Key Scriptures: Acts 10 -11, 6:1-6, James 2:1-26, Ephesians 6:9, Acts 10:34, Luke 10:25-37, Mark 12:31, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, Mark 16:15, I Peter 3:15, Matthew 5:16, 28:18-20, 24:14, James 5:16, I Peter 4:10, Acts 20:35, Galatians 5:13-14
Guiding Question: How does God want us to understand about prejudice?
Optional Introductory Activity: Before class take photos of various people. Try and have a variety of ages, men and women and various ethnicities. Ash each person to tell you something unusual that they have seen or experienced or an unusual talent or job they have had. Print or make a PowerPoint of all of the photos. Read the statements randomly and ask students to identify the correct person. As they are guessing, ask them why they believe their answer is correct. (At the end of the activity, you may want to point out any of their choices were based on appearances. You can also wait and refer back to this activity during the lesson.)
Lesson: (Questions to students are in bold italics) When do you think prejudice started? To answer that question we first need to understand the definition of prejudice.
Prejudice is prejudging someone based on one or more aspects of his or her appearance or personality. It can be a positive prejudging or a negative prejudging. Often this prejudging is based on the life experience of the person making that judgment – including things they have read, watched or heard – sometimes from the people he or she knows.
Here is what no adult will ever tell you, we all do it. Our brains look for patterns to help us navigate the world safely. So if a bee stung you and it hurt a lot for several days, your brain sends a warning signal when a bee is around. If you get stung again and it hurts even more, you may very well start telling people you hate bees. If your experience getting stung revealed a potentially life threatening allergy to bee stings, you may try to actively kill bees on your property.
We understand how someone can feel that way about bees but what about people? How does God want us to react when our brains begin lumping people together? What if few have had a very bad experience? It’s complicated for us to sort out as humans but God makes what He expects very clear.
Let’s look at a little history. Prejudice is not new. The people who it involves just change from place to place and time to time. Read Acts 10:1-23. Why did God have to give Peter a vision? What was the real point of the vision? What did God want Peter to do that was appalling to Peter before the vision? The prejudice the Jews had against the Gentles was incredibly strong. Like many prejudices it had a history. Many Gentile groups of people had tried to destroy Israel. During this time, they were under a harsh Roman rule with high taxes, corruption and persecution. Jews would never go visit a Gentile. They wouldn’t even think about entering a home of a Gentile. Jewish Christians like Peter would be horrified at the idea of Christ dying for Gentiles too.
God doesn’t look at people the way we do. Read Ephesians 6:9 and Acts 10:34. What does God see and evaluate when He judges someone? Read Acts 10:1-2 again. What did God see in Cornelius?
God convinced Peter that his prejudice was wrong but now read Acts 11:1-3. Who was shocked at what Peter had done? If you read the next few verses, Peter had to tell them about not only his vision but also that God had sent the Holy Spirit in a very usual, visual way to show He wanted all people to become Christians. Read Acts 11:18. What was the reaction to Peter’s story? Thankfully for us who are Gentile Christians, they quickly understood and accepted that God wants all people to be told about Jesus and be given the opportunity to become a Christian.
But like all prejudices the actions that result from them can be very harmful. Read Acts 6:1-6. What was the issue that created the need for these first deacons? What is really interesting about this is that it wasn’t a Gentile versus Jew prejudice. All of these people were Jewish or Jewish converts who had become Christians. The “Greeks” had merely chosen to adopt some Greek customs and speak Greek, while the “Hebrews” refused to adopt the Greek customs and language. Yet one group was refusing to help feed the other group’s widows even though they went to church together.
Jesus knew this would always be a struggle for people. Read Luke 10:25-37. What was the point that Jesus wanted them to understand? Read Mark 12:31. What did Jesus say was the second greatest command? What does it look like in real life when we love others like we love ourselves?
It’s tricky though. Remember we said prejudices could be both positive and negative? A positive prejudice means you think someone is better than everyone else because of one or more aspects of his or her appearance or personality. Read James 2:1-13. What prejudice was causing problems? What did James tell them? The apostle Paul tried to explain to the early Christians that they could not allow their prejudices destroy the church and their relationships with each other. Read Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11. What did Paul want the Christians to understand? Why is it important for Christians to ignore prejudice and work together as one body?
Skills Activity: Review the main points of the lesson. Read Mark 16:15, I Peter 3:15, Matthew 5:16, 28:18-20. 24:14, James 5:16, I Peter 4:10, Acts 20:35 and Galatians 5:13-14. What are some of the things God expects Christians to do? How can prejudice make doing those things difficult?
Brain science has found that there is a natural emotional space between two people. When we love someone very much that space is very small. We can do what God wants us to do with relative ease. We usually want to serve the people we love and we definitely want them to go to heaven. But when we think someone is very different from us that space grows larger. When the space gets too large our brains no longer see that person as human or with a soul worth saving. Prejudice allows us to create that distance even with people we haven’t even met.
Our job as Christians is to get rid of prejudice in ourselves (This is an important distinction for teens. A separate lesson can be taught on overcoming and defusing prejudice in others focusing on those additional skill sets.) so we can truly love others liked we love ourselves.
Note: Different groups of teens will find different activities more helpful in facing and defusing their own prejudices. Groups who are younger and/or less mature or experienced may want to focus on practicing narrowing the emotional space and serving. Older, more mature experienced teens maybe more equipped to face specific prejudices, hear the life experience of others and learn how to love people the way God commands even of people they consider their enemies. You may also choose to do one or more activities tonight and continue the conversation by doing other activities over time.
- Getting To Know You – have the students pair up with someone they either don’t know or they think is very different from them. Give them two minutes to find a way to feel closer to that person. After the two minutes have the students share what worked and what didn’t work. Make a list of questions to ask that will help the students shrink the emotional distance between them and the other person by finding things in common.
- Everyone Has A Story – Bring in a couple of people who the students would say are extremely different from them. Have the people talk about their childhood, what they like about church, a tough time in their lives, things they like to do. Afterwards have the students describe how they feel the emotional distance between them and that person changed. What make it change? Did hearing some of the things on that person’s heart make a difference? Why?
- Serving In A Different World – Find an area of town that is very different from yours in any way – it can be age, ethnicity or any other observable difference. Identify a group of people in that area to serve. This time don’t take a prepared service project. Take your students to meet with the people you wish to serve. Help them ask respectful questions to understand what every day life is like for these people and the challenges they face. What needs do they have” What need can your students help meet, while also teaching them about God? Plan and execute a service project, discuss with the students whether getting to know the people, their stories and their needs make them more invested in these people, serving them and sharing their faith.
- Loving Your Enemies – In spite of everything, some people will act like our enemies. Share scriptures where we are commanded to love our enemies. Have students brainstorm ways they can love their enemies the way God commands.
Application Challenge: Review the story of Cornelius in Acts 10 and 11. Think about what prejudices you have. Pray that God helps you love everyone as you love yourself. Find ways to grow closer to others.
Author: Thereasa Winnett