Pastoral principles 1 – Acknowledge Prejudice
We have finished Mark’s Gospel. Thirty six sermons engaging with Jesus. Who do we now think he is?
You may think spending so long on something so basic was odd. At Morey’s licensing on Weds evening Bishop Mike Hill introduced some research that found over two thirds of churchgoers, asked to explain what they would say if asked why they should be admitted to heaven, spoke of their behaviour, or that they were not as bad as some. Churchgoers! In other words fewer than a third mentioned Jesus. That’s why we do big series on Jesus. Because of who is, was and what he has done for us. Because of grace, the free gift of life and eternity guaranteed.
We go on to look at a short series which is about behaviour, in particular about raising awareness of short-comings in our interactivity of which we may not even be aware. Not because our behaviour saves us but because it is good practice and because it may lead others to be saved. The series goes alongside the Living in Love and Faith course many of us are doing this autumn.
It asks us to self-examine for six things it calls ‘pervading evils’ in human behaviour
1. Acknowledge Prejudice
2. Speak into silence
3. Address ignorance
4. Cast out fear
5. Admit hypocrisy
6. Pay attention to power
Every one of these will be introduced and invite thinking that may take the rest of a lifetime.
Change is difficult. Once upon a time I would occasionally observe, when a guest in someone’s house, a line of toilet roll centres on a bathroom shelf. And I would conclude that the household was too lazy to take them to the bin (or craft resources box if they are teachers or children’s workers). Now I see the the same thing and conclude that this family takes recycling seriously.
We begin, as our first are of change, with ‘Acknowledge Prejudice’.
As we live together in Christian community one of the things we discover is that we have diversity and we have unity.
Diversity. We’re all different, unique special.
Unity – all one in Christ.
Psalm 29, which we read at the beginning, contains two contrasting aspects of our humanity:
- We’re very miniscule in every respect compared to God
- We’re very significant because he chooses to bless and strengthen us
In one biblical metaphor God the great shepherd sees us as individual sheep needing pastoring or we go astray. In another God the great builder sees us as individual bricks needing to work together.
A building can have great architectural interest even if all the bricks are identical.
Sheep need shepherding or they all go astray together.
So as a text I use Galatians 3:28 from our second reading today.
In rhetorical terms it is what is known as a merism. Describing the whole thing by naming the parts – saying knives and forks instead of cutlery, saying ‘for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health’ instead of ‘in all circumstances’.
It emphasises the unity we have in Christ, all one in Christ Jesus in whom there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female and we might add young nor old, gay nor straight, tall nor short, rich nor poor and many other false contrasts amongst those who love Jesus.
So, if we are all one we should look out for the needs of others, without prejudice.
A question to raise your hackles. How woke are you?
As communities of Christians we are held together in the love of Christ. Our many differences are gifts that can build us up in trust and mutual affection. But they can also mar the image of Christ that we are called to reflect through our life together. LGBTI+ people in our churches have not always experienced this unconditional love of Christ. We need to admit and address this reality
Part of reflecting God’s image is to be in relationship and therefore unity. Note our unity comes from Christ – not from scripture, or leadership, or even social life. From Jesus. So our evangelism should be rooted neither in the prospect of heaven, nor the fear of hell, but the love of Christ.
The shocking thing about our passage is that the blessings of Judaism, being children of Abraham, are offered to us Gentiles. All one.
We are offered the chance to become children of Abraham (3:26) and therefore children of God and heirs (4:7) who will inherit the things he has promised in the Old Testament.
Now let’s be honest. We can all think of someone we hope never joins our family. And if you can’t, you’re the one. But God’s family is open to all.
The world encourages us to be snappy in making judgements (show Blink). We’ve all experienced the occasional gut feeling that has helped us get out of danger. But also the impulse purchase that we later regret. Quick decisions can be good but need training and restraining.
Alongside ‘blink’ goes ‘yuk’. Again, a useful guide to stop us eating unpleasant and evil smelling things that will kill us. But in sexual behaviour one person’s yuk is another’s banquet. To acknowledge prejudice is to realise that others may find your behaviour yukky too.
The word ‘prejudice’ is an easy one to parse. As we look at it it divides into two parts – pre and judice. Before justice (Latin – prae judiceum). To be prejudiced is to decide the outcome of a court case before hearing the evidence.
If central to our faith is a belief that each of us is unique we can rejoice that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God. If that is true then there should be a sense of awe and mystery about each one of us – an element of ‘otherness’ – that cannot be reduced to something that we can fully grasp within our finite understanding. This principle applies to how all manner of human differences are perceived and responded to. Although our focus in this course is specifically on LGBTI+ people, these principles apply to all our relationships. We believe that all of us need to reflect deeply on our attitudes and behaviour in order to extend a Christ-like welcome to LGBTI+ people in our midst. Here are some questions to ponder. How do we …
• Welcome people as they are, rather than offering a welcome that is dependent on individuals’ willingness to conform to a way of thinking and being that is perceived as ‘the norm’: people ‘like us’?
In other words, how do we restrain our blink reaction. There should be no outsiders here.
And secondly, how do we…
• Love others unconditionally with a positive attitude that is without judgement or question?
In other words, how do we convince ourselves that Christ died for those we don’t like very much too.
And thirdly how do we…
• Find out how the things we do and the language we use affect LGBTI+ people in ways that are harmful and we don’t intend?
I am absolutely convinced that a willingness to change our language is crucial. My Bible, not that old, says ‘sons of God’. Our church Bibles, recently updated, say ‘children’. Changing is hard. Some of the habits of sexist language were learned in childhood and stick deep. Likewise our language about race and gender identity. ‘I’m tired’ we say ‘I’m too old to change.’ You’re not. Work at it and it shows you’re waking up to the issue.
And I’m afraid that very waking work will mean you are being ‘woke’. And that word is now used as an insult, in newspapers, on social media groups, even by politicians against any who try to be aware of exclusivity and counter it. Worried about being called woke? Christian was, back in the day, a nasty nickname given to followers of Jesus. We owned it.
1. Are you willing to change?
2. Will you welcome people to your home, family and church as they are without them having to change first?
3. Will you love unconditionally as Christ loved you?
4. Will you hear criticism of your current language, behaviour and prejudice with gratitude rather than defensiveness?
We are all one in Christ Jesus
Prejudice tends to leave people alone in Christ Jesus.
There is a only a one letter difference but what a difference that letter makes.