Favoritism is discriminationWhere's the Faith? Thursday, July 19th, 2012
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
Let me ask you a question, “Have you been hurt by the church? Do you feel disillusioned? Do you discriminate?” That’s a strong word – and you may have experienced discrimination. Before you answer that question too quickly ask yourself, “Who, outside of your present circle of friends, have you attempted to include in your life recently?”
Almost all of us walk around with an unpublished list in our minds; a list of desirable and undesirable people. Some prefer to be around the educated, and look down at those who are not academic enough. Some would rather spend time with younger people, and don’t have time for the more mature. Some have race or ethnic groups that they would rather not associate with, or not hang around with the ones they think are too pretty – or not pretty enough. Most of us however, want to be around people just like us, or who we want to be. Let me ask you, does living like that make your life small?
We often forget to view ourselves the way God views us – like looking into the mirror, and forgetting who we are when we walk away. Like our wonderful Pride T-shirts say, we are wonderful, strong, amazing, unique and fabulous! That is the way to look at other people – all people.
The church, in general, is all too good at excluding people! Giving a workshop at the Gay Men’s Spiritual Retreat at Camp Stevens in Julian, I looked around and saw beautiful people, who had been excluded, and disillusioned by the church. Have you experienced that? Being excluded because of your thinking, your finances, your values or even who you love! James, writing to the first century church knew this was something that needed to be addressed – and he does so.
James addresses the readers as “my brothers and sisters,” reminding us that what he is about to discuss is a family concern. Whenever he uses that term, he’s ready to point out something that needs to be brought to light. Here’s the question: “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?”
The issue is “partiality.” The literal meaning of this word is “to receive one’s face.” “Partiality,” or as it is translated in one version, “favoritism” is mentioned several times in the New Testament. But in every other case the subject of the verse is God. “God does not show partiality.” “God does not judge by externals, God judges the heart.”
There are a number of ways in which favoritism shows up in the church today.
We can favor people based on their gifts and abilities. Here’s another question: Who is the most important, the preacher or the sound person? The board member or the Sunday school teacher? The one who mows the lawn or the one who makes the coffee? The nursery worker or the usher? The truth is that none is better than the other – they are all important – just sharing different gifts.
We can also show favoritism on the basis of personality, or looks or economic standing. But none of that has any place in the church. Does it take place? Yes – and it is something we need to be reminded of and change where it needs to be changed.
What James is telling us here is not to profess a faith and at the same time be a spiritual snob. Don’t join some little clique. Don’t be a part of gossip. Every person in the church is a part of the body of Christ.
James says (2: 2-4), “For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes in the front door, and if a person in not-so-nice clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”
The first guest identified as “one with gold rings” is literally “gold fingered” or having many gold rings. We like to call that “bling!” And bling is attractive, flashy and fun! The second guest is identified as one “who has the appearance of someone who didn’t have the good fortune of sleeping in a nice bed in a comfortable home the night before.”
Although it’s hard to see in the English translations, the “you” in verse three is plural. This use of the plural suggests that what was happening here was a general attitude of the whole group. Now, there’s nothing wrong with extending a warm welcome to the rich visitor. The sin, which James is talking about, is in treating the poor visitor differently. There’s a distinction in the way the two visitors are received (discrimination), the rich man is received cordially and the poor man is received carelessly – if not crudely. We can expand this to our trans sisters and brothers – where at a Transgender Forum on spirituality recently, we discussed how some transgender people are more “passable” than others – are we not to see all in the same light – as beautiful children of God?
A modern version of this story actually did happen one Sunday in the Bel Aire Presbyterian Church. When in attendance, then Gov. Ronald Reagan and Nancy, usually sat in the same seats just off the center about two-thirds of the way into the sanctuary. On this particular morning the governor and his wife were late and by the time they got there, two college students had occupied those seats. An usher came down the aisle and asked the students if they would take different seats off to the side. They moved, and Ron and Nancy Reagan were brought in and seated. To his credit the pastor got up from his place on the platform, walked down and over to the college students and said, “As long as I am pastor of this church, that will never happen again.”
James boils it all down when he quotes the second part of the Great Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Don’t judge – love. Don’t hold on to something – let go and forgive.
Most of us have come from a church experience where we have been hurt or disillusioned – well, let me tell you, no church is perfect! What we’re trying to be here is authentic and grow in our relationship with God together. And, I thank God that you are here! Here you can take off your mask! Last week, I talked with Deb, a beautiful transgender woman visiting our church and said, “I’m so glad you are here. This is a safe place for you. You can take off your mask here.” She replied, with a twinkle in her eye, “I’m here because I know its safe … and for me, to take my mask off, I have to put one on.” Fabulous.
James has clearly shown that it is not a good thing to show favoritism. So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to think about who you are closest to. Where are the people you hang out with? Now think, “How long has it been since you reached out to include someone new in your circle?”
I have read several books on what it takes to build a successful growing church. Good leadership can help. Good preaching is always a plus. A good music program can be an asset. But in the end, relationships drive successful growing churches. Churches that are open, welcoming and caring grow.
I challenge you to open your heart to how God may be asking you to expand your circle of friends – maybe get out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to some new people. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many wonderful people you’ll meet – just like you. Love yourself – love God, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.
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