Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
– Romans 14:3-4
God allows us our preferences, but not our prejudices. You might wonder why that is—after all, when you state a preference for one thing, aren’t you implying a prejudice against another? Well, prejudice is what happens when a preference withers, leaving nothing but negativity in the shell of something that used to be overwhelmingly positive.
When you state a preference for something over another—this brand of soda over that, that movie over this—you’re delivering the end product of an argument you’ve had with yourself on the subject, a decision you’ve reached over time and through experience. More than that though, you’re delivering a piece of yourself…because stating a preference tells a person a great deal about you as a person. It’s an open and honest way of getting to know someone, by first placing a piece of your own perspective on the table.
When it’s reciprocated by way of a conversation on the subject, each person gets to know the other a little better. Understanding the choices we make allows us to understand how our minds work, how our experiences have informed how we think. Whether it’s as weighty as matters of significant political heft, or through the kind of bantering surrounding the recipe for the chili your host is planning to serve next July 4th, discussing our individual preferences is one of many ways that we become closer to one another.
A prejudice is old, dead preference that’s been allowed to continue past the point where it can contribute to a civilized society, or to human relationships. It’s essentially identical to petrifaction—the process whereby living matter is turned to stone. Living trees fall and are buried in sediment. Over time, water laden with minerals flows through the sediment, leaving traces of the mineral in the plant’s cells as they slowly decompose. After a thousand years or more, all that is left is a stone mould that perfectly replicates the plant’s shape. You can see evidence of petrifaction in “petrified forests” all over the world—dead stone things that imitate long fallen trees down to the microscopic level.
So it is with prejudice: the fossilized corpse of choice and preference. As with the petrified forest, all the life and soul of choice has rotted from prejudice long ago. Instead of a history of experience, a living thing, we’re left with a dead body mimicking it. And as those of use who are born again are all too aware, what is dead to us is no good for us.
Prejudice can kill our enjoyment of so many things. It’s purely toxic, all the affirmative life of choosing one thing over another drained from it in place of simply rejecting the other. It’s disruptive for both the thing that we reject and to ourselves, because as much as discussing preferences brings people close together, displaying prejudice drives people apart.
Generations have found themselves born into prejudice: but we’re all responsible for how we dress for the dance. No one forces us to act in this way. When we’re born a second time into Christ, He will simply do away with anything that limits our ability to walk with Him, and our capacity to love with Him. Prejudicial attitudes and behavior is completely emblematic of our dead selves. It has no place in us any longer. “Rebirth” isn’t just a happy metaphor; it’s a spiritual fact. We are no longer those people. Children shouldn’t play with dead things.
The key to the abandonment of prejudice in our lives is simply repentance. Repentance was the spark that ignited our rebirth in Christ, and that spark can catch again and again in our lives. The negative mindset is replaced by a positive one. Romans 8:5-6 says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
Repentance brings us home to God and allows the space for a new perspective; empowers a different approach to life, and to the people around us. Look around you. Are there relationships that have been damaged by a thought rooted in bias, in negativity? How much of you has turned to stone, shut down by your own intolerance? In Christ, a dead forest can flower again: stone turn to fire and then to flesh once more. We’re living proof.