God has no favorites.
A variation of this is said throughout the Holy Scriptures, in the Mosaic Law, in Job, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Pauline letters, and by James and Peter – the last three being cornerstones of the Christian Church after Jesus himself. If you’re like me, you probably read “God has no favorites” as “God is neutral” and therefore whether one is poor or rich doesn’t matter in God’s judgment. Or maybe you heard a preacher talk about it with the implication that though things are bad for some, but we cannot really help. Things are going to remain the way things are until Jesus comes again.
But that doesn’t square with most of the bible, particularly passages where the Prophets, the Psalmists, Jesus and the Apostles talk about the way things are and the way things ought to be. Their risky and embodied words and actions enforce the message that being neutral in terms of power imbalance is to side with the status quo. And that doesn’t jibe with Mary’s Magnificat, the song she sang in considering the coming savior in her womb:
Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.
The common reading of James 2 – at least among Evangelicals – is that we should not show bias toward the poor or the rich, but treat them all the same regardless of position or status – but only in church! This is reading doesn’t consider the rest of the book’s treatment of the rich – those who were dragging Christians to court to rob them of all they had and who will someday fade away like the flowers. (In this context, it sounds like James was talking to a people enamored of Lifestyles of the Rich and Fatally Fabulous or MTV Cribs; people worshiping wealth. So, same sun, same moon.) If that is the case, then, why is that treatment of equality limited to the church service?
We’ve de-radicalized the bible by considering it to be a place out of time, detached from the current world, esoteric and floating above a place of reality. Church may be – but often isn’t – an image of the disembodied, extra-life we anticipate, what with its singing and talking to God and learning about God and often its topsy-turvy social orders*. But outside of church is the real world – unrelated to the world of heaven. We remain close to heaven by keeping our eyes from seeing bad stuff, from saying bad stuff, by praying to a disembodied God, by reading our disembodied bibles.
We omit “on earth as it is” from the Our Father/Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, may your will be done… in Heaven [after we die].”
It is in taking the bible to speak about the after-life in a disembodied sense that we understand God to be static and pro-status quo.
In ancient Greek culture, Greeks were lifted above non-Greeks, males over females, free citizens over enslaved (who Aristotle notes are not much better than beast, in case we’re wondering about the roots of Western Civilization). Second Temple Jewish leaders taught much the same around the time of Jesus and early into the Apostles: Jew OVER Gentile; Man OVER Woman; Free OVER Slave.
This is the “natural” order, the stasis, the overlapping function of society. But it is not the way of the God that emptied self, stepped off the throne, became a peasant in a corner of occupied Imperial Rome, and then was executed as an insurrectionist. This God threw down kings starting with God’s own self. This Jesus lifts the lowly starting with the sight- and hearing-impaired and physically immobilized.
So, no, God is not neutral.
The status is not acceptable.
According to Galatians 3, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In recognizing that the normal order doesn’t work for Jesus, the writer is saying that the natural order doesn’t work for God or God’s people (all of humanity) and needs to be overhauled. The Kingdom of God overturns the normal order, raises every valley and lowers every hill, makes straight the road, levels the field. It willfully works to de-privilege the privileged; it privileges the unprivileged.
So, it raises women while humbling men, raises people of color while humbling white people, raises people with disabilities while humbling able-bodied people, raises trans* people while humbling cys people, raises enslaved while humbling enslavers, raises the colonized while humbling the empire, raises the poor while humbling the wealthy, raises the uneducated while humbling the educated – patterns Jesus established himself before he was executed. Patterns he picked up from the Psalms and Prophets, from Moses and Amos and Isaiah and Micah. To do otherwise, to be neutral, is to favor the oppressors and the oppression.
Biblical justice raises and lowers so that all may see the glory of God – which is to say the image of God upon each human being. We are all human.
As I remind my daughter, we are all persons.
*More so in poor churches that I’ve encountered where, for once, we could gather without putting on class airs. It’s not so much the case in middle class and professional class churches I’ve been a part of – even in ostensibly more rich ones.