By Rev. O.L. Johnson
We all have favorites. I know that I do, and I’d bet my last dollar that you do also.
Take music for example: rap isn’t on my list of favorites, but jazz and contemporary gospel are near the top. And, there are certain foods I can do without, but there are others I just can’t seem to get enough of.
I think that is typical of humankind overall. Favoritism plays an important role in our lives.
It enables us to identify what things in life give us pleasure, which helps us make decisions affecting our life goals. So favoritism can have a positive impact on our lives. But there’s another side of favoritism we need to focus on at this point, a side that has the potential to seriously damage relationships among humankind.
That’s why as parents, in spite of how we feel inwardly, we should never show in any way that we favor one child over another. That is also good advice in the workplace, in a church environment, or in any other setting where there is a hierarchal system among people in place. Favoritism in these settings is likely to cause conflict between the people involved.
In the book of James 2: 1-13, God gives us the final answer on this question of favoritism among humankind. He first tells us in that text that faith in Christ and favoritism are incompatible. Christ taught and modeled equality to his followers and he expects the same from us in our interactions with one another.
In this text, James gives us a favoritism example that is a familiar one in the churches of today. Have you noticed how we tend to treat the seemingly “prosperous” church goers differently than those who appear less “prosperous?” This was obviously commonplace in James’ time, and it appears that we have not made much progress in this arena since then.
James ends his discussion with a warning of the danger of showing favoritism. He links favoritism with the Royal Law, given to us by Jesus in Matthew 22:39, “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” He says in James 2: 9 that those who show favoritism “commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.”
We don’t think of showing favoritism as sinful conduct, but obviously God does; so, it would behoove us to think twice before we show favoritism, if we are at all concerned about our relationship with him. In God’s mind, showing favoritism is not an act of love and consequently violates the Royal Law.
The end result in this scenario is the most damaging. The text shows us that the violator is thereafter labeled a “transgressor” of God’s law, and a broken relationship with God remains. The only way out of this mess is repentance, which is unlikely if our violator is, as are most of us, unaware that favoritism is sinful conduct in God’s view and requires repentance.
So, what’s the advice for those of us who may be deep into this scenario? It’s simply this: change your way of thinking about favoritism to conform to God’s way of thinking on the subject; and thereafter, repent. God is a forgiving God.
Rev. O.L. Johnson, a retired LAPD lieutenant, is an associate pastor in his home church, Greater New Zion Baptist, 501 W. 80th St. in South Los Angeles.