revolve around the “rightness” of our group and our way, which will usually result in the assessment that someone else’s group or way is wrong.
I am still fighting some of the prejudices of my own youth, where I was taught that Jews and Gentiles were equal—but somehow we Jews were “more equal” than non-Jews. For example, I was taught that we Jews had closer family ties, higher morals and more regard for higher education than most non-Jews. It was not so much that others were bad or deficient, but that somehow we Jews had an edge on morality, caring and willingness to work hard, study hard and make something of ourselves. It all seemed tied into two facts: because of persecutions, we Jews had to—and did—try harder in order to survive; and we Jews had a superior religion because we worshiped the one true God, while non-Jews worshiped three gods and bowed down to idols.
Now I know better. I know that Gentiles who are truly followers of Christ worship the one triune God and do not venerate idols. I also know that no one can attribute good or bad generalities to an entire group. Yet I still tend to boast regarding the nobility of certain Jewish social institutions, and though it is a positive rather than a negative view, this, too, is a kind of prejudice.
We Jews have the scriptural right to claim that we were and are the chosen people. We have 3800 years of continuous history as a people and have seldom gone to war except to defend ourselves. Our people have distinguished themselves in the arts, sciences, medicine and humanitarian causes. We have enriched every country in which we have lived. We have added substantially to the culture of all people.
Yet as a member of this noble people, I know that every member of humanity is equal in having a sinful nature and is equally in need of God’s redemption. I know that when confronted by the righteousness of Jesus, the most noble Jew who ever lived, none of us, Jew or Gentile, has cause to boast!
It is good to appreciate our family, heritage and culture. Yet if we allow appreciation to turn into pride, we are led to self-centeredness. Self-centeredness prevents us from seeing outside our self interests and makes way for prejudice.
We all want to be the best we can, and we want “ours” to be the finest. No one goes to a ball game and cheers for the other team. We want our team to win. We want those we regard as “us” to be better than those we regard as “them,” whoever “they” are.
Prejudice begins with the faulty way we allow ourselves to see others. It continues with the biased way we sort people into categories of “us” and “them.” When we attribute to an entire ethnic or racial group what we have noted in one person or even a few individuals, that is prejudice.
Often we don’t recognize our own prejudices. We may have attributed some good quality to “them,” even if we have not personally encountered it in them. Yet that, too, is prejudice. Sometimes people spout patronizing approval. For example, I have heard some say of another group, “They surely have a better sense of rhythm,” or “They certainly are smart.” Perhaps scientific studies were made with regard to race, rhythm and intelligence, but in the course of my education they were never mentioned. For years I was told that Jews were “more intelligent.” Yet I have never heard of any objective study that could demonstrate that. For my own ethnic pride I have wanted to believe that Jews were brighter, more industrious and more family-oriented. But as time goes on and I gain more experience and more appreciation of cultural differences, I see that all people are much the same. Some are more intelligent, some are wiser, some are more industrious, some are more talented and some are better family people within their own groups.
The only successful way of dealing with the blindness of prejudice is to view everything and everyone as God does. He hates sin, but loves sinners. He is not a respecter of persons. If, then, we see things God’s way, we will see everyone who is in Christ as our brother or sister. We will see all who are outside of Christ as those who desperately need to find the grace of God. And we will see ourselves as redeemed sinners, not any better than the unredeemed, except for the grace that has been lavished on us because of Calvary. Above all, in order to see people and situations clearly from God’s perspective, we must regard them His way—through love-tinted glasses.
I have devised a way to avoid prejudice. I’m going to wash the splinters of pride and self-righteousness out of my eyes with the water of the Word. Then I’m going to put on those love-tinted glasses and see how much good and how much of Yeshua I can find in others.
Of course, to be able to find Yeshua in others, I’ll have to keep my eyes more on Him. That’s the only way I’ll be able to recognize His character when I see it!