MERIDIAN — Now John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side." — Luke 9:49-50 (NKJV)
In recent days our nation has seemed divided regarding the Zimmerman court case. Beyond the disciplines of court, our streets have been the platform for many voicing their opinions about the outcome.
Behind the views and expressions have surfaced many preconceived ideas and prejudices that were there before the case. Today, I would like to consider how prejudice affects us.
Prejudice is a judgment or opinion formed beforehand. With prejudice, we have a preconceived opinion about another person or a situation we are facing. Many think they are the only victims of prejudice but all experience prejudice from others.
Four years ago, I was seated in an El Al aircraft in Israel to come home. My luggage was in the rack and my seat belt was buckled. An Orthodox Jew came to where my bag lay in the rack and asked who owned that bag. I said, “I do.” When he realized a Gentile owned the bag, he removed my bag and placed his bag in its spot. To him, I was a “nobody.”
Several years ago, I visited Yangon, Myanmar. I was celebrating the first Christian missionary, Adonarim Judson, coming to that land some 190 years earlier. I wanted to see how he felt, so I went to the river and boarded a ferry loaded with all the Burmese. Because I was a foreigner, I had to pay an extra price, wait till all the good seats were taken and then sit in the back of the boat. Everyone was watching me as I boarded.
In Meridian, I have taken my handicapped son to a medical facility to be turned away without anyone even checking to see his need. It felt like the wheelchair was enough to triage the situation as beyond their capability.
I believe that everyone has stories like mine. The question is, “How are we to deal with the prejudice of others? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Seek God’s approval, not man’s. The fact is, unless you allow it, man’s opinion doesn’t matter. I know of a middle aged piano player who resigned because a three year old child stuck their tongue out at her. I also know of a preschooler who was heartbroken because another preschooler called her, “a tater tot.” She didn’t even know what “a tater tot” was. If you know God loves you, focus on that!
2. Learn how to forgive. When the Orthodox Jew threw my luggage out of the airplane rack, I had a moment of anger. But, I decided that this one person was not destroying a wonderful experience. I forgave her, celebrating that God would help me rise above the occasion. I placed my bag somewhere else. When I returned to my seat, in a spirit of forgiveness, I was able to be a Christian witness to a stranger next to me. In the end, I felt like I won.
3. Try to break through the barriers. On the ferry in Yangon, a preschool Burmese sat next to me. Neither of us spoke the same language. However, we compared sizes of feet, then hands. Then I placed my baseball cap on his head and it went over his ears. His mom laughed at us and the little boy held my finger as we left the boat. When we parted we waved. We never solved everything, but we all left smiling.
4. Watch your own prejudices. Everyone can improve on how we give others a chance. Watch for preconceived ideas about strangers. Not all whites are in the KKK. Not all blacks are in gangs. Not all Hispanics are illegal. Not all rich folks are self-absorbed. Not all poor folks are lazy. The person who has his prejudices under control is the one who allows each person to show their colors before making an opinion.
In Luke 9:49-50, John saw someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name and forbid him because he assumed he was not a real follower. Jesus said, “Do not forbid him for he who is not against us, is for us.”
John revealed his prejudice. Jesus revealed his openness to allow each person a chance to reveal who he really is.
What we need in our nation today is for everyone to take a step back, draw a deep breath, and avoid the generalizations that too often write someone off. After all, my boy in the wheelchair is a real person too. Anyone around him very long will see that if they stop and visit.
Dr. John A. Temple is pastor of Poplar Springs Drive Baptist Church, located at 4032 Poplar Springs Drive in Meridian. Visit the church website online at www. psdbc.org.