Life, Hope & Truth

From the March/April 2018 issue of Discern Magazine

Prejudice: Why It Exists and How It Will End

Bigotry mars the pages of history, and it’s still alive and well today. But God calls us to rise above prejudice and promises a world where it can’t exist.

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What if I told you that every form of social injustice could be solved by answering a single question?

You’d probably think I’m crazy and oversimplifying—and understandably so. The world is filled with injustices, many of which are deep and complex, with roots stretching back hundreds or even thousands of years. It seems impossible that a single question could untangle and solve all those issues in one fell swoop.

But I believe it could.

Racism. Sexism. Nationalism. Bigotry in all its shapes and forms, every last scrap of prejudice in the world—it could all be ancient history if we all agreed and acted on the answer to one short question:

What determines our worth?

A thousand wrong answers

It’s not exactly a new question—philosophers and average laymen have been trying to sort it out for ages, and everyone seems to have his or her own answer.

For some people, the answer is money. Possessions. Stuff. The more we have, the better we are—and right there, we can see the start of a prejudice. “I have more than you, which makes me better than you.” Or, on the other end of the spectrum, “I have less than this person, and that makes me less than this person.”

But money isn’t the only answer that causes trouble. There are a thousand variables we could plug into that equation, and the result would be a thousand different prejudices.

At best, that approach can leave us with a false sense of superiority around others. We might judge them by the clothes they wear, the brands they buy, the teams they cheer for, the part of town they live in, the way they talk—any number of ridiculous things.

But the ugliest, most dangerous prejudices happen when we answer that question with traits people are powerless to change. Race. Gender. Age. Country of birth. When we make those things the measure of human worth, when we start believing that others have less worth because of the color of their skin or the place they were born or some other trait, that’s how we create some of the most twisted moments of history:

The Nazis and the Holocaust. The Khmer Rouge and the killing fields. The Hutus and the Rwandan genocide. Sudan and Darfur.

That’s what bigotry does. It becomes a catalyst, an excuse, a justification for every kind of injustice. “The other side deserves it,” prejudice says. “They’re inferior. They’re not as important. They’re the problem.”

Ancient history

The New Testament Church had to wrestle with prejudice in its early days. For centuries, the Jews and their Israelite brethren were God’s chosen people, “a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). The gentiles—that is, the rest of the world—never had that relationship with God. That made the Jews different from everyone else. It made them special and unique—and, quite frankly, it caused tensions.

As the message of the Kingdom of God spread through the first-century world, the earliest converts (who were exclusively Jewish) believed that the message only applied to their fellow Jews (whether natural-born or converts). Who else could it be for? Only the Jews had a relationship with God; only the Jews knew His divinely ordained laws; only the Jews worshipped Him the way He was supposed to be worshipped.

It took a divine vision and a powerful miracle (Acts 10:17, 44-45) before the Jews of the early Church started to understand that God was expanding His people—that being Jewish wasn’t a prerequisite for having a relationship with the God of all creation (Acts 11:18).

It still wasn’t an easy transition. The Jews and the gentiles both had centuries’ worth of prejudices and misgivings to work out. There were growing pains.

Even Peter—the Jewish apostle God sent to baptize the first gentile converts, who said, “God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28), who testified before the gentiles, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality” (verse 34)—that same Peter found himself too embarrassed to sit with gentile Church members when his Jewish brethren were around.

Another Jewish apostle, Paul, had to address that publicly, because “the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him” (Galatians 2:13). Their actions were so disconnected from the message Christ had sent them to preach that Paul remarked, “They were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel” (verse 14).

Modern lesson

That gospel—that message of the coming Kingdom of God—is critical to finding the answer to our question:

What determines our worth?

Without the gospel, we can only answer that question with imperfect knowledge and flawed opinions—and our answers will only allow us to mentally sort our fellow human beings into buckets of “worth more” and “worth less.”

That’s not good enough. That doesn’t solve the problem of bigotry; it just rearranges it. Different answers, different prejudices, same problem. There is only one real answer to our question, and that answer can only be found in the truth of the gospel message.

When a group of gentile philosophers asked Paul to elaborate on that message, he told them that God “made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth … so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).

One blood. Paul was hinting at a truth revealed in the earliest pages of the Bible: that God “created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).

In the beginning, there were no Israelites or gentiles. There was only one man and one woman living in a garden planted by God (Genesis 2:8, 22), and that woman became “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20).

Paul didn’t say, “God created one nation to be better than all other nations, to have a superior bloodline and greater worth than anyone else.” He looked back to the very beginning of human history and said in essence, “We all share the same blood. We all come from the same place. And we were all created for the same purpose—to seek God and to find Him.”

You were created with the potential to become God’s child and to live forever as part of His family. But that’s not just true for you—it’s true for everyone.|You were created by God in the hope that one day you would search for Him and find Him. You were created with the potential to become His child and to live forever as part of His family. But that’s not just true for you—it’s true for everyone. Every man, every woman, every child, regardless of race, nation or creed, was created with that purpose and with that potential.

And that’s what determines our worth.

A world of change

When we answer our question that way, it changes how we see everything—and that should change how we treat everyone. When every person we meet is either a child of God or a potential child of God—when we see everyone as a human being created from the same blood as us with the same purpose as us—it doesn’t leave a lot of room for prejudice. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for saying, “I’m better than you,” or, “I deserve more than you.”

Instead, what we’re left with is, “You are my family,” and, “You are my equal.” If the whole world believed that and really truly internalized it, how much would that transform—well, everything?

On a global scale, the changes would be huge. It would mean the end of genocides and racial killings, for starters. How could one man kill another when he knows they both share the same blood, the same value in the eyes of the God who created them?

What about all the sexual assaults that prompted the #MeToo movement? What man would dare take advantage of a woman if he understood and always remembered that God intended them both to have a place in His family?

The more we zoom in, the more we can see how that one little truth could change the world. If we all understood that God created us as equals in worth and potential, would a car dealer lie to a customer in order to squeeze a little more money out of a sale? Would the media skew their reporting to grow their subscriber base? Would neighbors and families feud for years over misunderstandings and grievances? Would marketers promise the moon, knowing they couldn’t deliver?

There wouldn’t be any place for it. There wouldn’t be any place for deception, hate, mistrust, theft, cheating or murder. And in the absence of those things, and with the help of God, we might instead find a place for love, respect, kindness, trust, generosity, patience and understanding.

It starts with us

But that’s not the world we live in. That day is coming—God promises a future where “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9)—but until then, it’s up to us to be the example.

A long time ago, a prophet named Samuel learned that “the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Paul expanded on that: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).

Not everyone has made the commitment to be baptized and live according to God’s way of life. Most of the world doesn’t even understand what that way of life really is. But there are more than 7 billion people covering the surface of this little blue-green planet of ours, and every single one is a potential future child of God.

So here’s what we do.

It’s radical. It’s crazy. But it’s worth a shot:

We treat them like what they are. We treat every one of those people like family. Like a potential child of God—because that’s what determines their worth. Not the color of their skin or the arrangement of their chromosomes or the place of their birth, but the simple and irrefutable fact that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life and died to pay the penalty for their sins—and ours.

That’s not to say that things like our ethnicity or our gender can or should be ignored. Those traits are part of us; they play a big role in shaping who we are. They’re not insignificant or meaningless, but they don’t play a role in our worth—or in the worth of others. It was Paul again who wrote, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

Bigotry and prejudice cannot survive under the weight of the truth of the gospel. One day all the people of the world will come to understand that truth—but until then, it’s our job to show them what it looks like in action.

They’re worth it.

To learn more about the process of becoming a child of God, download our free booklet Change Your Life.

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