“Lessons of Prejudice”

Ex. 1-2

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

A recent scientific breakthrough now makes it possible to tell the gender of an embryo when it is only 7 weeks old. While this is a victory for science, some commentators have worried that couples will use this knowledge to abort fetuses when they would prefer the other gender. In particular, feminists are concerned because fetuses that are aborted for purposes of sex selection are more likely to be female.

This policy seems already to be followed informally in some Asian nations. Male babies there outnumber female by large margins. In India today, there are ten boys born for every nine girls. The situation is so bad in China that last year, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences warned that by 2020, one in five young Chinese men would be unable to find a bride because of the shortage of young women.

The Old Testament lesson today seems to endorse the exact opposite policy. We heard these words: “If it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.”

In context, however, this quotation proves to reflect a different prejudice. While it might seem to favor girls, it was actually meant to cripple an entire group of people.

The leaders of Egypt were trying to limit the population of the Hebrews who were living within their borders. Long before that, the people of Israel had come to Egypt, seeking food during a time of famine.

And while the Jews had become an oppressed minority, they produced more children than the Egyptians and their population was rising. So the leaders ordered the killing of male children of Jewish mothers not to favor girls, but to curtail the number of Hebrew boys who could grow up and eventually rebel against the Egyptian pharaoh.

However, this savage example of anti-Semitism didn’t work. We remember the end of the Exodus story. Moses couldn’t be raised in a Hebrew family because it would have been obvious that he was a young male Hebrew who should have been slain.

So he was brought up as an Egyptian in the royal household. Thus Moses wound up a “prince of Egypt.” He used his power and position to mount a revolt against the Pharaoh and ultimately lead the people of Israel to freedom.

The Egyptian policy of discrimination backfired! Instead of exterminating their enemies, they made them stronger.

And this is sometimes true of other kinds of prejudice. If the victims can survive the assaults against them, they can wind up stronger than they were when the prejudice began.

We can look again at the discrimination against females enforced by selective abortion. From a purely practical point of view, cultures that prefer boy babies make a poor choice.

For, the new generation of males won’t have enough brides. And many of the parents who wanted sons to carry on the family name will never have any grandchildren at all—male or female!

Consider, too, the irony that the smaller generation of girls born in these cultures will wind up with a wide choice of husbands! And they will be stronger because they were born unwanted, and they will know that they will have to be tough to survive.

Christians may also learn from these examples of discrimination against Jews and females. Like the Hebrews, we Christians also have a legacy of being persecuted for our beliefs.

Jesus himself died because he challenged the religious and political dogmas of his time. His followers were later imprisoned and killed with depressing regularity. Tradition says that ten of the original 11 disciples were slain by the Romans.

As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, later generations faced increasing brutality. Countless Christians perished in the Roman Coliseum fighting wild beasts. It is said that the Emperor Nero one night decided to illuminate the streets of Rome by hanging Christians on crosses and putting their bodies on fire.

And persecution of Christians continues in our own day. Around the world, followers of Christ are harassed by Muslims, Hindus, and Communists. (Ironically–given the story of Moses, Coptic Christians in modern Egypt are now subject to vicious attacks, just as the ancient Hebrews were.)

And on a much milder but still troubling scale, those of us who are Christians in Western countries may find ourselves victims of prejudices. Urban skeptics make fun of acquaintances who get up early on Sunday to attend to church. They think church is a waste of time.

Such skeptics decline to date Christians when they choose not to play the social games of the hook-up culture.

Again, such prejudice is relatively minor. Being laughed at can be laughed off. Being socially shunned isn’t fatal.

But we still wish we didn’t have to suffer for our faith. We would prefer to be treated as normal, intelligent persons.

Yet Christians can take heart that discrimination does backfire. As the persecution of the Hebrews by the Egyptians eventually led to freedom for the people of Israel, so the suffering of victims of prejudice can make them strong.

So those of us who live in this very secular city can be spiritually enriched by prejudice that is directed against us. For instance, when we stand up to critics who think religion is nonsense and we argue for the intellectual integrity of our faith, we may be pleased to see how much sense our religion actually makes.

When I was doing graduate work in philosophy, I often debated the merits of belief in God with fellow students who weren’t religious. And I found that my own beliefs became clearer and more coherent as a result.

As a clergyman in New York City, I often meet people who ask me what good religion does. I have to defend the power of faith to give purpose to life and peace to the soul.

So, then, just as the infanticide of the Egyptians led to the liberating exodus of the Hebrews out of Egypt, so the barbed comments of modern atheists can sharpen our intellectual defenses and make us more confident people of faith.

That may be a shock to skeptics. But it is a welcome surprise to those of us who believe in a God who brings his people to freedom.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.

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