The End of Prejudice
CAN we recognize tendencies toward prejudice in ourselves? For example, do we draw conclusions as to the character of a person based on his skin color, nationality, ethnic group, or tribe—even though we do not know that person? Or can we value each person for his or her unique qualities?
In Jesus’ day people who lived in Judea and Galilee generally had “no dealings with Samaritans.” (John 4:9) A saying recorded in the Talmud no doubt expressed the feeling of many Jews: “May I never set eyes on a Samaritan.”
Even Jesus’ apostles may have harbored a degree of prejudice against Samaritans. On one occasion they were not received kindly by a Samaritan village. James and John asked if they should call down fire upon the unresponsive people. By his rebuke, Jesus showed them that their attitude was improper.—Luke 9:52-56.
Later, Jesus related a parable of a man who had been set upon by robbers during his journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. Two religious Jewish passersby were not inclined to help the man. A Samaritan, however, stopped and bandaged the man’s wounds. Then he arranged for the man’s care so that he could recover from his injuries. That Samaritan proved himself a real neighbor. (Luke 10:29-37) Jesus’ parable may have helped his listeners to realize that their prejudice blinded them to the good qualities in others. A few years later, John returned to Samaria and preached in many of its villages—perhaps including the village that he once wanted to have destroyed.—Acts 8:14-17, 25.
The apostle Peter also had to act impartially when an angel directed him to speak about Jesus to Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Peter was not used to dealing with non-Jews, and most Jews had no love for Roman soldiers. (Acts 10:28) But when Peter saw God’s direction in the matter, he said: “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.”—Acts 10:34, 35.
The Motive for Fighting Prejudice
Prejudice violates a fundamental principle that Jesus taught: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) Who would want to be despised simply because of his birthplace, skin color, or background? Prejudice also violates God’s standards of impartiality. The Bible teaches that Jehovah “made out of one man every nation of men, to dwell upon the entire surface of the earth.” (Acts 17:26) All men, therefore, are brothers.
Moreover, God judges each person individually. He does not condemn a person for what his or her parents or ancestors did. (Ezekiel 18:20; Romans 2:6) Even oppression by another nation is not a valid cause for hating individuals from that nation, who likely bear no personal responsibility for the injustice. Jesus taught his followers to ‘love their enemies and pray for those persecuting them.’—Matthew 5:44, 45.
Thanks to such teachings, first-century Christians were helped to conquer their prejudices and become a unique international brotherhood. They called one another brothers and sisters and considered themselves to be such, even though they came from a host of different cultures. (Colossians 3:9-11; James 2:5; 4:11) The principles that powered this transformation can produce the same benefits today.
Fighting Prejudice Today
Virtually all of us have preconceived ideas, but these do not have to lead to prejudice. “Prejudgments become prejudices only if they are not reversible when exposed to new knowledge,” says the book The Nature of Prejudice. Often, prejudice can be overcome when people get to know one another. However, notes the same source, “only the type of contact that leads people to do things together is likely to result in changed attitudes.”
This was how John, a Nigerian of the Ibo people, overcame his prejudice against the Hausa people. “At university,” he says, “I met some Hausa students who became my friends, and I discovered that they had fine principles. I worked with one Hausa student on a joint project, and we got on very well; whereas my previous companion, who was an Ibo, did not pull his own weight.”
A Tool to Fight Prejudice
According to the report UNESCO Against Racism, “education could be a precious tool in the struggle against new forms of racism, discrimination and exclusion.” Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Bible education is truly the best help in this regard. (Isaiah 48:17, 18) When people apply its teachings, suspicion is replaced by respect and hatred is extinguished by love.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have found that the Bible is helping them to overcome their prejudices. Indeed, the Bible gives them both the motivation and the opportunity to share activities with people of different cultures and ethnic origins. Christina, quoted in the first article of this series, is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Our meetings at the Kingdom Hall build up my self-confidence,” she says. “I feel secure there because I do not sense that anyone has prejudice toward me.”
Jasmin, also a Witness, remembers being first targeted by racism at age nine. She says: “Thursdays have always been the easiest day of the week for me because on that night I go to the Kingdom Hall. There people show me love. They make me feel special rather than despised.”
Volunteer projects sponsored by Jehovah’s Witnesses also bring together people from different backgrounds. Simon was born in Britain, although his family comes from the Caribbean. He has faced much prejudice when working as a bricklayer for secular construction companies. But this did not occur during the years he served on volunteer projects with his brothers in the faith. “I have worked with fellow Witnesses from many different lands,” Simon relates, “but we learned to get along well with one another. Some of the closest friends I made were people from other countries and other backgrounds.”
Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses are imperfect people. Therefore, it may be that they have to keep fighting tendencies toward prejudice. But knowing that God is impartial gives them a powerful incentive to do so.—Ephesians 5:1, 2.
The rewards for fighting prejudice are many. As we mix with people from other backgrounds, our lives are enriched. Furthermore, by means of his Kingdom, God will soon establish a human society where righteousness will dwell. (2 Peter 3:13) At that time prejudice will be conquered forever.
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Do I Harbor Prejudice?
Ask yourself the following questions to analyze whether you might unwittingly be harboring certain prejudices:
1. Do I assume that people from a certain ethnic background, region, or nation have undesirable traits, such as stupidity, laziness, or stinginess? (Many jokes perpetuate this sort of prejudice.)
2. Do I tend to blame immigrants or people of another ethnic group for my economic or social problems?
3. Have I allowed my region’s historical enmity toward another nation to make me feel animosity toward people from that nation?
4. Am I capable of viewing each person I meet as an individual—irrespective of his skin color, culture, or ethnic background?
5. Do I welcome the opportunity to get to know people of a cultural background different from my own? Do I make the effort to do so?
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In his parable of a good Samaritan, Jesus taught us how to overcome prejudice
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At the home of Cornelius, Peter said: “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial”
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Bible teaching unites people of different backgrounds
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Jehovah’s Witnesses practice what they have learned
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Christina—“Meetings at the Kingdom Hall build up my self-confidence”
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Jasmin—“People show me love. They make me feel special rather than despised”
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Simon, a construction volunteer—“We learned to get along well with one another”