“(Re: James 2) We are called not to have Partiality/ Favoritism although I think it’s reasonable to say we all do it/have done it. When you see it in your church, in your “brothers/sisters” in Christ, how should we approach it? Or is it not for us to judge?”
I was recently talking with my friend who pointed out a local church that he visited a few times and said each time he felt excluded because he did not fit it with that type of people around him. I tried to play devil’s advocate and explain to him that during years of being a youth minister I have never heard or read of a youth ministry where everyone always felt welcomed. And that maybe it was simply in our nature to feel excluded. And then I gave him an example of some legalistic churches where one could be shunned and considered a false Christian simply for wearing a pair of jeans. I tried to tell him that compared to such radical partiality, what he thought he felt was hardly worth mentioning. He agreed that some churches are extreme examples, but countered by saying the church he spoke of had the specific goal of being welcoming, yet had quickly become a party for one type of person, and he wasn’t that type of person. He used example after example to hammer in his point. In the end I was distressed. How is it that a group of Christians can get together, decide to be welcoming, and then veer off topic and end up being unwelcoming?
THE REASONS FOR THE PROBLEM
When it comes to a church, there are two ways that some Christians exclude others. Firstly, based on what we think about God and second, based on what God gave us. The first happens when one group of Christians isolates themselves by their theology, beliefs, distinctives, and begins to apply labels to others that don’t follow their specific theological niche. For example if they wear a particular style of “holy clothing,” they don’t associate with other Christians, and place doubt on their salvation, or perhaps call them backslidden and etc. This can be seen in relationships between Christians from two different churches or denominational movements, but is especially problematic with Christians who are members of the same church because it breeds a feeling of moral superiority in the hearts of one group and a desire for angry rebellion in the other.
The second type occurs when Christians agree on the fundamentals of the faith, but disagree on life values. In chapter 2 of his epistle, James specifically mentions this as he describes church members who show favoritism to the wealthy. The gift of wealth has often been the culprit behind unfair favoritism and partiality. Those who are wealthy often stand out: they dress nicer than regular people, they have better houses, transportation, jobs, vacations. They have everything we dream we could have. And that is why we give them partiality, because our own idol is wealth, and they have it. We adore money, so we adore those who have money… and in the process we ignore those who really need our attention. There are of course other type of gifts, given by God, that cause us to pay attention to those who have received the gift,. Some are incredibly talented with music, or intelligent, confident, beautiful and etc. We pay attention to them because they have the gifts that we idolize. In essence paying excessive attention to anyone who is exceptionally gifted, only shows our own esteem of the gift, not the Gift-Giver.
There are two big principles that can help us work towards a resolution when we find ourselves in a situation riddled with unfair favoritism. The first is to fix our theology, the second to fix our behavior. One must follow the other, and the two must be together, or else this all fails.
FIXING IT THEOLOGICALLY
If the reason for partiality is Theology, then we obviously have our theology wrong and need to reread some key passages and rethink some things. Jesus tells us to love all people, and pray for our enemies. Crazy, wild, radical, and impossible, right? We can often find Christians who refuse to be welcoming to unbelievers or backslidden peers because they feel that they are too holy and pure, and don’t want to be defiled by contact with the unholy. What?!? Jesus was the most holy and he went and had dinner with the least holy! Even if the excluded party is truly in sin and not just culturally unacceptable, that is not a reason for us to shun and exclude them. The one exception given in Scripture, is in cases where a member of the church is living in unrepentant sin, refusing to repent, and refusing to submit to Jesus and the church, and by his/her actions or words assaulting Jesus and working to damage the church. In this case, such a person (not a sheep but a wolf) is excommunicated for the protection of the church, and with the genuine hope that such a drastic measure would cause him/her to understand the severity of his/her actions and repent.
Yet in almost all situation we are to become a “friend of sinners” and draw them to Christ. Theologically, we are to understand that our sin makes us equally guilty of damnation. Our failures are just as grave as those of the worst human being. And none can be saved based on their own goodness, but only those who are justified by Christ. We must remember we have no grounds to say that we are better, holier, purer, cleaner, or etc. If our friends assume they are not as sinful as someone else, we must confront them and teach them the Gospel.
In the cases where a church has set up rules or traditions that are valued as necessary, but neither the rules nor the principles are found in Scripture, these need to be broken wholly in order for the Gospel to be effective. If you belong to a group that thinks they are elite or accepted by Jesus because of their nationality, their style of church, their dress code, their style of praying, or any other extra-Biblical thing, this must be rebuked. These types of beliefs are like thorns that do not allow the Gospel to grow and be fruitful, and they must be weeded out or torched. The theology must be restructured from the Bible not the culture. The emphasis must be placed on the work of Christ on the Cross, not the cultural works of man. Until this is done, there is no hope at all in that church, culture, or group. None.
When it comes to a situation where people show favoritism to those who are gifted with wealth, beauty, ability and etc, there needs to be a mind shift. Those that esteem people with wealth, beauty, intellect, popularity only expose their own idols. These idols need to be broken if true Gospel equality is to be shown to all people. There is no other way, you cannot simply tell someone to “love everyone” and think that will fix the issue, they will likely answer with the culturally appropriate answer that they do. Everyone knows that the Bible teaches we are to love every person, but without understanding the reasons they have trouble doing it, they can’t simply obey. Before you can obey the good, you must destroy the bad. In this case it is the idols in the hearts of those who show partiality. They must be utterly destroyed, for it is they that allow someone to show partiality. Racism is not eliminated when you tell white people to “love black people.” Instead, you must first point out that the white person has made his “whiteness” an idol of sorts. His skin color gives him a feeling of superiority, self worth, significance, and meaning. Theologically, being the child of God should give him all of the above, but instead he has replaced Jesus as the source of self-worth with skin color. The person showing partiality must be guided to understanding this.
FIXING IT PRACTICALLY
If you understand the root of the issue, you are now closer to repenting for the partiality you show. Yet, if you understand, this doesn’t help others around you. This is the hard part, not everyone will want to understand, many will continue to discriminate and value some humans less, others more. This section is short, because once you have understood the theology behind it all, all you really need to do…. is do it. Live it out.
First, look to yourself and begin to love and treat everyone equally. It makes no sense to tell others to do what you are not doing.
Second, when your friends are not doing it, gently confront them.
1. Remind your friends they are sinners.
2. Remind your friends Grace is not deserved.
3. Remind your friends Jesus does not show partiality based on race, wealth, beauty, intellect, and etc.