BE THE CURE FOR PREJUDICE!
By Mark Sandford
In 1948 in Biloxi, Mississippi, a black woman named Nancy dared to marry a white man. A former employee at one of her husband's four coffee shops described this as “vile, dangerous, and extremely misguided.” She complained to local newspapers that this had created a “demoralizing and hostile environment for employees.” Articles appeared in several newspapers. A young woman stormed into one of the shops and screamed to the baristas that working there was a threat to the community. Some of the employees quit, and one of the managers urged the owner to sell his company and publicly apologize. A man raged at her: “Rot in hell you dirty [expletive]!” Locals swore they would never spend another penny at her husband's shops. Wholesale customers stopped selling to him. Grocery stores boycotted his coffee-roasting company and pulled his products from their shelves. He was almost driven out of business.
Having said all that, I have a confession to make. What I said in the first sentence of this article is not true. While Nancy Rommelmann's husband did own four coffee shops and a coffee-roasting company, Nancy was not black. And her ordeal didn't happen in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1948; it happened in Portland, Oregon in 2018. Her actual offense? She dared to state on social media what only ten years ago would have been universally regarded as common sense. She said that while the “Me too” movement is right to give rape victims a voice, it is wrong to automatically believe every accusation; people are innocent until proven guilty. Because this Judeo-Christian ethic flew in the face of political correctness, she was labeled by one commentator as “a rape-culture apologist.”
Now read my first paragraph again. . . . Except for the first sentence, everything about Nancy's story is true. What's my point? If you think it's that leftists are prejudiced, you're part of the problem, not the solution. Prejudice is a pitfall for us all. My point is that from era to era the subject of the story may change, but the narrative of bigotry remains the same. That's because prejudice is never a product of original thinking; it is an all-too-predictable knee-jerk reaction.
So, what should be our response to prejudice? That's a hard question to answer in the face of a growing fear that what happened to Nancy may happen to persons of faith. Increasingly, Christians are dubbed “homophobes” and “fascists” for merely holding time-honored religious beliefs. Some have been persecuted for not violating their consciences by participating in gay weddings, or by declaring their opinion that marriage should be between a man and a woman or that there is only one gender. It used to be that Maureen and I heard about this only in the news. But now, personal friends are being persecuted. For instance, a friend tells us his retiring boss assured him he was the most qualified one to take over his position, but lamented that his company would have none of it. On what pretense? He had refused to donate to the company's preferred charity because it funded abortions, and he had resisted their pressure to take his wife and children to watch a gay pride parade.
Again, what do we do? First of all, don't form your opinions in reaction to others, no matter how much pain they have inflicted on you. Study the truth on its own merits, and whenever possible, find common ground with those holding the opposing viewpoint. Nancy's persecutors were too blind to recognize that just like them, she was adamantly in favor of giving rape victims a voice. She just didn’t want this done in a way that would create new victims by destroying the reputations of innocent men.
Our own blindness can be just as astounding. A case in point — the stance many Christians take on environmentalism. Have you studied the Scripture's rich teachings on stewardship of the earth? Have you ever once heard a sermon preached on it? If you had, you could have found at least some degree of common ground with leftists. But where have you gotten your understanding of environmentalism? Through a never-ending stream of videos on social media debunking global warming? Have you ever once seen a post by a Christian reminding us that whether or not pollution is causing it or that leftist strategies are unwise, we are still responsible to devise wise strategies to reduce pollution? In fact, that we should be the ones leading the effort? Because we have failed to find common ground, we have little more to bring to the discussion than criticism. So we tempt the world to see us as callous people who have absolutely no concern for the state of the planet. We tempt them to become prejudiced!
When lack of common ground distances us from those with whom we disagree, we begin to dehumanize them, and our own prejudice rises up. Witness the vitriol coming against sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, who has become an icon in the fight against global warming. She is a constant target of mocking and name-calling. On social media, Greta is called “mentally ill.” She is a “fraud.” “She has terrible parents.” Her image is posted with the caption, “eco-fascist,” alongside a photo of a girl in Hitler's Nazi Youth Movement. A clip of her speech is compared with a clip from the horror movie, “Children of the Corn.” I hope my impression is correct that posts this extreme are the exception on the social media pages of Christians. But I wish there were none of them at all. What troubles me more is that I haven't heard a single Christian call this out as prejudice. Earlier this year, when less caustic posts mocked Christian children who spoke out against abortion, we were all horrified. “Are they that heartless,” we asked, “that they would speak that way about children?” It is so much easier to spot prejudice when it is aimed at someone who agrees with us.
There is a cure for such blindness. Ask yourself, “Is my war on prejudice more than just rhetoric?” Everyone remembers Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech, but we forget that that's not what won the fight for civil rights. Prejudice is anything but logical, so logical discourse alone cannot defeat it. What won the fight was his insistence on nonviolent resistance to hateful beatings. It was men and women, both black and white, sitting hand in hand at “whites only” counters, refusing to retaliate when scalding coffee was thrown in their faces, while refusing to relinquish their seats. It was acts of courage like this that made Dr. King's speech believable and enabled him to win the hearts of a nation. Imagine how much more effective his efforts would have been if more Christians had gone even further — not just refusing to retaliate, but actively loving their enemies — praying for them as Jesus told us to do in Matthew 5:45; even feeding and giving them drink, as St. Paul urged in Romans 12:20.
What, today, is making our speeches believable? We post well-reasoned video clips by the likes of Jordan Peterson and Dennis Prager, calling for civil discourse instead of the all too prevalent name-calling and slander. This is laudable and oh, so needed. But where are our courageous acts of love that would make their pleas believable?
You might wonder, why is our ministry of inner healing even focusing on such questions? Because prejudice is first and foremost an inner healing issue. When a child judges her father, she projects that judgment onto others as a personal prejudice — in her mind, all men are like him. When enough people have had similar experiences, individual prejudices coalesce into a culture-wide prejudice. What common hurt most often tempts today's children to judge their parents? Neglect. Families are splitting up. Children are being raised without fathers and sometimes without mothers. Often, parents who stay married are too self-absorbed to be attuned to children’s needs.
It's obvious, then, what collective bitter root judgment our culture is most tempted to form. Out of resentment about not being heard and understood, a neglected generation is coming to expect that “no one cares about us!” Thus, to even suggest that an accusation of rape might not be true is automatically perceived as a heartless invalidation of pain. To refuse to decorate the cake for a gay wedding means that you hate gay people. To believe that Jesus is the only way is hateful intolerance of others' religious beliefs.
You may call these stances illogical, but again, prejudice is anything but logical. Until you show real love, well-reasoned logical discourse may get you nowhere. When Maureen and I offer inner healing to those we counsel, we wouldn't dream of talking logic without first listening as they share the pain that tempted them to form judgments. But that's exactly what is being done in the fight for our culture.
On social media, along with the vitriol I have seen a lot of logic being thrown at Greta Thunberg, but no sympathy for a girl who is mercilessly mocked in public forums. Greta’s generation has spent their entire lives under the threat of doomsday predictions. In light of that, our daughter, Michal, asks us why, when a young girl expresses fears for the future of her generation, all that the Christian public seems to care about is whether she has all her facts straight. Yes, facts are a valid concern; in fact, they should be the decisive factor in any debate! But as is so often true, empathy is completely missing. Maureen and I wonder how many other millennials find that pattern disturbing. While Michal continues to stand firm on Christian truths, how may others her age are tempted to reject the faith out of prejudice against what they perceive to be an insensitive Christian public?
That's where we are most in danger of losing the culture war.
The prophet, Malachi, warned: “Behold, I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of fathers to their children and children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6). In recent years, God has been bringing young people to our door who have grown up in a culture of neglect. Maureen and I give them fatherly and motherly love — a robust hug, a listening ear, and heartfelt concern. That has been what has made inner healing (our effort to help them overcome personal prejudices) effective. Hundreds of others our age have told us that God has been leading them to reach out in a similar way. God is raising up a generation of spiritual parents; perhaps the curse can be avoided.
Humble acts of love may not be as impressive as a great speech. But they are the only outreach that will make eloquent words believable and win the war on the prejudices of this age (including our own). While refusing to compromise Christian truths, we advise you to search for whatever common ground you can find. If there is little to honor in another’s stance, you can still honor their person. Most importantly, ask God what young people He wants you to take under your wing. Speak uncompromising truth to them. Offer them inner healing. But most importantly, immerse them in a family culture of love and acceptance. Back up your words with actions that show them what real tolerance looks like.
Be the cure for prejudice.
© Mark Sandford 2019