The Sick and Widespread Nature of Prejudice

On Sunday, Justin preached a standalone sermon from Ephesians 2 and 3, connecting the multi-faceted wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10) with the diverse unity described in the previous verses. The sermon addressed what is known as “racism”. But as Justin pointed out, the idea of multiple “races” existing other the human race is a social construct and not a biblical or even biological fact. Probably the most hard-hitting point for me was that this issue of prejudice is not just white versus black, because even within black communities or white communities, everyone has poisonous presuppositions about others within their own ethnicity. The problem runs deeper. The problem is pride. The problem is sin.

I’ve been thinking about what this means for me and others like me. I love ethnic diversity—and hope that in fifty years the Henchey bloodline is colorful, brimming with bi-racial marriages and interethnic adoption—and I don’t know if “racism” is something I struggle with. But, boy, do I struggle with prejudice. I think all of us—especially if we are accustomed to a middle-class lifestyle—might really struggle more than we realize to see all people as people.

This is how prejudice manifests itself in my life: Walmart. We moved to a different town a couple months ago, and one of the first things I noticed as I grew accustomed to local shopping was the differences in demographics of people here than those in deep suburbia. There’s a popular website in which contributors post pictures of odd-looking people they spotted at Walmart (almost never to the subject’s knowledge). Visitors to the popular site actually revel in the humorously outrageous ways that some people dress or look when they go to Walmart. Suffice to say, I think a large majority of those pictures could have been taken at my Walmart. Almost everyone has bad teeth, bad hair, and bad clothes… it’s not exactly a picture of “classiness.”

But look at all the places my thoughts went in that moment. I exalted myself over all my fellow shoppers, mentally dehumanizing them because they looked and probably acted different. “Did you just hear that lady yell at her kids!?,” I might whisper to my husband as we pass a frazzled woman in Aisle 9. “Seriously!? These people are crazy!” I’ve surely exclaimed, as someone’s bike rides in front of my moving car in the parking lot. I can be so quick to say things like, “I don’t think that guy was ‘all there’.” “I have never seen a larger person in my life,” I might mutter, wide-eyed, after passing a shockingly overweight man.

I’ve found that we’re the most tempted to jovially dehumanize others when we’re with someone we’re very close to and comfortable with; a mom, a best friend, a husband. Somehow, we find unity in poking fun at strangers. We might sit on a bench at the mall to do some “people-watching,” an activity that can be worshipful but usually ends up just sounding like a bunch of snickers as we observe “weird” people doing “weird” things, as if the general public is an unwitting comic book display.

We might say things like “There are some shady characters around this part of town” without even a thought that these “characters” are actual people with souls who either belong to the kingdom of God’s beloved (whom we should see as our own family), or to the kingdom of darkness. Our interactions with all people should have some sort of consciousness of this fact, because no one is spiritually neutral joke-fodder.

All people are invited into the kingdom of God; everyone is either passively or actively rejecting that invitation and on their way to hell (may the Spirit use us to stop them on their way!) or they are running the race and fighting the good fight of faith, right alongside us. There isn’t a category for “Weird People God Put in Our Lives to Annoy Us And/Or Give Us Something to Post About on Facebook.”

I recall at least two places in Scripture that speak to this. Proverbs 17:5 says, “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.” When we make fun of someone in a desperate situation, we say something about the God who created him or her. God takes those made in His image very seriously; stylish or not. Humans are the crown of His creation, and He cares for each one of us deeply.

A scripture that hits even harder for me is James 2:1-14. In this passage, James speaks of the sin of partiality. Initially I excused myself from this, since I had an inflated perception of my own humility. But the more I meditated on this passage, the more I noticed that my heart definitely struggles with showing favoritism to certain kinds of people: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?”

Imagine its Sunday morning. You see a good-looking guy brandishing cool shoes, trendy hair, and holding the coolest iPad case you’ve ever seen. The people around him laugh at his jokes. He’s an amicable guy who has it together. Then you notice a guy in jean shorts and a wife-beater who has the words “White” and “Trash” tattooed on his calves. With whom are you most likely to strike up a conversation?

Who did Jesus say is more likely to enter the kingdom of Heaven? It is very hard for a rich man to see his need for Jesus (Matthew 19:23). Though we are obviously supposed to love the rich, we must remember that those who have nothing—who vigorously scratch away on lottery cards before they even leave the store—just might be very ripe and receptive to hearing that Jesus can be their everything. In Luke 10:21, Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said,  “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

When we think about all that goes into salvation—election, calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, glorification—we must realize that is a weighty thing that God calls people to Himself. When we look at the people around us, we need to realize with great seriousness that Christ has shed precious blood for His people. He doesn’t pick who to redeem based off resume or cool factor. Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7.)

God has elect (chosen people) from among all nations. God has elect among the people of my local Walmart. God has elect among the people of Derek Jeter’s neighborhood. God has elect among the LGBT community, the Joel Osteen fan clubs, the socially-awkward homeschool families, the legalistic fundamentalist churches, the satanic covens. He just might not have gathered them yet. And He might use us to do that. We need to meet our deeply-rooted, deceptive, and poisonous prejudices head-on and seek Christ as the only solution. All the love and tolerance in the world cannot create the kind of true and deep acceptance that the gospel creates. We were strange to God, but He has brought us near. May we see all people as present or potential worshippers of Christ.

Hope Henchey



Posted on: February 3, 2015 - 10:47AM

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