Your Church May Be Prejudiced
Posted: June 26, 2020
The top ten signs have not changed in twenty years…
While I wrote this post for my newspaper column twenty years ago, the divisions within society and even the church have grown only wider, deeper and more intense.
The essence of prejudice boils down to . . .
I have in my right hand, direct from my home office, top ten signs your church may be prejudiced.
- To avoid a split, the church now has two services: “The Hymns and Hymnal” service and the “Praise Choruses and Video Projector” service.
- The church voted to spend the budget excess on new softball uniforms rather than a handicap ramp.
- Pastoral candidates who attended a liberal arts college need not apply.
- The church motto is “Praise God, I’m a [insert denominational name here].”
- “Pre-tribs” and “Post-tribs” won’t be reconciled until the rapture—if there is a rapture.
- The only women preachers you’ve ever heard are on the “Charismatic Channel.”
- The church’s name is followed by the initials: KJV, NRA, and/or GOP.
- Seating features “Tie” and “No Tie” sections.
- The only place blacks and whites mingle at the church is on the piano keyboard.
- The choir robes have hoods.
Prejudice is not simply a “black and white” issue. There are many kinds of isolation between groups based on age or tastes (10), physical and mental challenges (9), levels of education (8), denominational doctrine (7 and 6), gender (5), politics and ideology (4), economics (3), as well as race and nationality (2 and 1).
We are all guilty of some form of prejudice—whether blatant or subtle. I have to admit I am extremely prejudiced against those who are prejudiced.
The essence of prejudice boils down to ignorance.
Ignorance of the group toward which we are prejudiced
I have to admit I didn’t think anyone outside of my denominational domain could truly love God and be obedient to Him the way my group did. Fortunately I began to be asked to speak at conferences outside of my doctrinal box. At these interdenominational and nondenominational events, I met “mainliners,” “charismatics,” “fundamentalists,” and even “Roman Catholics” who loved God and others—some even more than those in my denomination—me included.
I developed strong friendships with brothers and sisters in Christ who were outside my racial and ethnic parameters and socio-economic class. (I discovered that contrary to my judgmental attitudes toward “rich and famous” Christian “celebrities,” that most were actually ordinary, open people that God simply chose to use in extraordinary ways.)
This pragmatic Protestant has even learned a thing or two about what it means to truly be one with Christ through the writings of Catholic “mystics” of the Middle Ages.
The more we learn about those who appear different from us, the more we learn how much we have in common. And, as I’ve discovered, they just may be smarter, more talented, and even more holy than we ever hope to be.
Ignorance of what Scripture says about prejudice
James, the brother of Jesus, rattles and shakes the prejudices of his day.
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 . . . ().
The Apostle Paul echoes James:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others ().
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves ( ).
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited ( ).
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone ( ).
But Paul is not penning some sappy “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love” sentiment. The basis for this loving and accepting attitude is Jesus Christ himself.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus ().
In this short verse, Paul deals with the racism, class-ism, and sexism which was so rampant in Roman-dominated Palestine. Christ has not only bridged the gap between God and His creations, but between individual and groups of believers.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all ().
Ignorance of what the Holy Spirit says about prejudice
Even after the apostle Peter had experienced faith in Jesus Christ and had been filled with the Holy Spirit, He was still filled with prejudice. It took three dramatic visions to overcome Peter’s racial and, probably more difficult, religious prejudices.
Peter finally responds to the Holy Spirit’s instructions and the request for instruction from a Gentile believer: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean” ( ).
Now, if someone in Christ’s “inner circle” who was present at Pentecost can be filled with prejudice, we might have some residual prejudice following salvation and sanctification as well! According to Jesus’
“High Priestly Prayer,” one of the works of the Holy Spirit is to break down the walls between believers. (Jesus himself overcame several social, cultural, and religious barriers of His time to share the good news with the woman at the well.)
For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me ().
Perhaps the “world” has yet to recognize Christ, because His Body continues to be fragmented by prejudice.
Ignorance and prejudice can be overcome
There is hope, through learning about and interacting with those outside of our familiar circles, through the obedience to the Word of God, and the empowerment of His Spirit.
Forty members of our all-white church recently traveled south of the Mason-Dixon line to help clear land for a children’s home. While most of the young people at the facility were black, it wasn’t long until the two groups were interacting, playing games with one another, and laughing together.
As we left just three days later, there were strong bonds (and hugs and tears) between these children, teens, and adults of diverse economic, social, historical, and racial backgrounds.
Praise God, there is hope!
Copyright © 1998 James Watkins
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