Judge not, that ye be not judged. (Matthew 7:1)
Growing up in the ’60s, racism did not exist. We had “prejudice.” While prejudice can morph into racism, prejudice is not necessarily racism. Prejudice is neither bad nor good. It is neither right nor wrong. Prejudice can have bad outcomes, or it can have good outcomes.
Dictionary.com defines prejudice as (1) an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason; (2) any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable; (3) unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group. I disagree that prejudice is an unfavorable opinion or unreasonable feelings or opinions. Certainly, several examples could be given to the contrary.
I find the definition in the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary more agreeable. It defines prejudice as “Prejudgment; an opinion or decision of mind, formed without due examination of the facts or arguments which are necessary to a just and impartial determination. It is used in a good or bad sense. Innumerable are the prejudices of education; we are accustomed to believe what we are taught, and to receive opinions from others without examining the grounds by which they can be supported. A man has strong prejudices in favor of his country or his party, or the church in which he has been educated; and often our prejudices are unreasonable. A judge should disabuse himself of prejudice in favor of either party in a suit.”
Racism casts prejudice in a negative light. In the ’60s, the prejudice that existed against black people resulted in racism and injustices leveled against them. However, not all prejudice was unreasonable or unjustifiable. For example, I remember, as a freshman in college, having to traverse a gauntlet of black athletes stationed in front of the main entrance to my dormitory. As I passed through, they taunted me with accusations of being prejudiced (today they would have said “racist”). Judging that they were only looking for an excuse to beat me up, I just walked past them without a word. My prejudice was not unfounded or irrational. I knew of others that opened their mouths and paid the price.
Racism, as I explained in my last article, works both ways. These young men were prejudiced against me because I did not share their skin color, and I was prejudiced against them because experience taught me that black guys in groups liked to intimidate and beat up on non-blacks. It had something to do with “black power.” I experienced the same thing while I was stationed onboard the USS Sperry AS-12 when I was in the Navy. However, I was not racist. I had nothing against black people. I would have been happy to have joined their groups if I had been approached as an equal on a friendly basis, but that never happened.
Today, I have several black friends, and I get along well with all races. I am not racist. However, I am still prejudiced. For example, if I see a group of young men, regardless of color, and they look like “gangsters” – dressed in hoodies, droopy pants, and all tatted up – I will avoid contact with them. My prejudice may be wrong about them. They may just be a bunch of good Christian boys from a local church youth group having a public Bible study. On the other hand, my prejudice could be right, and if I ignore my instincts, I may end up robbed and in the hospital.
My point is that prejudice can be right or wrong, but in all cases, it should be cautiously tested until proven one way or the other. If I avoid getting to know someone based on the color of their skin, I may lose the opportunity to have the friend of a lifetime.
Here is another example. I am a Southern Baptist and I believe the basic doctrines of the Baptist Faith and Message. I could, therefore, be prejudiced in favor of all Southern Baptist preachers, and because of my prejudice, I might accept everything a Southern Baptist preacher says without question. I can be reasonably sure that they teach the Bible accurately because my prejudice says they believe the same way I do. Friends, that is a recipe for spiritual deception. Paul told his young protégé, Timothy to, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The Holy Spirit intended that not only for young Timothy but for each one of us today. We should be as Luke described the Bereans who “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Do not allow your prejudice to lull you into false teaching.
Oh, and by the way, pastors are not immune from this kind of prejudice. They train in seminaries where they learn to trust the professors and the books their professors assign for reading. When they come out of seminary, they continue teaching what they were taught by their trusted professors without doing the hard work of examining what the Bible actually says. This can be proven simply by observing the number of churches and denominations that are going “liberal” – even Southern Baptist churches. So, this admonition applies to the laity as well as pastors.
Jesus taught us to be careful with our prejudice. Our starting verse above is the object of much abuse because it is frequently taken out of context especially by those who are prejudiced against Christians. Jesus said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). I explain this in greater depth in my article “Beware of False Prophets,” but Jesus basically explained that we need not allow our prejudices for our preferred teachers to keep us from identifying false teaching. We have to judge rightly and without prejudice. That goes for the way we read our Bible. We should approach Scripture without prejudice and allow it to speak unrestrictedly by our preconceptions. Jesus teaches us to “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). That requires effort.
We all have prejudices, but we need to be careful about how we exercise prejudice. One prejudice that is always valid is the prejudice that instructs us that every word in Scripture comes directly from God, and it is therefore consistently true. You can always rely on that prejudice to be true. As Paul instructed the Romans, “let God be true, but every man a liar.” By keeping that prejudice, you will never go wrong.