Prejudice in the ChurchGuest Editorial – Michael Patterson

Racism is defined as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another races or races.” This certainly is a sin as Jesus Christ has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility(Ephesians 2:14) when he died on the cross. In Christ, we have the ability to overcome the sinful nature and through love see people the way Christ does. Hostility and hate are vile sins that disqualify someone from inheriting God’s kingdom (Galatians 5:19-21). In fourth grade my brother and I were the only minorities in the small town I lived in and first hand experienced the pain that comes from racism. In retrospect, it was around this same time I began to love Jesus and later understanding that Jesus loves everyone despite their skin color, economic class, or culture.

Most of us in God’s kingdom have repented of the sin of hate or racism, yet if we are honest we can still struggle with being prejudice. Prejudice is defined as “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” Even though we have the Holy Spirit there is a war against our sinful nature (Galatians 5:17-18). At its core, prejudice is the sin of being judgmental. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1). Prejudice is something every person must battle and overcome. Think about it, when someone cuts us off on the road driving we automatically make rash judgments about them as a person. It comes so naturally and quickly. Stereotypes abound when we see a certain race, drive in a certain neighborhood, see a certain type of dress, hear the kind of music someone listens to, etc. We all battle this, do you see the ways you struggle with it? What areas are you quick to judge in? What “preconceived opinions” do you have about a certain race, gender, economic class, or culture?

The scripture at the top of this article describes the three different areas prejudice and even racism show its ugly face: 1) Jew nor Greek – race/ethnicity 2) slave nor free- social class 3) male nor female- gender. Even in the church we will show how as disciples our prejudice can radically impact and limit the type of people we reach out to. Here are a few verses to write on your heart to gain deep convictions about God’s desire for all nations and types of people to be in the kingdom of God:

“And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

1) Jew nor Greek- Race/Ethnicity

God’s plan was always for the nations to be saved, even in the Old Testament, Israel was to be a light to the nations! God gave Moses laws on how to treat foreigners with love and respect. The church started in Acts 2 in AD 29 and was intended for all men (Acts 2:17). Even after all of Jesus’ teachings and he himself breaking down racial and social barriers at the time (ie. Jesus with the Samaritan woman in John 4), only Jews became Christians for the first seven years of Christianity. Peter, whom Jesus had given the keys to the Kingdom/church (Matthew 16:19) still had some prejudice based off his view of the old law that needed to be driven out of his heart. Seven years later after the church started in AD 36, God would give Peter a vision found in Acts 10 while he was in prayer, of a sheet being let down with reptiles and birds on it which were considered unclean for Jews. God’s intended message for Peter through this was “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). Simultaneously, Cornelius and his family who were Gentiles (non-Jews) from Italy began to seek God. The Spirit brought Cornelius and his family to Peter so they could hear the gospel. Not only were Cornelius and his family the first Gentile converts to Christianity, but Peter also was converted from his prejudice ways. His response, “Then Peter began to speak: ‘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 10:34-35). This means the church should reflect the diversity of the city it is in! Does our congregation reflect the demographics of the city of Gainesville? Peter had to be pushed by God to share the gospel in a place and with people that made him feel uncomfortable. What people are uncomfortable for you to share your faith with? Have you ever considered that it isn’t just fear, but prejudice that needs to be repented of? Any church that is only one race in a city with many ethnicities is not obedient to Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Prejudice can go beyond just race though.

2) Slave nor free – Social Class

The word “slave” brings about many feelings since in many ways our country is still healing from the atrocities committed throughout history to African slaves. In the Bible times, slavery did not have the same negative connotation and resembled more of a volunteer servitude. Seneca (Roman Stoic philosopher/statesman) held that when slaves were treated well they would accomplish a task more effectively. There are some reports of slaves being abused as they did not have the same legal status or political rights as their masters, but ultimately they could always gain their freedom. In God’s eyes there is no slave or free in Christ. For us, we have “blue collar” and “white collar”; “lower class”, “working class”, “middle class”, and “upper class”. What kind of church did Jesus come to build? Are we a “blue collar” church? A “white collar” church? How about an “upper class” church? Or a “lower class” church. Matthew 16:13-19 says he came to build a church that “the gates of Hades will not overcome.” The church is to be a “house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17). The church then should reflect the classes represented in the city it is planted in! How will we reach all of Gainesville? Only by having all types of social classes. Do you share your faith with the doctors, the lawyers, the professors, and other professionals? If not, you need to repent of your prejudice. Do you share your faith with the homeless, those working the drive-thru as you get your afternoon lunch, the construction workers, etc.? If not, you need to repent of your prejudice.

3) Male nor female- Gender

In a time when women were not looked upon highly nor treated well, Jesus went out of his way to serve and minister to women. In fact, the first person Jesus gave the honor of witnessing him in his resurrected form was to a woman: Mary Magdalene! Women were an essential part of the stability and advancement of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 8:1-3). Ephesians 5:22-33 describes the mystery and wonder of Jesus and his relationship with his bride, the church. Paul lifts up women by teaching the husband must treat them as Christ treats the church. In Christ there is neither male nor female cultural barriers. Brothers, do we value the input women give us or when they point out shortcomings in our character? Sisters, do you respect the brothers and humbly submit out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21)? If the answer is no you need to repent of your prejudice. Our culture teaches men to treat women as objects through the prevalent lust seen everywhere. The women are taught to disrespect men through sitcoms that feature smart fit women and dumb overweight men. The church of Jesus cannot allow the culture to influence prejudices towards the opposite sex.

Personally, I have had to grow in eradicating any prejudice out of my own heart. In junior high and high school I desired to be popular. Where I grew up, it was the “preps” and “jocks” that were popular and had the “cheerleader” girlfriends that I desired myself. Although friendly towards them since I was a Christian, this set in my heart prejudice and even hate since I felt I could never attain their lifestyle. Overtime, I would only share my faith with people that were like me or in my mind in a “lower” place than my life was. This was easy and comfortable. Never did I realize that by not evangelizing these type of people I was in the sin of prejudice or the more biblical terms judgment and favoritism. In retrospect, repentance for me, though maybe not realizing my prejudice at the time, was beginning to share my faith with people I considered “preps”, “jocks”, or the “cheerleader” types.

Ask yourself, why don’t you share your faith with certain types of people? Take time to evaluate everyone you invited to church this last week and note what type of people they are. This may reveal some prejudices, but take it further. Does it deal with how you grew up as it did with me? Ask the Holy Spirit to push you to begin sharing your faith with those your sinful nature is not comfortable with as He did Peter. Who do you spend the most time with in the church? Is there prejudice in your relationships? Challenge yourself to spend time with those different than you. The Gainesville International Christian Church is a church that is all about diversity and reaching every person in our great city with the gospel and in turn the world! Let’s continue to pray that we will reflect the demographics of our city!

To Him be the Glory!