FEBRUARY is Black History Month in the United States, a good time to review the civil rights struggle and its lessons. Yet the present stage of the world's development is showing that the need to overcome prejudice is still very much with us, not just among races, but among ethnic groups such as Croats and Serbs, and among those of differing religions.
It's often easy to feel superior to those who are different from us. Maybe they don't speak our language as we do; perhaps their appearance isn't like ours. Sometimes there is a history of animosity between different groups that is difficult to overcome.
Peter, Christ Jesus' disciple, certainly felt separated from, and perhaps even superior to, those who were different from him. At least he did until he had a vision that came to him from God as he prayed. While waiting for his meal to be prepared, he saw, in this vision, all types of creatures--including some that were considered to be unclean by the Jewish faith. The book of Acts recounts that a voice told him to eat. He refused to do so, citing his obedience to dietary laws. Then he was told, "What God
hath cleansed, that call not thou common. The lesson Peter gained from this was the realization that "God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. This insight enabled Peter to overcome the prejudice he had felt and also to spread more effectively Christ Jesus' message of God's love for man.
In essence, Peter had learned that he couldn't preach about God's love for man without himself having love for humanity. Jesus' summary of the Ten Commandments had been that we should love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Peter gained an expanded view of who his neighbor was--and he realized that he had to value the spirituality of all he met. Looking at one another from this spiritual standpoint enables us to eliminate prejudice because it opens our eyes to the Godlike qualities each individual e xpresses. For example, as we take a more spiritual look, we may see attributes such as intelligence, patience, wisdom, love, and strength. Even when it seems difficult to find such qualities, it is important to make the effort. When we do, we are working toward harmony and are actively seeking to eliminate the kinds of hatreds that lead to wars--such as the one in Yugoslavia as well as less-reported battles around the world.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes of people's relationships to one another in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. In several places she points to the Master's teachings and how important obedience to them is to our own happiness. She says in the chapter "Prayer, "If we turn away from the poor, we are not ready to receive the reward of Him who blesses the poor. She goes on a little later to advise, "We should examine ourselves and learn what is th e affection and purpose of the heart, for in this way only can we learn what we honestly are.
I grasped something of what this means while I was serving in a volunteer organization with an outspoken and persevering member of another ethnic group. At first, I thought the problem was that she had a chip on her shoulder. Then I began to see that I was looking down on her just by my attitude toward her. As I actively prayed to change, I found our relationship changing. I now look forward to seeing her, and on more than one occasion I have felt warmth and respect from her. This is something that would
have at one time seemed impossible.
Centuries-old hatreds may not disappear in an instant. But as we work and pray to overcome prejudice, our efforts will have effect, and they will bring more harmony to our world.