Prejudice is sin. It is a form of sin that has kept God’s people in bondage for generations and has 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 to “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 Christ—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.