Our recent celebration of the birthday and influence of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in our nation hopefully caused all of us to take a moment to reflect on what we need to learn from this great Christian leader and courageous American reformer. Although the lessons are many, I would like to focus on the subject of prejudice against which Dr. King tirelessly battled and knowingly risked his life for us all so we could live in a just society true to our belief that all men are created equal with equal rights.
Merriam-Webster says prejudice is “an opinion for or against something without adequate basis.” It is a biased perspective in favor of something/someone or in lack of favor toward something/someone. It is showing favoritism without any just reason. It is a preference of respect for one and disrespect for or discrimination against another. Such partiality may also involve stereotyping certain ones as “all alike” that is, in reality, an unjust and untrue characterization and totally disrespectful of the wonderfully unique person God has made every individual to be.
Prejudice takes on many forms, some of which, such as racial or ethnic prejudice, we recognize readily today. (Even the various tribes/language groups in the African countries where we lived were prejudiced against each other.) But many other forms go unnoticed and unchallenged. Parents may favor one child over another and treat him/her as one who “can do no wrong” while making another child the “scapegoat” who is not a favorite, but always accused, blamed, and punished for anything and everything that is wrong. [Jacob, whose parents had picked different favorite sons, favored his son, Joseph over his eleven brothers and it created great jealousy and strife. (Genesis 25:28; 37:3ff)] A husband may wrongly claim superiority and not value the gifts and counsel of his wife. Yet we all clearly see it as unfair if a referee, umpire, or judge is biased in his judgments.
The Scriptures are clear that all prejudice is contrary to the nature and will of God. From the first call to Abraham God made it clear that He intended that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3) After spending 80 days and nights with God, Moses said that in spite of the fact that God had chosen the Israelites above all the nations to be His people through whom He would bring the Messiah into the world, He was not being partial. “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.” (Deuteronomy 10:17) As a Jew, Jesus crossed all ethnic and social boundaries to offer salvation to the Samaritan woman at the well. (John 4) The apostle Peter said while witnessing the salvation of the Gentile, Cornelius, a Roman soldier, and his household, “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.” (Acts 10:34) Paul makes it clear, God will treat Jew and Gentile exactly the same, “For God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2:11) “…for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28) He instructs masters of his day to be very careful that they treat their slaves with respect, because they both will be held equally accountable to God. “Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him.” (Ephesians 6:9) “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.” (Colossians 3:25)
Prejudice exists in the sinful nature of all human hearts. It is overcome in Christ for unlike sinful man, God is perfectly just in all his dealings and shows no favoritism toward anyone, not even toward His own chosen Jewish people, or toward believers, His chosen, adopted children. He cannot and does not overlook or excuse any sin by anyone. If He did, He would be unjust. The penalty must be paid for all transgressions and one day He will finally judge all sin. Thus God instructs His church to be like Him and not to regard or treat any of its members (nor unbelievers who come among them) with any favoritism. “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. 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?…If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (James 2:1-9) The apostle Paul makes it clear that this applies to the giftedness of the members of the body of Christ, the church, as well. No spiritual gift is to be exalted above another nor any treated as less important than another. “But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If we were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor….But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”(1 Corinthians 12:18-26)
Whenever anyone is looked down upon or treated without respect it is hurtful and damaging to the relationship. We must all examine ourselves so we will not sin in any of these ways. Do I show preference for one person over another? Do I value some people more highly than others? Do I regard the gifts of some people more highly than those of others? Do I treat all people the same way? Do I see all people as my equals? Do I treat all people as of equal worth, importance, significance, and value? Do I listen to all and consider their perspectives with equal, impartial regard? Am I making any prejudicial decisions in my dealings with others? If so, let us all learn what Dr. King gave his life to teach us: turn away from all temptation to believe in or act in inequality, discrimination, bias, partiality, stereotyping, favoritism, and prejudice. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” (U.S. Declaration Of Independence)Prejudice