Prejudice/Treating Others as Neighbors
- Understand how prejudice affects how we treat others.
- Sense that God wants us to set aside our prejudice.
- Consider ways to avoid prejudice and treat others with love.
Prejudice means "to pre-judge." It's the most personally insidious form of injustice, as well as one of the most difficult forms of injustice to recognize and eradicate. In our minds we readily form judgments about people based on purely external factors, such as skin color, clothes, speech patterns, and many other things.
The Bible warns against prejudice in many ways. For example, several parables of Jesus subtly point to it in our lives. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee sees a tax collector in the temple (perhaps he recognizes him from having done business with him) and immediately judges his soul. He thanks God that he's not a sinner like that man; whereas the tax collector, who is repentant, is in fact more spiritually healthy than the Pharisee. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus' Jewish listeners were surprised to hear it was someone from the despised Samaritan ethnoreligious group who showed mercy to the robbery victim.
In the epistle of James, the author points out how prejudice operates even in the church: Someone shows up wearing fine clothes and gold jewelry, obviously quite wealthy. The church people are impressed. Here is someone the community recognizes as important, someone who adds prestige to this marginalized group of Christians. What a boon! And who knows what kind of financial contribution this person might be willing to make? We should put him on the building or finance committee!
They not only notice this person, but immediately show him special recognition: "Let's find him a good seat. Oh, but the best seat is already taken by that filthy homeless guy who started coming a few weeks ago." They then "invite" the poor man to take a seat on the floor so the rich man can have a better spot.
James says, "Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (v. 4). As we have seen, justice in God's eyes is not just doing the right thing or being fair; it's also paying special attention to those who are the weakest and the least powerful.
James continues: "Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?" (v. 5). Instead of showing preference to the rich and powerful, God's way is to show preference to the poor and needy. God seems to discriminate toward people who need love and care the most. In a sense, the rich already have what they need for this life, but the poor do not. So in "discriminating" toward the poor, God evens things out. That is God's brand of justice.
Fighting prejudice means seeing other people through God's eyes, rather than through the eyes of the world. The person we see may be poor or homeless, but in God's eyes he or she is one of his precious children. God regards this person with the same love and mercy as he has for everyone else. Jesus tells us that when we encounter people who seem to be of no importance, we meet him. Seeing others through God's eyes erases our prejudices and helps us to see each other as the disadvantaged kin we are---all in need of the advantage of God's grace.
What are the ways in which prejudice operates in your life and your church community?
Can you imagine something like what James describes happening in your church? Try to describe a situation.
How do you feel about God’s kind of “discrimination”?
It will be important in this lesson to help the group discover how prejudice operates in their lives and social groups. Insidious forms of prejudice certainly exist in most middle school environments. Invite the kids to think about ways they can combat this prejudice.
Be aware that some kids in your group may be victims of prejudice. Of course, you don’t want to put them on the spot or force them to express their feelings, but make sure to watch their reactions and be ready to stand with them if they choose to talk about their experiences.
By now you should have picked a justice project and partner agency, learned more about the work your partner agency does, and developed a plan for how your group can learn. If you haven’t started actually working on your project yet, this is a great week to do so.
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