The prejudices listed there are interchangeable with others, homophobe, sectarian, bigot etc. could all be included. Whichever way we phrase the joke, it’s still me in the punchline.
I got internet trolled recently by someone who doesn’t have a face or name, you know the type; courageous. I scrolled through some of their other posts online and read time and time again that they quoted Jesus and mentioned ‘that to speak the language of hate about Muslims, gay people, Catholics etc.’ was loving people as ourselves, just as Jesus commanded because those people are evil and the loving thing to do is to tell them so. I winced with anger at the twisting of his words to cherry top their bigotry.
The truth, however, is that I’m a bigot myself. I don’t want to be, I hate the fleeting moments of prejudice that happen within me. To be clear, they are thoughts that don’t match the beliefs I work to live by. They are reactions that feel disgusting to me but they still happen within me.
I’m a racist because I have had internal reactions to a small percentage of reporting of the appalling deaths of African-Americans, Syrians and North Africans with, ‘what did they do to deserve it?’ rather than with heartbreak at another life lost. What an abhorrent reaction to have, nobody ever ‘deserves it.’
I’m an Islamophobe because 1 in 1000 times I see a traditionally dressed Muslim man or woman a thought flits across my mind that they mean me harm. I don’t believe that 99% of Muslims have violent intentions but somewhere inside of me lies an Islamophobic streak. It’s got to go.
I’m misogynistic when I hear one of my female friends preach and 1% of the time the phrase, ‘for a woman’ enters my brain. I don’t believe that men are superior to women at preaching, or anything like it, but the idea is still somewhere within me and every now and then it sneaks out.
It pains me to realise that I’m not so unlike the faceless person throwing abuse and poor theology around the Internet. If I embraced these fleeting thoughts I would be a lot more like them. Whether it is previous belief long rejected, media influence or something else, there lies within me the potential for as much bigotry than anyone else’s
I’m becoming more and more convinced of the genius of Jesus’ teaching on specks and planks in Matthew 7. In short, before tackling the obvious in someone else, address what seems small in your own life. I am convinced that we defeat bigotry by starting with ourselves, by naming and owning our prejudices and bringing them to God and to one another for healing and restoration.
I think it works because it changes how we approach other people. When we recognise the flaw in ourselves we come to others with understanding and not judgement. When we accept our own frailty we approach others with humility not with high-handedness. This doesn’t make standing against the prejudices and hatred in the world any easier but it does soften our hearts to those we want to engage with and it raises our belief for their restoration. (I am not for a second suggesting I’m any good at this.)
So let’s love our neighbour and love them well, not in judgment and aggression but in humility and empathy. We are all hobbling down the same road but with different stones in our shoes.