Monday, May 10, 2010
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism in the Church
"Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples" [Rom 15:11, NIV].
As I sip my coffee this morning, I am convinced more than ever that God desires for people of all races to worship him in corporate worship together. Yet churches of every race and nationality, throughout our nation, remain in and continue to drown in their own sin of prejudice and discrimination. There is little doubt why denominations are in decline and churches are closing; God has withheld his presence due to this glaring sin to which the church closes its eyes and hides its ostrich-like head in the sand, refusing to acknowledge and address its sin of prejudice, discrimination, and racism.
Prejudice is a predetermined belief toward a group of people or a single person because of race, social class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, political beliefs, religious conviction, vocation, or personal or physical characteristics (such as obesity), and it is alive and well in the modern Church. Prejudice often leads to thoughtless assumptions and the occasional remarks. It is what causes persons to think that all fat people are lazy, lawyers are liars, and blonds are stupid. This prejudice has no factual basis for its predetermined belief, but then it is not about facts, it is simply about sin.
Prejudice can be negative or positive and comes in three forms: cognitive, affective, and conative. These three types of prejudice are interrelated, but all need not be present in a particular individual. Someone may believe that a particular group possesses low levels of intelligence, but harbor no ill feeling towards that group. Another group may be disliked because of intense competition for jobs, but still recognize no differences between groups; exhibited in recent history by the Mexican workers taking certain jobs previously held by Black workers in the United States .
Negative prejudice can lead to discrimination, a thought, behavior, or action with allusion to unequal treatment of people because they are members of a specific category. Discrimination rears its ugly head in three categories: individual, legal, and institutional. As with prejudice, the three kinds of discrimination are interrelated and may be found to varying degrees in society and its individual members. Since churches are made up of imperfect people, it stands to reason that the Church possesses negative prejudice and carries out various forms of discrimination. The problem is not that individuals harboring prejudice and discrimination enter the Church, but that the Church is comfortable with allowing both negative prejudice and discrimination to nest within the institution.
Negative prejudice leads to racism, a belief that race is the most important determinant of human traits and capacities, that racial differences produce an inherent superiority or inferiority of a particular racial group, and that these racial characteristics determine their respective cultures. This racism leads the institutional church to seek members, employees and vendors of like race. On an individual level, this same racism leads people to choose doctors, lawyers, etc. based on race alone. How can a prejudice racist people gather in a building and sing praises to God?
Prayer: “Lord, I admit to you all my prejudices, discrimination, and racism. I admit them all to you Lord and acknowledge to you that I have been wrong. I am sorry. I ask that you forgive me. I beg you to cleanse me and make me whiter than snow. I ask you to empower me, that I not fall back into prejudice, discrimination, or racism, and that you empower me to change the church. Amen.”