There is all the difference in the world in treating people equally and attempting to make them equal.
Prejudice. This is a word that is defining our world for many people. “These people are prejudiced.” “Those people are prejudiced.” “That business is prejudiced.” “That school is prejudiced.” “That church is prejudiced.” They may not say “prejudiced.” They may be more specific and call it racism, sexism, misogynist, xenophobic or some other way of dividing one group from another. But the message is the same: prejudice exists in our society. The irony is that if you aren’t paying attention, most of it comes from places you would not expect.
I will do my best not to be too political in this post. However, some politics are necessary due to the nature of the topic discussed. This is a sociopolitical issue as much as it is a Christian issue and one of the most controversial in our day. Some Christians believe that it is not good for us to engage in politics. They see it as having a “split allegiance” when our only loyalty is to Christ. I have never understood such a thought process and have never seen participation in politics, in and of itself, as treason against God, although it easily could become treason just as participation in any part of culture can “split our allegiance.” Ironically, these are many of the same Christians that talk about “redeeming culture.” Yet, they want to stay out of one of cultures most corrupt but vastly influential arenas?
The fight against prejudice in our nation is, much of the time, a fight for minorities. It is a fight for non-whites, women, LGBT members, and other minority groups to be treated as “equal” to everyone else. But what many in this fight fail to notice is the prejudice, intentional or not, that has developed from the people that say they are fighting against it.
The dictionary defines prejudice as a “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” If this is not the definition of postmodern society, I don’t know what is. Many people, instead of paying attention and studying the facts, will simply read a title of a story, or blog in this case, and jump to a conclusion on what they think it is saying; then they label the author accordingly.
Prejudice is usually given as a label to anything that is not progressive, Christians and conservatives being the most commonly accused. The irony is that most of the accusations of prejudice have come from, or at the very least created, a prejudiced society on the opposite side. We call people who hold “prejudiced” views bigots. The dictionary says that a bigot is “a person who has very strong, unreasonable beliefs or opinions about race, religion, or politics and who will not listen to or accept the opinions of anyone who disagrees.”
So for example, if a white person is walking down a street and sees a black man with a hood on walking toward him, and he immediately thinks “thug” or “criminal” then that would be prejudice or bigotry. Likewise, if a person sees a Muslim or a person of Middle Eastern descent and assumes they are a terrorist, that is prejudice.
But also, if a person disagrees with the actions of Black Lives Matter, for example, and is immediately labeled a racist, that is also prejudice. If a person opposes gay marriage and is accused of bigotry, that is being a bigot. If a person sees the feminist movement as causing more harm than good, and thus is labeled as sexist, that is still prejudiced.
But society doesn’t seem to see it that way for the most part. And therein lies the irony with the fight for social justice. By social standards one must hold to certain, often prejudiced, beliefs and opinions to be considered a respectful member of society. No other views will have a say in that matter.
That is prejudiced. That is bigoted. That is textbook hypocrisy.
Language is Key
It is probably clear by now simply by the definition of “prejudice” and “bigot” that language and wording hold the key to these types of discussions. And it is language that has been used to fuel the divide and made it all but impossible to hold a respectable view that is contrary to mainstream culture.
Look at the word “equality.” Who could possibly be against such a thing? Only bigots, of course. This is why language is the greatest tactic in this arena. Constantine Campbell with Desiring God Ministries uses the example of “gay marriage” to make this point. He says by calling it “marriage” it places it as equal to heterosexual marriage. At this point, there is no way to oppose this idea and win. Had they chosen to fight for “redefining marriage” then that would have been a much more difficult battle and one much less likely to succeed.
This tactic is true of the very definition of “equality” itself. Thomas Sowell writes in his book The Quest for Cosmic Justice that “One of the reasons why equality may be impossible to achieve is that merely defining it opens up a bottomless pit of complications.” The problem with defining equality is that not all definitions of equality are equal. What I mean by this is that what you would define as equality in society may not necessarily be how someone else defines equality. If we cannot each settle upon a definition, how then we will know what to fight for? Moreover, how will we know if the inequality that is being discussed is actually oppressive?
Essentially, what has happened has the been the creation of a sort of language-game in the fight for social justice. A language-game is a particular way that people use language to do one thing or another. Each game has its own rules and own criteria for what truth is. In the fight of social justice, the core of the game is the definitions of words such as justice, equality, prejudice, and bigotry. Each has its own objective definition. However, in this arena, they have been altered by the rules of the game. A bigot is no longer someone who is close-minded toward any other beliefs in general; it is now someone who disagrees with the definitions of equality and justice as laid our by one particular group – the group that has set the rules. Many would simply settle for calling this the Left., but I don’t think it is just the Left that is doing this. There are many Christians, for example, who I would never accuse of being liberal or progressive in a strictly political sense who hold to the same set of rules in this game society has created.
The Cynical Generation
This idea of prejudice towards anyone against particular views has turned the Millennials into easily the most cynical generation in human history. Much of this generation, to which I belong, would believe that the world, or the “system,” is out to get them. This is why many millennials always talk about changing society when they don’t even know what they mean by it. They simply want change for the sake of change. Change is different, and different is good because the current structure is out to get us. That is the faulty logic of many millennials.
If you don’t believe me simply watch any movie made in the last decade where a millennial character rises up to defeat a corrupt institution. The Hunger Games is all about a millennial leading the charge against a corrupt power structure. Every millennial chick-flick gives subtle messages when it tells the tale of two teenagers who fall in love and defy all authority to do what their heart tells them so they can be together.
I almost sound cynical, don’t I? Did you catch the irony yet?
The Church is Not Exempt
If you think it is only secular society that has this problem, you’re fooling yourself. This hypocritical view of prejudice from people who think they are fighting apparent prejudice is just as alive in Christianity as it is outside of it. I say “apparent prejudice” because from what I have observed much of the prejudice being criticized today is simply a difference of opinion, and nothing more.
What I have said about society can just as easily be applied to the current state of Christianity. Many are fighting traditional views in the name of progress to the point where they are prejudiced towards anything that has been present in the church more than 20 years. Conversely, many are fighting modern trends in church to the point where anything that resembles something new is seen as “deviating from the Gospel.” Both are false. Both are prejudice.
Here at seminary, prejudice is aimed towards people of different theological camps. Not just the unorthodox and unbiblical views, but towards secondary things that are simply disagreed upon. The whole Calvinist vs. Non-Calvinist debate, specifically over predestination, is the most well-known secondary issue that is disagreed upon. Simply disagreeing upon this viewpoint these days can bring out the prejudice in another Christian theologian. One “wrong” view gets you written off completely by certain people.
Many young church members and leaders see the older generation as outdated, stuck in their ways, and hindering the beloved change. Older church members see the younger generation as arrogant, immature, and leading the church down the wrong path. Ironically, there may be some truth to both of these views; and to be honest, I see more truth in the observation of the older generation made about the younger. Both these views are not entirely true, but they can be arrogant and prejudiced if they are applied across the board simply because someone is old or young.
Put the Finger Down
To conclude, I would caution us all, myself included, to let our guard down for just a minute. Let’s not be so cynical, thinking everyone is out to get us. Let’s not jump to a conclusion just because someone disagrees with us. Disagreement is not at all the same at hatred, prejudice, or bigotry, so we must be more careful in throwing these words around, as the irony is that the accuser is often just as prejudiced as the accused in many situations, if not more so.
What we could do is try to adopt other qualities that act as almost a repellent towards prejudice. James 1:19 says, “ My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger…” Listening can be our greatest asset towards avoiding prejudice, hurting relationships, and maybe even finding common ground. Holding our tongue can help us avoid a lot of trouble. This is the one I personally struggle with the most, as I have some pretty strong opinions. And, finally, if we come across a view we disagree with, it shouldn’t upset us and it shouldn’t surprise us. If you haven’t noticed the world doesn’t think entirely the way you do. So why let all the other opinions upset you?
Quick to listen. Slow to speak. Slow to anger. Equality cannot be regulated. Prejudice cannot be fought efficiently on a cultural level alone. It must be fought individually in our own hearts.