When most of us hear the word prejudice, we think first of a negative attitude toward groups of people, often based on race. With that in mind, we also may think of it as an attitude held mainly by other people, not ourselves (since we, naturally, deplore that attitude).
But there’s much more to prejudice than that, as one of my pastors pointed out in a recent sermon. And when we understand it more broadly, the first place we should look to find it is in the mirror.
Prejudice, he noted, isn’t merely an attitude toward a group of people based on (say) race, though that’s one kind. And it isn’t at all what the world today says it is: taking a moral stand on sexuality and the nature of marriage. Prejudice, rather, is exactly what the word’s component parts say it is: pre-judging — forming an opinion without having all the information you need.
I’ve had the same thoughts. Prejudice often targets not a member of a group, but an individual. You see or hear something about someone you don’t know all that well, and from then on, you’re predisposed to assume he’s in the wrong. You may not even have first-hand information about him: You’re going off something someone else said, adopting their opinions — or the grudges — as your own. You don’t try very hard to get the other side(s) of the story. You don’t reserve judgment in recognition of your limited knowledge. It’s easier to think the worst — especially if your friends already do.
The problem with all this is not that we make judgments per se. We must make some judgments — assessments of character, evaluations of right and wrong. Nor is the problem that we form preliminary impressions of people. Incomplete information (sometimes even when it’s second-hand) isn’t the same thing as irrelevant information. Early on, we may see some red flags that are worth heeding. Our preliminary impressions may turn out, in the end, to be pretty much right.
But prejudice isn’t willing to wait for the end. It’s not interested in due process: It races ahead to the verdict. More than that, it typically takes satisfaction in that verdict (invariably “guilty”). It’s the old game of specks and logs (Matthew 7:3-5): We focus on someone else’s sins and deficiencies — real or imagined — to distract us from focusing on our own. That’s our fallen nature at work in us.
When Christians must make judgments, the nature of the new man should prevail — finding fault only regretfully, not eagerly; patient and loving; not wearing blinders, but putting the best construction on everything. That’s the Spirit of our Redeemer at work in us.