I took a class on the Civil Rights movement once, and I’ve often thought of something the professor told us at the beginning of the semester.
“We’re all prejudiced. Every single one of us.”
I don’t know if he was right or not, but I know this is true: We’re all tempted to view people according to things we see . . . superficial qualities.
In fact, we do it so often and so subconsciously that we might not even notice it.
We put people in ethnic and gender boxes very quickly, and then almost as quickly we’ll put them in a social status box (based on how they’re dressed) and an educational box (based on how they speak).
It’s not inherently wrong—we’re socially programmed to do it—but what we do with it is crucial.
James addresses the social status issue in this passage:
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? (James 2:1-7).
We would never do anything this blatant (I hope), but we can certainly see his point.
Maybe a family comes into our church building on Sunday morning and meets all the unspoken criteria for “exactly the kind of family we’re looking for” . . . well-dressed, well-spoken, kids are well-behaved, look they’ve been in church before, etc.
And then a guy comes in who smells like he just left a bar, tattered clothes, obviously a skid row kind of guy.
How do we treat each of our visitors?
Red carpet for one and a wary eye on the other?
I doubt we’d do that, but we might be tempted to.
We need James’ reminder.
We need to remember not to discriminate against anyone based on appearance—whether it’s ethnicity, educational background, whatever.
I find it interesting that Jesus hung out with the kind of crowd that wasn’t exactly the “kind of people we’re looking for,” and that’s one of the things that got him crucified.
We ought to mimic him in this area too . . . he calls us to love people even when they’re different from us.