Will you respect the dignity of every human being?

Published 9:08am Wednesday, September 25, 2013

By Rev. Bob Henderson

Our prejudices pop up in surprising and sometimes frightening ways. Most of us have more prejudices and Carter has pills – yet we tend to think of ourselves as not prejudiced at all, or if prejudiced then for good reason.

Take, for example, how people speak. How often do we hear Hispanic people speaking slow, labored, accented English, and immediately label them, at least in our minds, “dumb”? Somehow this seems to be much more true of our reaction to Spanish speaking people than to Germans, Hungarians, Greeks or such.

What is it about Hispanics that causes us to think they are “dumb” or “slow,” just because of how they speak? After all, English is their second language and how many of us can speak any second language?

What about looks? How many people do we categorize because of the way they dress or how tall or short, attractive or unattractive they appear? Studies show that “attractive” people not only get better grades in school, but will be more highly recommended than unattractive persons.

There’s the matter of size, too. A friend once told me that he and other members of a clergy search committee didn’t even consider an individual a viable candidate because he was obese. That concerned me, because those of you who know me, know that I’m not a small person.

But, I understand that attitude. I know a priest in another state who makes me look like Twiggy. Every time I read of a new and exciting ministry he or the church he serves has undertaken, I’m surprised, as if he’s not competent just because he’s fat.

That’s just a few, specific examples. Our prejudices are engaged by all sorts and conditions of humans – skinny, short, malformed, Black, Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic, macho, homosexual; people whose voices are odd or unusual, loud or accented; people with colored or spiked or long or short hair, clothes we wouldn’t wear, braying laughs: all those humans who are different.

And, we have names for all of them, too. Some of the least offensives ones are redneck, Mex, gook, yankee, honky, fatty, idiot. You and I know the others.

We use most of these profane words without thinking about it. Even when we do think about it, it’s almost impossible to change because our prejudices were often established in our early years from training, heritage, the role models of our families. Our prejudices are rooted deep within us.

But, as Christian people, we must try. We must work on rooting out our prejudices. Every time we degrade a person by using one of those labels, every time we pridefully think we are better than another person because of our looks, education, station in life, we sin and put our souls in jeopardy.

At every baptism in the Episcopal Church, all those present make a solemn vow before God and the other members that they will “respect the dignity of every human being.” Every one. Not just the beautiful ones. Not just the ones who dress, talk, eat, speak like we do. Every one!

Every Hispanic, skinny, homosexual, odd, crazy malformed, cross-eyed, bald, Russian, Arab, effeminate, dirty, human being is to be respected, cherished and loved as our own. Loved, as God loves us in our own broken, wretched, sinful, prejudiced way.

We are no different from the worst person our prejudices can imagine – not really different at all and God loves us. So too are we called to love.


The Rev. Bob Henderson is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Wetumpka.

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