In his book, The Suburban Captivity of the Churches, Gibson Winter shows that through the years most churches have confined their membership to people of one social grouping. Social acceptance is apparently a big factor in happy church membership. And social acceptance involves, inevitably, a form of prejudice.
Am I prejudiced? Are you? If so, we are actually in good company. The Apostle Peter was prejudiced. His mind still roamed in the Old Testament. There were for him two kinds of people: those of Israel and those not of Israel. So to prepare him for his life’s work, the Lord had to deliver him from his prejudicial streak. Before he could call on the Roman centurion Cornelius, the Lord appeared to Peter in a spectacular dream (Acts 10). Israel was to be no longer isolated from the nations in preaching the gospel. The good news must be brought to all people regardless of racial origin. Not a simple transition for Peter. What once had been a virtue, became a crippling obstacle for the Christian era. Peter’s Lord was his example. He went to social misfits, people of doubtful morals, revolutionaries, distressed, and the poor, completely without regard to merit, race, or social standing.
Now all that was long ago. But prejudice has a very long shelf life. Chances are that you (and I) keep prejudice neatly tucked away under cover of noble virtues, traditions or plain thoughtlessness. We easily live by a vague mental array of likes and dislikes. Maybe we avoid those whose opinions we don’t appreciate. Or whose customs and habits are different from ours. Maybe we defer to the powerful more readily than the unfortunate. Social acceptance may well be a factor in how we experience our church membership. Friendship communities may have barriers not easily discerned but nevertheless real to those not being part. Differences can give sparkle to life but they can also hinder relationships from flourishing if left unattended.
We must go to Peter’s Lord and be cured from our prejudices. Let him open our eyes so we may come to a healthy appreciation of the people around us, regardless of differences.