Overcoming the Power of Prejudice

by | Sep 28, 2011 | SpiritLed Living

women-diverse-multiracialAlthough
it’s rarely acknowledged, prejudice is clearly prevalent—even in the
church. God is looking for a generation that will scale every dividing
wall
.

Prejudice
is sin. It is a form of sin that has kept God’s people in bondage for
generations and created an unnatural separation among them. But I
believe it is time for change. God is looking for a generation
courageous enough to climb over every dividing wall.

Isaiah
61:1-3 tells us that the Messiah’s ministry involves delivering people
from prisons of various kinds. He was anointed to “preach good news to
the poor,” “bind up the brokenhearted,” “proclaim freedom for the
captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,” “comfort all who
mourn,” and “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil
of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a
spirit of despair” (NIV). Those He delivers, or rescues, will “rebuild
the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated. They will
renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations” (v.
4).

We
as believers are among those Jesus has “rescued,” and I believe we have
a responsibility to cooperate with God in His healing process by
rebuilding ruins in our family and cultural heritage that have been
devastated for generations. We can be part of creating a new heritage
for our descendants.

One of
the ruins we need to rebuild is unconditional love and acceptance of
others, even those who are different from ourselves—whether the
difference is based on race, ethnic background, education,
denominational affiliation or any other factor. Generational
prejudice—prejudice that has been passed down from generation to
generation—has come out of this ruin, and it is the worst form of
bondage. It occurs when we not only accept but also propagate the
unscriptural, prejudicial ways of thinking that our ancestors espoused.

Let
me give you an example from my own family. My grandmother was a godly
woman in many ways, and I loved her—but she was also very prejudiced. I
want to pass down her godly traits to the next generation, but not her
prejudice! So I have made a conscious choice to reject her way of
thinking and refuse to propagate it in our family line.

The
Bible gives us an early example of prejudice in the book of Exodus. God
had delivered the family of Jacob through his son Joseph, who became
second in command of all Egypt. But after Joseph’s generation died, a
new pharaoh came to power. Because the Israelites were prospering and
multiplying, the Egyptians became afraid, “so they put slave masters
over them to oppress them with forced labor” (Ex. 1:11).

What
was the origin of the prejudice? The more numerous and strong the
Israelites became, the more frightened the Egyptians became of them.
Prejudice almost always stems from fear and ignorance.

Another
contributing factor is low self-esteem. A study done by the
Anti-Defamation League determined that people who feel good about
themselves and have strong self-esteem are less likely to be prejudiced
than those who don’t.

Those
with stronger self-esteem, those who know their own identity—especially
those who know their identity in —do not need to put others down so that
they can feel lifted up. We can be comfortable getting down on our
knees in front of one another and figuratively, if not literally,
washing one another’s feet.

WHY PREJUDICE HAS A HOLD ON US
Generational prejudice has a strong hold on our society for two reasons.
First, it is too rarely acknowledged. We aren’t able to discern it in
ourselves—or are too proud to admit it.

When
was the last time you heard someone say, “I have a problem with
prejudice”? How often do you hear a believer admit to having the
problem? Even though it is one of the biggest problems we have, if we
asked, in a large group, how many people deal with this issue, very few
hands would go up.

If I had
ever said to my dear grandmother, “Nanny, you are prejudiced,” she would
have vehemently denied it. In fact, she might have told me to go cut
myself a switch for accusing her of such a thing. She would have been
unable to acknowledge it because she didn’t see it in herself.

What
I know as prejudice, she saw as simply “the way she was.” We all use
this excuse. “This is just the way my people are.” “This is the way my
grandmother was, this is the way my mother was, this is the way all my
brothers and sisters are, and this is the way I am.”

And God says to us by His Holy Spirit: “And it is sin.”

There
are Christian homes all over the United States in which believers use
slang and slurs in their home for other races, never thinking for one
minute that their behavior in this regard is incongruent with the rest
of the way they live their lives. They don’t acknowledge that prejudice
is a problem, but it has a big cost.

Because
God despises prejudice, I believe that where it is present, it quenches
the activity of the Holy Spirit. If people remain prejudiced they will
not experience the abundant life that comes to those who choose to be
free.

The second reason
prejudice has such a strong hold is that it is too widely accepted—even
in the church. In fact, I believe prejudice is more prevalent in the
church than outside it! We’re so exclusive in our denominations that we
continue to remain separate.

Prejudice
is acceptable in the workplace, too. You can’t be in a workplace long
before it comes up in one way or another, particularly in casual
conversations and often through stories or jokes. But we need to face
the fact that prejudice is not funny.

BEING PART OF THE SOLUTION
When we begin to see the prevalence of prejudice, we may feel as if we
are so much in the minority that we hesitate to speak up. But if we’re
going to stand for Christ, we’re going to have to start objecting when
we observe prejudicial attitudes or behavior.

Ephesians
4:15 says that a sign of Christian maturity is to be able to speak the
truth in love. As mature believers, we have to get more vocal about the
wrong and the sin of prejudice.

The
time is fast approaching when we can no longer remain silent. To remain
silent is to remain part of the problem. I believe we can, through the
Holy Spirit, come to a place of speaking the truth in love and
exhibiting zero tolerance for prejudice.

What
would happen in our homes and at work, in school lunchrooms, in break
rooms—wherever we find ourselves—if we began to practice zero tolerance
for prejudice? I don’t think we would get fired if we said, “You know,
I’m not comfortable with this conversation” or “I don’t agree with that”
or “I really don’t want to hear that” when people are making
prejudicial comments.

And we
can let our children know we mean zero tolerance by modeling it
ourselves and instructing them to do the same. We can teach them to say,
when they are playing with other children who display prejudicial
behavior, “This is a zero tolerance home. We do not tolerate prejudice
in this home.”

If we adopted the attitude of zero tolerance, can you imagine how things would begin to change? This is our opportunity.

We
can stand back and resist some things and remain silent, but prejudice
is not one of them. It’s too big. It’s going to take an aggressive
attack, a proactive attack to make the enemy back off from pitting us
against one another.

We’ve
got to begin to open our mouths and speak the truth in love. We’ve got
to break free. The reason we don’t is that we don’t know one another.
When we begin to know one another, we’ll know the stereotypes are not
true.

Though prejudice may
be natural, like other practices of our flesh nature, it is sin. In our
lives it has absolutely no place. In the world it will be present until
Christ comes because it is a spiritual problem, and the world lacks the
power of the Holy Spirit to overcome it. But Jesus has overcome the
world and given us the power to conquer all the works of the enemy.

The
biggest obstacle in overcoming prejudice is our questioning who is to
blame. We ask, “Where does fault lie in this whole situation?”
Particularly if we ourselves are not prejudiced, we resist taking
responsibility.

The Bible
explains the dilemma. Jeremiah 32:18 says of the Lord, “‘You show love
to thousands but bring the punishment for the fathers’ sins into the
laps of their children after them.'”

Prejudice may not have originated in our hands, but it’s in our laps. We didn’t initiate it; our parents passed it to us.

But
we can be part of the undoing of prejudice. The Bible calls it
“rebuilding the ancient ruins.” God didn’t say we’d move on to a new
place; He said we can go back and rebuild what is in disrepair. Beloved,
in our country and culture, prejudice is the outgrowth of ancient
ruins.

WHAT CAN WE DO?
After I came out of the closet as a victim of childhood abuse a number
of years ago, people asked me what they can say to others who have
experienced that kind of trauma. I told them, “When someone has gone
through a terrible time, the most wonderful thing to hear is simply, ‘I
am so sorry that happened to you.'”

I
believe we can begin the healing process related to prejudice by saying
to one another, “I am so sorry this has happened.” Though prejudice is
rampant throughout our culture, we can say we’re sorry for the hatred we
have perpetuated.

For some
of us, this may be difficult. We haven’t been taught how to accept
responsibility and apologize. We’ve learned that it’s always somebody
else’s problem. We never would have been this way on our own; somebody
else made us do it.

But God’s Word says for us to take responsibility. It’s sitting in our laps. We need to learn how to say we’re sorry.

I’d
like to suggest that we do two concrete things. First, acknowledge
prejudice in every form, including passively doing nothing, as sin; and
second, make some friends.

Let’s
be willing today to pray, “God, I acknowledge that prejudice is sin.
And I know that in my own power I cannot change my thinking. So, Lord, I
invite You to work on changing my heart and mind.”

After
we pray, we must begin to accept opportunities to study, worship and
fellowship with people who are different from us. In fact, we must look
for them. We must look for opportunities to be part of the multicolored
church.

We can get together
to worship. We can get together to do Bible studies. We can get together
in many different ways! Let’s open our church doors and embrace
diversity.

I don’t want to see God’s family color-blind. I want to see us color blessed.

The
blessing will come when we recognize prejudice in all its forms as sin.
It will happen when we ask God to change our hearts and minds. And it
will happen when we get to know one another.

Let’s do it! We have so much to gain and nothing but ancient ruins to lose.

Read a companion devotional.

Beth Moore is the
founder of Living Proof Ministries. She has written many books and Bible studies, including
So Long Insecurity and Praying God’s Word. Dale McCleskey also contributed to this article.

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