I had intended to write this article on Martin Luther King Day, but my schedule just wouldn’t allow for it. I guess it’s better late than never — at least I hope so. The reason I felt motivated to write this article was that a very special friend of mine went home to be with Jesus on January 4th. Her name was Nettie.
Nettie began attending our church about ten years ago. We have had several African-Americans attend our church over the years, but as far as I know, Nettie was the first one who chose to become a member of our church.
Nettie faced plenty of prejudice in this life. We talked about it several times when she first started attending our church, and my heart broke along with hers. Learning to trust her new church family was a difficult journey. And who could blame her? Her life experiences had taught her to be cautious.
But as only true love can do, the color of skin quickly melted into the unifying color of red — the red blood of Jesus Christ, and the same red blood that flows through the veins of every one of His children. Red is the only color that matters. In time, Nettie became family to us. And she allowed us the honor of being a part of her family — one of the greatest honors she could bestow. Love conquered prejudice. We were blood — and that’s all I have to say about that.
In this article, I want to expand our understanding of prejudice. It is important that we do so. Frankly, prejudice exists in nearly every fiber of life. That’s because we humans are naturally prone to prejudice. Why? I believe it has to do with our inability to see inside the heart. We can’t see intent, and motive, and attitude. All we can see is what is visible on the outside, and so we use what’s on the outside to pass judgment. And because of that, all of us are prone to prejudice.
How so? Well, as a minister, I find myself in a lot of different socio-economic and culturally diverse settings. And in every one of those settings, I hear prejudiced statements. Examples:
City slickers think that country folk are unsophisticated and uneducated hicks. Country folk assume that city slickers are arrogant, self-absorbed snobs. Tree-huggers think that people who hunt are cruel and barbaric. Hunters think that tree-huggers are hypocrites and snowflakes. Luxury car drivers assume that old-beater drivers are poor and unsuccessful. Old-beater drivers assume that new luxury drivers are wasteful and conceited attention-seekers. Republicans think Democrats are bleeding-heart liberal nut-jobs. Democrats think that Republicans are calloused, uncompassionate and bigoted jerks. Liturgical Christians think that charismatics are crazy. Charismatics think that the liturgical are stodgy and dead. Am I wrong? We are constantly prejudging people by what we see. How do I know? Because I’m as guilty as the next guy. Prejudice is as natural to us humans as breathing.
Jesus did not suffer from prejudice, but that’s because He had an extraordinary ability that none of us have — He could see inside the heart. He could look right past the outside to see what was on the inside. For those of us who can only see the outside, He gave one simple directive for overcoming prejudice — love.
He taught us to love everyone, even our enemies and those who are spiteful toward us. He demonstrated what it means to love through all sorts of barriers: He loved tax collectors and Samaritans, and men and women, and Gentiles and criminals, and even the people who betrayed and crucified Him! He loved everybody. Shoot, He even loves me.
Jesus gave only one sign by which people would know that we are His followers. In John 13:34-35 we read, “A new command I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” My friend, you can wear your suit and go to church every Sunday and place your offering faithfully in the plate, but if you don’t love people, all kinds and shapes, and colors of people, then you are only fooling yourself. God knows you are a hypocrite — because He sees the prejudice you hide in your heart.
In their writings, Paul and Peter affirmed Jesus’ teaching and example. In Philippians 2:3, Paul wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interest of others.” In I Peter 1:22, Peter wrote, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brother, love one another deeply from the heart.” And in I Peter 4:8, he wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
Friend, our world is being torn to shreds by prejudice. The only force that will overcome it is love.
We’ll continue this faith conversation next week.