Question: "What does the Bible say about prejudice?"
Answer: Broadly speaking, prejudice is preferential bias, and it can be either favorable or unfavorable. But the term prejudice most often refers to a negative opinion, not based on fact or experience, formed without just grounds or sufficient knowledge. Prejudice targets groups or types of people rather than responding to people as individuals. Prejudice is usually expressed as unreasonable and hostile feelings, opinions, or attitudes toward ethnic, racial, social, or religious groups. Prejudice has been a significant part of religious history, with some even defending acts of prejudice in the name of Christianity. It’s good to look at what the Bible says about prejudice.
Humans have a natural tendency to show prejudice toward anyone who is different. Both Old and New Testaments were written during times of human history when racial, national, and sexual prejudice was expected. Women were treated as property, and the enslavement of other nationalities was common. When God gave Moses the Law for Israel, He incorporated moral and ethical standards that were unheard of in that barbaric day (Deuteronomy 4:8). God decreed that His people would be different from the violent and godless nations around them (Leviticus 20:26). Part of that difference would be in the way they were to treat others: foreigners among them were to be treated as their own brothers (Leviticus 19:34), eliminating prejudice from their ranks.
Prejudice among Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans was rampant in Jesus’ day. Jews hated Samaritans and considered Gentiles unclean. Jesus transcended the prejudice by placing particular emphasis on a Gentile man’s faith (Matthew 8:10–11) and the kindness of a Samaritan (Luke 10:30–36). God had chosen the nation of Israel through whom He would send His Messiah (Romans 1:16), and the Jews were proud of their heritage (see John 8:33). When the church began, the first Jewish converts to Christianity believed God’s salvation belonged solely to them. But as non-Jews began to respond in faith to the gospel, the ingrained Jewish prejudice led quickly to discord and controversy within the church (Acts 11:2-3; 15:5).
God gave the apostle Peter a vision to teach him that God is not prejudiced and will not tolerate prejudice in His people. Because of what God revealed to him, Peter said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34–35). Paul, chosen specifically by God as the apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8), explained that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, offers salvation to everyone who trusts in Him. That faith grafts every believer into God’s family. Paul wrote, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26–29). There are no second-class Christians. Faith in Christ is the great equalizer, eradicating any foundation for prejudice.
The historical accounts of fighting and bloodshed in the name of Christ—Protestants killing Catholics and Catholics killing Protestants—look nothing like the Christianity of the New Testament. Religious prejudice is just as evil as any other kind and is nowhere validated by Jesus or the apostles. Religious prejudice is still rampant in many parts of the world and is directly opposed to everything Jesus taught. While we can strongly disagree with other Christians in doctrine and lovingly oppose false teaching of every kind, we are never to force our views through hatred, coercion, or violence (see John 18:36).
Jesus’ teaching combats prejudice. God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good,” Jesus said, “and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). “Love your enemies,” Jesus said, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27–31). Such commands steer us away from prejudice of any kind.
The Bible states that love must govern every action we take (1 Corinthians 16:14), and prejudice is opposed to love. Love sees the image of God in every individual; prejudice pre-assigns judgment without just cause. First Corinthians 13:4–8 defines what love looks like. We are not the judges of a person’s worthiness. First Corinthians 4:5 says that we should not “pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”
Prejudice has no place in the heart of a believer in Christ. Our lives are to be ruled by humility, obedience, and love for God and others (Romans 13:7–9). Prejudice violates all three. To be prejudiced means we consider ourselves better than someone else, which is pride (Philippians 2:3). It means we are directly disobeying Jesus’ command to treat others as we would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). And it means that we are not fully loving God, since we are unwilling to love people created in His image (1 John 4:20–21). Due to our fallen human natures, we all struggle with some form of prejudice; we should be quick to recognize it as sin and ask the Lord to rid us of it. When we are willing to see our prejudice as God sees it, we can repent of it and seek His help in changing it (1 John 1:9).