As Prejudice Gives Way

Published on May 24, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts


I recently watched this video from a generation past about prejudice.  Teacher Jane Elliot used a simple experiment with the students in her classroom to teach them about the nature and consequence of bias, and the results of her experiment were shocking in one sense and not surprising in another.  You will watch this video and be stunned by the speed with which the prejudice of the human heart is revealed.

This is a video worth watching for a number of reasons:

  1. It makes its point in parable, and powerfully so, which delivers the message straight to the heart.
  2. It awakens hearts that are numb to bias in all its perilous forms.
  3. It begs for a resolution (racial reconciliation) which points us to a greater reality (spiritual reconciliation)

I find it helpful to remember this video was shot during a different time in a different culture.  But I also know the prejudice we see released within these kids is the kind of prejudice that persists even to today.

Being part of the majority culture must certainly obscure my view of the continuing racial divide that exists in our country and around the world.  And racial prejudice is not the only kind of prejudice that plagues our people today.  We are a people of bias, and we seem to seek out any opportunity to create division where unity should exist.  We categorize others in our minds based on gender, denomination, theology, religion, race, intelligence, economic status, or national affinity.  Put simply, we are a divided people.

Our hearts may cry for unity across all of humanity—to see divides between color and creed and class to fall by the wayside and be replaced by a highway of harmony that cross all nations and all barriers.  And in one sense, we should seek for unity and pray for peace when we see them fall victim to the evils of prejudice.  But in another sense, we strive in vain when we try to build bridges that don’t acknowledge the very work of division God is bringing about in our world.

When Jesus says, “Do you think I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division,” we find Him revealing a part of His core mission:  to redeem a people for Himself from out of every family, community, and nation.  God’s redemptive purposes are not confined to a nation, or a color, or anything we as humans can touch or see.  God’s redemptive purposes are predicated by His own counsel and the “secrets of men” (Romans 2:16)—namely, the condition of their hearts.

God means for unity to exist within His church at the cost of discord within the world.  But God’s kind of discord is not our kind of discord.  God does not judge men based on the color of their skin, but rather on the condition of their heart.

Since God does not judge men based on the color of their skin, neither should we.  Since God shows “no partiality” (Romans 2:11), neither should we.  When Paul says God shows no partiality, he reinforces what Moses wrote in Genesis 1:27 and what Luke wrote in Acts 17:26:  That all men, irrespective of ethnicity, are made in the image of God.  This should immediately put to rest any notion that the value of a human can be determined by something other than their humanity.

This is not to say distinctives are not necessary, or even good, particularly as we strive to preserve the purity of the gospel in a world that would cloud it with all kinds of debris.  We do not serve God well when we act as if truth should be comprised as a result of our own inclination towards sin.  But where we allow our distinctives to influence our view of the inherent worth of others, we go too far.

In all this, I’m reminded of a few important truths:

  1. It is not ours to judge others, even as we judge righteously (see John 7:24).
  2. Reconciliation begins with humility, and humility begins with submission to God.
  3. God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.
  4. All things, including racial discord, racial harmony, spiritual division, and spiritual unity exist for Jesus to make manifest His glory.

So we should strive for racial reconciliation and denominational reconciliation and ethnic reconciliation where we see the division created by men and not God.  But these goals are penultimate, not ultimate.  What is ultimate is the glory God receives when we demonstrate the ultimate value and worth of Christ in how we love others irrespective of color or class or creed and when we carry forward His great gospel to every color, class, and creed.

Question:  What impact have you seen bias have in your own life?

  • Jeff Patterson

    Wow. Humbling. May the church take the lead towards unity, because the Gospel frees us to love and accept those we do not agree with.
    My recent post Hear: Worthless Doing + Priceless Knowing

  • 5MinutesPlease

    I'm guilty.

    I only offer more questions . . .

    How do we over come this?
    What do we really have to fear? Is it a "need" to "one up" the other guy?
    Is it human NATure? or NURture?

    (I saw this video in the 1970s as an elementary STUDENT.)
    My recent post The Good News of the Gospel: You Are Not a Dog

    • Chris_Tomlinson

      Good questions–not sure I've thought deeply about this. My initial thought is that our pride seeks to elevate ourselves, so we seek to lower the inherent value of others as a means towards that end. As a corollary, we're all trapped by our own sense of self-righteousness (i.e. my theology is more accurate than others', my relational patterns are more normal than others', my perspective is a better reflection of reality than others', etc), so difference of any sort is an easy way to move ourselves up the ladder and others down as a result. It's an easy fix to our own sense of insecurity. I'm sure there's far more to this–your question about fear is an interesting one to consider.

  • ruach

    "prejudice we see released within these kids is the kind of prejudice that persists even to today."

    My wife and I were discussing this and I think you have to be careful to say that the prejudice was latent within the kids. As my wife said, it seems that it takes an outside force to teach us to be prejudiced. In this case, it was the teacher. For many of us, it may be our culture. The "teacher" appeals to the wounded, broken, self-centered hearts of our flesh.

    • Chris_Tomlinson

      I think you make a good point here. I wonder if the capacity, or desire, to judge is found within each of us. But the means (here, prejudice) to express that judgment is learned. Thoughts?

      • ruach

        Maybe it comes down to how we view the sinful nature of man? Apart from Christ, I am primarily concerned with my will and well-being and tend to judge or distrust those who block me or I perceive that block me from getting my way. Or in my self-centered way of thinking, I justify treating others poorly in order to promote my own comfort and ends. Having just read a book on the Nazi doctors and one on the eugenic policies of Theodore Roosevelt, I wonder where it all begins. In both instances, the culture of the day, taught the ruling powers that one (or more) races were superior and had the right, maybe the duty, to control the destiny of the others. In the case of the Nazis, their thinking was that the Jews did not deserve to live. In the case of 19th century white America, blacks, Indians and Filipinos did not have the perceived capacity to care for themselves. From our perspective, they were clearly racist and prejudiced but they could not or did not want to see it?

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