When thinking about prejudice in our world, there are so many ways in which we are addicted to these “pre-judgments.” We do it so many times without even realizing it.
In extreme cases, this leads to physical harm. Regardless of skin color, belief system, or any other category, we read about the harm of prejudice all the time in the news–this wasn’t a problem we as a society had overcome after the Civil Rights era! Prejudice still plagues our culture. I’m reminded of seemingly countless instances of violence in our world today:
- Race: A disturbed man in Kansas in February this year killed two Indian Americans after telling them to “Go back to your country.”
- Religion: Another Kansas man connected with white supremacy and anti-semitism sought kill Jewish people outside a local community center, and ended up murdering three Christian bystanders.
- Ability: Youth in Illinois kidnapped and tortured a disabled man while filming it and posting it on social media.
- Gender: Statistics are dire when it comes to domestic violence–as many as 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will be the target of violence at the hands of an intimate partner.
But even in other cases that don’t result in news coverage, prejudice does hurt the people it affects. We might not struggle with public bigotry as some of these stories include, but we still often cling to stereotypes and assumptions that genuinely harm other people. We assume that people from other ethnicities are just too different from our own. We might think that one group of people is simply lazier or not as intelligent as another. We may even have the prejudice that one group is more prone to violence or other vices, without any data to support our judgements. The reality of our world is that we are addicted to judging other people. We categorize and judge people based on how they look, speak, act, and live.
In Christian ethics–the study of what is right and wrong according to our relationship with Jesus Christ–there is an important distinction to make. God calls us to judge things, not people. In other words, God calls us to make judgments about right and wrong, but we should never sit in the judgment seat over any other person.
Judgment about right and wrong is called discernment, which is obviously an important practice for our daily life. But once we cross the line and begin to judge a fellow human being, something dangerous happens: we pretend to act like God. It doesn’t even matter if that person wronged us–judgment belongs to God alone simply because we are sinful creatures and have no right to act like God.
When we apply this to prejudice, it is clear that things like racism, classism, and sexism have absolutely no place in God’s kingdom. Projecting our prejudice onto someone else is literally judging that person in an effort to exclude them from God’s love. Jonah did this in the bible story we read on Sunday. He crossed that line and began to judge the people of Ninevah, assuming that they should not receive God’s mercy!
Instead, God calls us to see everyone as created in God’s own image. It doesn’t even matter if that person is a Christian or not–absolutely everyone is loved by God. This means that we must treat other Christians as fellow brothers and sisters, regardless or ability, gender, skin color, wealth, or any other social status. And even when we encounter a non-Christian, it means that we ought to treat that person with the same love Jesus showed, so that they too might become part of God’s family.