Last post I looked at how some studies show that many christians are prejudiced towards groups such as gays, atheists and Muslims, and are less likely than other people to show love to members of these groups.
How can we start to bring about change?
Getting our attitudes right
The nature of prejudice
‘Prejudice’ is defined as “an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason”. If prejudice stayed as an opinion or feeling, it would be bad enough, but it becomes a significant issue for christians if it leads to a lack of love.
Christians don’t always react well to an increasingly pluralist society, and so unloving attitudes are sometimes evident towards gays, atheists, Muslims and even political ‘leftists’.
Having a right attitude will mean we want to follow Jesus more than follow a doctrine, a church or a personal prejudice. And a clear characteristic of Jesus is that he almost always showed compassion to people on the margins of respectable society, even if he was critical of their behaviour, and reserved his stern judgment for members of the religious elite.
We who are his followers should remember that if we show prejudice and lack of love, we are more likely to be displeasing to him than those we are looking down on.
We need to be wary of being judgmental. Jesus and Paul both spoke against it (Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 14:4, 10, 13). We may not be sure exactly how to apply these teachings, but we can at least see them as warnings.
Grace more than correction
One of the key teachings of christianity is grace – the unmerited love of God expressed towards all people (not just us!!). In his excellent book No Perfect People Allowed, John Burke tells of how he, a pastor, has trained his congregation to show grace to newcomers rather than judgment, no matter who they are or what they have done. The temptation for christians is to try to tell people where their lives are wrong, but he argues each non-believer first needs to hear God’s grace.
If we really believe we are ‘saved by grace’, then we have no reason to look down on, or be prejudiced against, anyone. This doesn’t stop us having realistic assessments of people (including ourselves!) but it does determine that we treat people graciously as God has treated us.
Speaking the truth in love
The New Testament makes it very clear that we should avoid speaking unlovingly and judgmentally. I have heard badly-behaving christians argue that Jesus and Paul sometimes spoke very directly, so it is OK for us to do the same. But:
- Do we feel we have their authority?
- Should we obey the clear New Testament teachings, or not?
Living in the opposite spirit
We are responsible for our own behaviour, and generally can only influence others by example. But Dean Sherman from YWAM used to teach we should be “living in the opposite spirit” when we were confronted by unchristian behaviour. That is, we make sure we are going out of our way to redress the errors of the prevailing culture.
So what can we do to be part of the change we want to see?
Walking the talk
Many churches and christians today seem to be learning the importance of matching words with actions – so much so that I think we can say this is a lesson God is teaching us. So we can test ourselves and our churches – do we show the love of God in our actions as well as our words?
- Do we treat people well, as Jesus did, even when we think they are behaving or living wrongly?
- Do people who seem to be far from God nevertheless feel loved by us, or condemned; welcome or alienated?
- Do we look out for the rights of the helpless, even if we disagree with their lifestyle?
These are a few of my favourite sins
We christians can be very selective about which sins we condemn and which ones we stay silent about. We can be strong against terrorism, sexual sin and crime, but can often overlook materialism, greed, self-seeking and pride. This makes our prejudices look very much less than holy.
If we can learn to overlook certain sins, we can surely learn to be more tolerant towards people who are different.
Act like you mean it
It can be hard to change, and hard to learn to love people we don’t naturally like or approve of (though we expect God to behave that way towards us!). People who know say the best way to learn to love people is to act as if we do. Pray for them, look out for ways to serve them, don’t speak evil of them.
Larry Christenson used to say if we build the formwork of loving deeds, God will poor the concrete of a genuine love.
Boring! We know all this!
I get to the end of this post and I can’t help feeling we all know all this – and who wants to read something they already know?
And yet, the results of the studies suggest we all still have a way to go to show God’s love to our world.