The citizenship of heaven will be made up of people from every ethnic and language group on Earth. God’s kingdom has no place for ethnocentrism, racism, or prejudice. Prejudice simply means to “pre-judge” someone—that is, judging without the benefit of all the facts about him or her, which no human will ever have. Only God is qualified to judge people, because he does know all the facts.
Everyone seems to have someone, perhaps some group of people, on whom he or she looks down or whom he or she considers inferior. And the Church has been one of the worst culprits when it comes to race and class differences. In his book Divided by Faith, Michael Emerson asks a glaring question: “Why are the members of more than 90 percent of all religious congregations in America still composed almost entirely of one race—even where the general population is racially diverse?” He goes on to ask other difficult questions:
What deeply held, often unconscious, notions about each other underlie our choices of the people with whom we form meaningful relationships? What attitudes about people of another race do we reveal in our most private moments—often in the form of racial jokes?
Since childhood, I have had a nagging prejudice against Polish people. And I didn’t even know any Polish people growing up! The source of my prejudice was Polack jokes—jokes about Polish people. In every joke I heard, a Polish person was the butt of the joke, portrayed as incredibly stupid. A few years ago, I took some university students on a short-term missions trip to Poland. On our trip, I met Polish people who were some of the most intelligent, godly, caring people I have ever known. One day, I felt convicted to confess my long-standing internal prejudice to a Polish brother in Christ named George. He graciously forgave me and prayed over me. Praise God—these negative thoughts and feelings of prejudice are now gone from my life forever! Every time I hear of Polish people or Poland now, my first thoughts are always very positive.
This incident caused me to reflect on the origins of prejudice and racism. In this case, it came from sheer ignorance—having never actually known a Polish person, I was responding to hearsay. Polack jokes began during World War II and were exacerbated by the arrival of Polish immigrants in America, when those seeing themselves as “real Americans” reacted to the actions of strangers and newcomers. Of course people coming from another culture do and say things that “seem stupid”—they simply don’t know how the new culture works! I can only imagine the things said about me “the stupid foreigner” when I first arrived as a missionary in Africa.
REFLECTIONS: Be brutally honest with yourself. Against what groups, nationalities, or classes of people have you felt negative stereotypes or prejudice? Find a way to purposefully begin a friendship with someone from a different ethnic group or nationality to begin the process of tearing down walls of ignorance. Ask God to give you courage to ask someone from a group of people against whom you have held negative stereotypes, to pray over you.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus