Recently at Newberg Friends Church, Steve Fawver preached on Favoritism, Mercy and Love (James 2:1-13). My response is above. It is a picture of my husband Mark in our pickup being approached by an officer of the peace for speeding. I use “officer of the peace” because I appreciate the many police officers who do work to keep trouble out of our civilian lives, even though such work is impossible and dangerous.
I do work that in some aspects is similar to a police officer’s job. And it matters what my spirit is like when I do this work. When I catch someone “speeding” or “driving with a taillight out” or “running a red light,” what happens inside me as I approach the confrontation with that person? Does it matter who it is? Do I let people off if they treat me respectfully? What if they are smarter than I am, or act like they think they are? Does it matter if they are male or female? Do I treat people differently if they have accents or skin color different from mine? Am I carrying anger with me into my work or am I peaceful inside, even when the work is frustrating or dangerous?
As I allowed this image to percolate during the worship service, the verses that came into my head were these: Judge not, so you won’t be judged; how you judge will be how you are judged (Matt. 7:1-2); do not show favoritism, do not insult the poor (James 2: 1, 6); give, and it will be given to you in the same measure (Luke 6:38); love one another (too many places to quote); forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us (Matt. 6:12); bear each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).
Sixteenth-century Friends refused to do hat honor—to remove their hats for social superiors. This is one way to avoid favoritism. But I like better the courteous practice of taking our hats off to everyone. As St. Paul says, “Honor each other, let others know they are precious to you” (Romans 12:10).
Prejudice is one side of favoritism, and privilege is the other side. The answer to both is humility, recognizing that the light of God is in every human who comes into the world (John 1:9), listening well to the light others bring, and speaking cheerfully and honestly from that light in us.