A young American at a banquet found himself seated next to a Chinese diplomat. Not knowing what to say to a Chinese, the young man asked, “Likee soupee?” The diplomat nodded and smiled. Later the diplomat, Wellington Koo, was called on to speak and delivered an eloquent address in flawless English. As he sat down to the sound of applause, he turned to the young American and said, “Likee speechee?”
We are better not judging other folks prematurely, lest we find out that it is we who are being judged, not them! All of us come with our own baggage. And all of us no matter who we are have some biases and some prejudices. Bigotry is found everywhere: All economic levels. All education levels. All races and gender.
I grew up in Kentucky and my father-in-law grew up in North Carolina. When we talked about the Civil War we saw it from two entirely different perspectives. I was always reminded of the story of a bus tour of Nashville, Tennessee. The bus driver was pointing out the sights of the Civil War Battle of Nashville. The driver said, “Right over here a small group of Confederate soldiers held off a whole Yankee Brigade.” A little further along he said, “Over there a young Confederate boy, all by himself, fought off a Yankee Platoon.” This went on and on until finally, the man taking the tour said, “Didn’t the Yankees win anything in the battle of Nashville?” And the bus driver replied, “Not while I’m the driver of this bus, they didn’t.”
In his first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play major league baseball, faced venom nearly everywhere he traveled. Fastballs at his head, spikings on the bases, and brutal epithets from the opposing dugouts and from the crowds. During one game in Boston, the taunts and racial slurs seemed to reach a peak. In the midst of this, another Dodger, a Southern white named Pee Wee Reese, called for a time out. He walked from his position at shortstop toward Robinson at second base, put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder, and stood there with him for what seemed like a long time. The gesture spoke more eloquently than the words: this man is my friend.
Why should there be differences among people? The color of a persons skin is not what makes them who they are but the content of their character. If a woman does the same job as a man, why shouldn’t she be paid the same? That is only fair! Most of the time our prejudices, our biases and our bigotry comes out of fear. The fear of losing our job to someone else. The fear of having someone do better than us. The fear of losing control.
The saddest part is that prejudices, biases and bigotry are even found in the Church. For more than a year a little old cleaning lady who lived on the wrong side of the tracks had been trying to join a fashionable downtown church. The preacher was not eager to have a seedy-looking person in faded, out-of-style clothes sitting in a pew next to his rich members. When she called for the fifth time to discuss membership, he put her off for the fifth time. “I tell you what,” he said unctuously, “you just go home tonight and have a talk with God about it. Later you can tell me what He said.” The poor woman went her way. Weeks became months, and the preacher saw no more of her, and his conscience did hurt a little. Then one day he encountered her scrubbing the floors in an office building, and felt impelled to inquire, “Did you have your little talk with God, Mrs. Washington?” he asked. “Oh, my, yes,” she said, “I talked with God, as you suggested.” “Ah, and what answer did He give you?” “Well, Preacher,” she pushed back a wisp of stringy hair with a sudsy hand, “God said for me not to get discouraged, but to keep trying. He said that He Himself has been trying to get into your church for 20 years, with no more success than I have had.”
We try to justify our prejudices with scripture and you can’t because scripture condemns it. Some trace the races back to Noah’s sons. GEN 5:32 After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth. Genesis 9:21-23 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness. Whenever we interpret Scripture, we tend to lean towards our own bias. We need to recognize the reality of such biases that we all have. Churches that denied women leadership roles is less theological than bias. GAL 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 1SA 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Who is my neighbor? Everyone is my neighbor. I am required to love and to treat them fairly. MAT 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. “Listening and caring is risky. It can cause us a lot of trouble if we listen, especially if we listen to people we don’t like very much. For one thing, if we listen to them, we may have to change our line of attack against them. If we listen we may discover that they are not the fool we thought. If we listen we may have to forfeit a quick and massive victory. If we listen we may feel other people’s pain.
To take the gospel to the Gentiles (you and me) meant overcoming deep-seated prejudices of many years. What do we do until the world changes? Be patient and understanding. Have a good sense of humor: Booker T. Washington arrived one time in a city to make a speech. His train was late and he was in a hurry. He dashed out of the station to the cab stand but the cabby growled, “I don’t drive niggers.” Washington said, “All right, I’ll drive you. Get in the back.” If real changes are to come, they must start with us.
Miss Thompson was a conscientious teacher who tried to treat all her students the same. There was one little boy, though, who was difficult for her even to like. His name was Teddy Stallard. Teddy didn’t seem to be interested in school. He was not an attractive child, his schoolwork was horrendous and his attitude was no better. In short, there was certainly nothing loveable about Teddy Stallard. Indeed, for some strange reason, Miss Thompson felt a great deal of resentment toward Teddy. She almost enjoyed giving him “F’s.” There was something about him that rubbed her the wrong way.
Miss Thompson knew Teddy’s background. His school records indicated that in the first grade he showed some promise but he had problems at home. In the second grade his mother fell seriously ill and Teddy started falling behind. In the third grade his mother died. Teddy was tabbed as a slow learner. In the fourth grade he was far behind. His teacher noted that his father had no interest in Teddy’s progress.
Christmastime came and the boys and girls in Miss Thompson’s room brought her some gifts. To her surprise among those gifts was a very crudely wrapped present from Teddy. Opening it in front of the other children she discovered a gaudy rhinestone bracelet, with half the stones missing, and a bottle of cheap perfume. Sensing that the other children were beginning to smirk and giggle at the simple gift, Miss Thompson had the presence of mind to put on the bracelet and open the perfume. She put some of the perfume on her wrist which she invited the children to smell. “Isn’t this bracelet beautiful?” she asked the children. “Doesn’t this perfume smell lovely?” Taking their cue from her the children responded with “oohs” and “aahs.” At the end of the school day, little Teddy came to Miss Thompson’s desk and said, Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother and her bracelet looks real pretty on you, too. I’m glad you liked my presents.” When Teddy left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God for forgiveness for her attitude toward Teddy.
To make a long story short, from that day forward Miss Thompson became a new teacher and Teddy Stallard became a new pupil. Both Teddy’s attitude and his grades dramatically improved. Many years later Miss Thompson received a letter from Teddy telling her that he would be graduating from high school second in his class. It was signed, “Love, Teddy Stallard.” Four years later she received another letter from Teddy telling her that he was graduating from college first in his class. Four years later there was another letter to inform her that the young fellow who once presented her with a gaudy bracelet with half the rhinestones missing and a cheap bottle of perfume was now Theodore Stallard, MD. Also, he was getting married. His father was dead now, too. Would Miss Thompson be willing to sit where his mother would sit for the wedding if she were alive? “You are all the family I have left now,” wrote Teddy. Miss Thompson sat proudly where Teddy’s mother would have been seated for that wedding. That moment of sensitivity and compassion many years before had earned her that right.