My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
James 2:1-4 (NIV)
Favouritism and discrimination should have no place in a Christian church, yet in some cases it is all too apparent.
The obvious things that might be used to discriminate or favour a particular individual could be their race or skin colour. That is why it is worrying if a church only caters for one group of individuals, based on their ethnic origin. There can of course be the problem of language and the need for individuals to take part in a service of worship where they understand what is going on. However, this shouldn’t always be a problem. Personally I’ve sat through church services in French and Swedish where, despite my lack of these languages, I have still been able to follow what was happening.
However, favouritism might be much more subtle than the indicators of ethnic origin. Things like age, accent, manner of dress, wealth, intelligence and qualifications might all be used either intentionally, or unintentionally, to discriminate between individuals. In each case a decision is made as to the usefulness of an individual to the body of Christ based on worldly attributes, rather than their spirituality. Worse still is when you hear a church being described as ‘working class’, or ‘middle class’. Where are those categories found in scripture?
The problem with favouritism is that it is divisive and categorises individuals in ways that God does not see. In his letter James equates favouritism/discrimination with sin (see James 2:8-9).
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 (NIV)