Donald Andrew Henson II

Posts Tagged ‘The Acts of the Apostles’

The Sin of Partiality

In American Society, Blogging the Bible, Blogging the New Testament, Current events, The Trump Administration on February 2, 2020 at 12:51 am


Read James 2:1-13.

I am so gob-smacked by the political behavior of those who claim to be Christians these past several months that I really do not know where to start.  Perhaps it’s best just to pick up where I left off with blogging the New Testament. I covered the first chapter of James several months ago – time for James 2.

A central theme to this blog – neglected as it is – is that a) the US government needs to be a secular one, as not only was that the intent of the founding fathers, but also because it is this kind of government that offers the utmost protection and freedom for adherents to EVERY faith, and thereby maximizes religious freedom (yes, it’s counter-intuitive – but if you think about it for just a tiny bit – you’ll find it self-evident) and b) if Christians were to TRULY look to the Bible for political guidance, they would come to quite different conclusions than those espoused and misguidedly propagated by the GOP/Evangelical bully pulpit. (Apologies to google analytics for that sentence).

Any person taking an honest look at James 2 would have to conclude that American Christians support politicians that are, without a doubt, working in contravention of the ideas of the New Testament. In Acts, Peter says that God is no respecter of persons (Greek: prosopolemptes – to play favorites). Almost every law written by the GOP in the past four decades – supported by the religious right – are meant to favor wealth and the wealthy. Case in point – the last tax package gave huge, permanent tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy, while giving marginal, temporary relief to the middle class and the poor. Or the fact that ‘investors’ pay 14% capital gains taxes while working men and women pay upwards to 39%. And, since recent GOP polices have taken the deficit to record highs, I’m sure we’ll soon be hearing about how we need to make cuts to the few benefits we offer to the poor to lower-middle-class.

The title of this essay, the Sin of Partiality, is a chapter heading for James 2 in the NASB – and I think is quite self-explanatory. But, for those who struggle with fancy words such as partiality and respecter of persons, James breaks it down so that a six-year-old can understand. Basically, imagine two guys come into your church one sunny Sunday morning, one poor, dirty, homeless, and in need – the other well-dressed, wearing a bit of jewelry. Which person gets better treatment? If it’s the latter – you have sinned. James makes it clear that giving the wealthy better treatment than the poor is a sin.

I am sad to say that, in my experience, the dirty, needy guy gets passed over for the guy wearing a suit and driving a nice car 9 times out of 10. I can only speak for the small churches I grew up in – and, in their defense, have to say that they were often struggling financially. Another tithe-payer joining the group would have gone a long way towards paying off the church mortgage or perhaps even keeping the air-con running through the long summer. There’s little that five dozen souls can do for the needy beyond providing a few meals or a night or two of lodging. Yet, despite my apologetics, James says it’s wrong – it’s sinful.

I think it’s also noteworthy that James says this person comes into the assembly – your church or your synagogue, not your home. He’s pointing out that this is a sin committed by the group, more than it is by the individual. There are many in the church today that explain away the contradictions between their faith and their political convictions by saying that scriptural admonitions are personal, not political or social. James doesn’t support that view – it’s clear to him that a group of believers could act ‘with evil motives’. They do this by ignoring the lowly while brown-nosing the wealthy – the same folks who blaspheme and would gladly drag them to court tomorrow.

There are large numbers of ‘Christians’ today that want to punish the poor and reward the rich – I’m at a loss as to how they align their politics with their supposed beliefs.

In verse 8, we have the famous admonition to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ and then a bit of talk about adultery and murder. It seems to me that James is saying this whole ‘partiality’ thing is not a small sin – it is right up there with the big ones. He reminds us to speak and act as those who are judged by the law of liberty – and as such to act with mercy in all that we do.

You might ask – Who is my neighbor? The answer reveals a close connection between the ideas of James and those of the writer of Acts 10 – and gives us one of the most beautiful of Jesus’ parables. Both passages stress the need for merciful action, for treating poor strangers with great care.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Go and do likewise – the command can hardly be clearer.

We certainly have the right as a nation to strengthen our borders – to decide who gets to enter and who doesn’t. We may need to have a look at how much money we are spending on social programs, and to weigh them according to their cost vs their benefit. These are the kinds of decisions every country must make.

But, if our laws are to be moral – they must be merciful. Separating kids from their parents, putting children in cages, kicking babies off of nutrition assistance – while at the same time giving millions away to wealthy shareholders and mega-corporations – these actions are immoral and, for the Christian, not in line with the teachings of the New Testament.