The Problem of Prejudice

The word prejudice means just what it says: pre-judging, forming an opinion before examining the evidence. It is often an assessment based on a single factor such as race, ethnicity, occupation, wealth, etc. Prejudice expresses itself in how we respond to others: we favor the approved while slighting (or worse) the disapproved.

Prejudice is an easy mistake to make. It can slip up on us. James discovered that it had crept into churches. "My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?" (2:1-4).

Why would church ushers treat visitors this way? An obvious answer in this case is greed. The wealthy visitor might donate more when the plate is passed, or perhaps he will even pick up the tab if the usher invites him out to lunch! Visitors might be pigeonholed for other reasons. It may be pride: a church wants to portray a certain image and welcomes only those who conform to it. It may be fear: we just aren’t comfortable with those who are “different” . . . and in some communities that includes anyone from some-place else. James bluntly calls all such “evil motives.”

Another potential area for prejudice in churches is in caring for our members. In the very first church, Jerusalem, “a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food” (Acts 6:1). If that could happen at Jerusalem it could happen anywhere. It is natural for us to be most aware of the needs of members who are related to us, who have been with us a long time, or who are actively involved. The Bible teaches us to be considerate of all, “so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:25).

1 Timothy 5 addresses prejudice in appointing elders. That is no time to either select a good friend despite his lack of qualifications or reject a Biblically qualified man on some arbitrary basis. “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality” (v. 21).

May God help us to be fair and objective as well as kind and merciful in all our dealings with others.

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