Faith Matters clergy column from Pastor Anne Barber

As Americans, we revere these words from the Declaration of Independence: "We find these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

And even as we claim to believe all men are created equal, we often speak and act as if we believe they're not.

There's a song from the musical "South Pacific" that sums up the origin of prejudice very well.

"You've got to be taught to hate and fear,

"You've got to be taught from year to year,

"It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear,

"You've got to be carefully taught.

"You've got to be taught to be afraid

"Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

"And people whose skin is a different shade,

"You've got to be carefully taught.

"You've got to be taught, before it's too late,

"Before you are six or seven or eight,

"To hate all the people your relatives hate,

"You've got to be carefully taught!"

We are not born hating or fearing entire categories of people.

Hatred is taught and learned. And if we believe God is Love, when we hate, we are exhibiting unGodly behavior.

One dictionary definition of "prejudice" is "An attitude of hostility directed against an individual, group or race, or their supposed characteristics."

This could include so many categories of disunity among human beings today:

Poor vs. rich.

Republicans vs. Democrats.

Men vs. women. Old vs. young.

Educated vs. non-educated.

Straight vs. gay.

White vs. black, brown, etc.

Christian vs. Muslim, Buddhist, etc.

And many other areas of fear and hate worldwide that lead to war, death and destruction.

In the days of the early Christian church, the apostle Paul tried to deal with prejudice among some of the new converts who were emphasizing their differences instead of their common relationship in Christ. He told them "There is now neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28)

At one point, even Peter showed prejudice toward the new gentile believers, refusing to eat with them, when he was trying to impress those he considered to be "important" Jewish believers. Paul wouldn't let him get away with it and confronted him over the issue. (Gal. 2:11-14)

Prejudice is ugly; it is a form of hatred because it divides us rather than unifying us as human beings. Jesus came with a message of love and co-existence. He encouraged His followers to cooperate with the Roman occupiers, rather than hate them. ("If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles." Matt. 5:41 NLT).

If we want to change the world for the better, it will happen through love and understanding. And that will require each of us taking a good, long look at our own prejudices, and deciding instead of acting on them to find ways to emphasize our similarities as human beings.

"Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair hope; where there is darkness light, and where there is sadness joy." (First part of Prayer of St. Francis.)

The Rev. Anne Barber, pastor of My Father's House, 7215 U.S. 301 N., Ellenton. Information: Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday's Herald, written by local clergy members.