I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this country has lost its ever-lovin’ mind. It is clearer than ever before that we face sharp distinctions between categories of people. Distinctions in and of themselves are not bad things. Our lives fall into categories based on a variety of things: age group, ethnicity, gender, education level, income, homeowner or renter…and the list goes on and on. It’s impossible to live a “category-free” life.
The problem is when we discriminate based on categories. In simpler terms, discrimination is about playing favorites. Every grade-school child knows about playing favorites. The popular or athletic kids are always picked first for games. The kids in the negative categories (unpopular, overweight, uncoordinated, whatever) are discriminated against and picked last – if picked at all. Playing favorites. Discrimination. It’s the same thing. It’s about treating some people more or less favorably based upon some quality or characteristic.
This isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s been going on since the dawn of time. In his letter to the Diaspora James writes:
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. (James 2:1-8)
James’ audience had a particular problem of treating wealthy people better than they treated the poor. The rich got the best seats and the most attention. The poor got the floor and the cold shoulder. The principle at work in his churches is the same principle that drives discrimination today: paying attention and responding to outward appearances is the primary way of showing partiality.
Not only is discrimination incompatible with authentic Christian behavior but it is actually sinful. It is contrary to the will and character of God to discriminate against and treat people as less-than because of a category to which they belong. If you show partiality you are committing sin. That’s not me saying that – it’s the Bible. The Bible repeatedly tries to move us away from a mindset of discriminating against people, showing favoritism, because of their categories.
One of the most popular stories from the Gospels is about Jesus calling out his disciples for discriminating:
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:13-14)
Even Jesus’ closest companions fell into discrimination. It happens whenever we start to think less of someone because of his status. He doesn’t count as much, he’s only a child. She doesn’t count as much, she’s just a woman. They don’t count as much, they’re not _________ (fill in the blank). There is no room for discrimination in God’s Kingdom. God doesn’t play favorites – why do we? It’s because we let our identity come from our categories rather than from God. We’re ethnic before we’re Christian. We’re political before we’re Christian. We’re employees before we’re Christian. We’ve got our priorities backwards. We need to shed the classifications of this world. Our sense of identity ought to come from God.
So what’s the answer? First, we have to change our allegiances, our priorities, our categories. We need to stop seeing others with the classifications of this world and start seeing people through God’s eyes. It comes down to loving people the same way you love yourself (a biblical concept). No one wants to be treated as less-than or other-than. So don’t treat others that way.
Second, we need to see OURSELVES without the categories of this world and see ourselves through God’s eyes. One of the early leaders in church history was a young guy named Timothy. It seems that some preferred to classify Tim by his age rather than by his calling as Pastor. Paul instructs Tim to shed the human classifications and to remember the calling that God has given you.
It’s time to make a change. It’s time for Christians to lead the charge. We should not put up with discrimination. We should recognize that identity is not determined by human categories but on our Creator. Imagine a world where physical distinctions disappear and we treat each other decently simply because we’re all made by the same creator. It’s tough – I know. But try. Drop all the other labels and put on this one: CHILD OF GOD.
How about you? How have you been discriminated against? In all honesty, how have you discriminated against others?