Sometimes it seems our world has lost its ever-lovin’ mind. We split into divisions and factions. We see people as “like us” or “other-than us.”
Here’s the thing—I don’t think it’s biblical to see people as “other than.” It diminishes the other and treats people sinfully. This is what happens with discrimination.
Every kid in the world knows what it’s like to play favorites. Have you ever played kickball on the school field? Every kid who has ever been part of picking teams knows first-hand what discrimination looks like.
I have never ever been one of the cool kids. All of my life I was always on the outside looking in—I’ve always been more of a nerd (before nerds were cool, so I guess I’m an original hipster). When you’re picking teams on the field who are the first to get picked? The cool kids. Then the athletes. And then, standing off to the sidelines, are the rest of us.
Now 6- and 7-year-olds don’t go around saying, “You know, I’m gonna discriminate today based on athletic ability and the cool factor.”
James wants us to understand that discrimination isn’t cool. For any reason. James 2:1-13 says:
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
In our society, we have a belief that I can break one law while still obeying other laws. We may not cheat on our taxes, but we speed. We differentiate our lawbreaking and lawkeeping. But Jews understood The Law to be a unified concept. If you break any part of the law, you’re breaking all of the law.
How can you pretend to be righteous when you have your little side sin going on? This is what discrimination is. It breaks God’s law and makes us lawbreakers. But James tells us that we cannot treat Christians differently because of differences.
I’m not so naïve as to think we will ever eliminate distinctions. I’m not advocating some futuristic classless society. The key question is this—can we treat each other equally and fairly in spite of our differences and distinctions?
Jesus is the great equalizer who wipes away the distinctions between us. No, not literally. But the way we treat people who are “different” needs to be the same as we treat the best society has to offer.
And on and on…
We cannot assign people value based on categories. This is human, but this isn’t what the Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to be like.
Stop looking at people through human eyes. Start seeing people through God’s eyes.
How have I faced discrimination in my own life?
How have I discriminated against others?
Am I willing to see beyond the labels and categories and treat people as children of God regardless of their differences?
Photo by woodleywonderworks via Flickr