My wife and I recently attended a worship service of a local Free Reformed Church in the Netherlands congregation where the pastor’s sermon was themed “the sin of discrimination.” The text of the sermon was James 2:9: “if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” The pastor claimed this teaches that discrimination is sinful. Thankfully he made this bold statement right at the beginning of his sermon, starting off with a reference to this rather fake “experiment”, which enabled my wife and me to walk out of that worship service five minutes into the sermon – with no intention of ever returning to that congregation. What made this experience particularly horrifying is that the pastor prior to the service explicitly noted that his sermon is to be understood as a response to the Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris, France, on November 13, 2015, in which 130 victims lost their lives.
This pastor’s misinterpretation of this verse is commonplace in the Western Church today, which has basically resorted to echoing the the principles of the institutionalized cultural Marxist public religion from the pulpit. For this reason our own Ehud Would has already addressed this particular variant of the egalitarian heresy with this piece. Nonetheless, I would like to elaborate and continue where he left off by emphasizing the necessity and duty of discrimination as an essential part of the Christian life. Firstly, however, I’d like to exegete the full passage of the particular sermon I mentioned in more detail.
James 2 and Discrimination
Interestingly, this second chapter of James’s epistle is one of the best-known texts of Scripture to which it is clearly necessary to apply the exegetical principle of analogia fidei (i.e. that the infallible Scripture as inspired by the Holy Spirit is its own authoritative interpreter) in order to come to a correct understanding thereof. Following the Reformers, we understand that the message of James 2:14-26 (i.e. that faith without works is dead) is not at odds with the rest of Scripture, by means of understanding this passage of St. James in light of St. Paul’s expositions of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in particular (e.g. Rom. 1:17; 3:24-26; 4:20-22; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:8-11). When reading and praying for wisdom to understand both these inspired authors correctly, we receive enlightenment from the Holy Spirit to understand that James is simply reaffirming Christ’s teaching of Matthew 7:16, namely that true believers, already justified in Him, are recognized by their fruits (works) of sanctification in accordance with God’s Law.
One of the reasons God providentially provided the church with the canon of sixty-six books is because the different authors of Scripture, though all inspired by the Holy Spirit, address different challenges in different times and contexts and for different purposes. This makes some passages nigh impossible to understand without reference to the others. Theodore Beza (1519-1605), the great Reformed theologian and successor of Calvin in Geneva, systematically explains the necessity of this exegetical principle clearly in his attempt (as a second-generation Reformer) to methodologically refine Reformed systematic theology and biblical exegesis, which, in the time of Calvin himself, still had a strong (anti-Papist) polemical character. He proposes what can be termed the “loci method,” where doctrines systematically derived from clear passages of Scripture, and synthesized into a coherent system, serve as an interpretative guideline for more obscure biblical passages. In practice this implies that any text of Scripture is to be understood 1) in relation to its immediate historical context, 2) in relation to other, clearer passages of Scripture, and 3) in relation to those clear and central Christian doctrines derived from Scripture.1
By applying this orthodox method of biblical understanding to the first section of James 2, I would counter that this text does not at all teach what this particular pastor claims it does. The letter of St. James can in many regards be seen as New Testament wisdom literature, in other words, functioning within the New Testament canon in the same way Proverbs does within the Old Testament. The Law of Moses exhibits clearly the will of God for his people and Proverbs is an appeal to the people to live in accordance with the spirit of this Law through the wisdom granted by the grace of God. Similarly, in the New Testament Christ clarifies and elaborates on the Law of Moses in the Sermon on the Mount, and St. James calls upon the Church to live lovingly, patiently, and generously in accordance with the Law of Christ (see chapter 1 in particular). It should therefore be evidently clear that whatever morality is proposed by James cannot be at odds with the Law of God as revealed throughout the rest of Scripture. After all, central to James’s message is that God, whom He clearly identifies as the one God revealed both to the Old Testament covenant people and through Jesus Christ His Son (James 1:1), has within Himself no variability, but is eternally consistent (James 1:17).
James 2:1-9 (v. 5 in particular) clearly begs to be interpreted in light of the the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, in particular Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The seventeenth-century English Calvinist Matthew Poole comments on this verse:
Happy are they, who, though they be not rich in this world’s goods, yet have a spirit suited to their state and condition, not looking for their consolation here, but, having a poor and low opinion of the world and all that is therein, looking after more excellent riches; and, in order to it, are of broken and contrite spirits for their manifold sins, and cannot entertain any proud opinion of their own righteousness, but flee unto the free grace of God, and the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not the great, and rich, and proud men of the world are happy, but these are the blessed men; for true happiness lieth not in worldly possessions, but in the favour of God, and a right to the kingdom of heaven, and that these men have (Psalm 34:18; 51:17; Isaiah 66:2).
Notwithstanding that I would not equate the blessedness of which Christ speaks in the beatitudes with happiness as Poole does (at least not in our twenty-first-century context – the error may be overlooked given Poole’s own historical context), he beautifully explains the core of Christ’s statement. Our trust and pride is to be rooted in Christ and His absolute Lordship over and redemption of our lives, and not in strictly material realities. In other words, never can gifts be elevated above Giver – that is idolatry. Yet, simultaneously, gifts are not to be shunned but appreciated as gifts from our heavenly Father (James 1:17). This infallible claim of Christ calls for a Christian orthopraxis in accordance with the Law of our Savior, and James sets out to explain just that.
Having set out these biblical premises for understanding James 2, our apologetic against the alienist interpretation of James 2:9 revolves around noting that it cannot be understood apart from verse 4 of this same chapter. James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, in writing this letter to the church (1:1-2), commands the congregation in verse 4 “not [to] show . . . partiality among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts.” He writes this in the context of providing an example of unrighteous discrimination where the rich in the congregation receive preferential treatment over the poor within the context of the assembly (vv. 1-3). Verse 5 then clearly hints towards the aforementioned text from the beatitudes, which is followed by an explicit call to obey the Law of God by loving our neighbors as ourselves by not showing “partiality” (verses 6-9). The Greek word translated as “partiality” or “prejudice” or “favoritism” in verse 9, προσωπολημπτεῖτε, occurs only this one time in the entire New Testament. It can best be defined in English as “to show partiality” or “to have respect of persons.” Clearly this biblical law can be traced back to Deuteronomy 10:17-19, and the meaning, as Ehud Would explains in his brilliant article on the law of partiality, is that “the law forbids favoritism to interfere with the administration of justice. But this is quite different from saying that affinity and acknowledgement of distinctions are categorically unjust.”
The Christian Demand for Righteous Discrimination
Taking this a step further, we must acknowledge that not only biblical law, but the very order of creation, as implanted by its omnipotent and wise Creator, makes continual discrimination an inherent part of life categorically inescapable.
Nonetheless, a quick search of online dictionaries of the word provides us with the definitions like the following:
1. an act or instance of discriminating, or of making a distinction.
2. treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit: [e.g.] racial and religious intolerance and discrimination.
1. The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex: [e.g.] victims of racial discrimination; discrimination against homosexuals.
2. Recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another: discrimination between right and wrong.
Modern dictionaries therefore seem to distinguish between two primary definitions of the word discrimination, in short: 1. Unjust prejudice based on race, sex, sexual orientation, class, or religion; 2. Making a distinction (between right and wrong).
In a sermon I delivered on Ezekiel, I noted that the cultural sanctification of a people entails that all of their language, including their expressions and even their dictionaries, need to conform to godliness. Compare, for example, these commonly available online dictionaries with the definition of the same word in Samuel Johnson’s 1755 A Dictionary of the English Language:
Discriminátion. n.s. [from discriminatio, Latin.] 1. The state of being distinguished from other persons or things.
There is a reverence left to be shewed them on the account of their discrimination from other places, and separation for sacred uses. Stillingfleet’s Def. of Disc. On Rom. Idol.
2. The act of distinguishing one from another; distinction; difference put.
A satire should expose nothing but what is corrigible, and make a due discrimination between those that are, and those who are not the proper objects of it. Addison’s Spectator.
By that prudent discrimination made between the offenders of different degrees, he obliges those whom he has distinguished as objects of mercy. Addison’s Freeholder, №. 31.
3. The marks of distinction.
Take heed of abetting any factions, or applying any publick discriminations in matters of religion. King Charles.
Letters arise from the first original discriminations of voice, by way of articulation, whereby the ear is able to judge and observe the differences of vocal sounds. Holder’s El. Of Speech.
The core essence of the word remains the same in all dictionaries, but there is also a marked difference. Whereas in modern English dictionaries either the first or second primary definition of the word is provided with an exclusively negative meaning, Johnson’s Dictionary gives three primary meanings all of which are either positive or neutral. There is a quite simple explanation for this: a change of the public religion (or theocratic order) of Western Civilization as a whole and the Anglosphere in particular from the seventeenth century to the early twenty-first century. Even until late in the eighteenth century, England was a renowned Christian nation, producing the likes of Edmund Burke, arguably the most famous opponent of the anti-Christian French Enlightenment. In the twenty-first century, as readers of this site well know, the old world has been turned completely upside-down, as apostasy characterizes Anglo-American culture, of course worsened and intensified even further by the multiculturalism forced upon all of Western society.
With this shift of public religion, a shift in hamartiology, i.e. the doctrine regarding sin, has also occurred. This is reflected in dictionaries. Wikipedia starts of its article on hamartiology by defining the concept as “a branch of Christian theology.” This is incorrect. Hamartiology is a branch of all theology, Christian or non-Christian. Islam has a concept of hamartiology. You’d probably never get a Buddhist to admit it, but Buddhism also has this concept. And so does the religion of cultural Marxism, the public religion which all of Western Civilization (at least in Western Europe and North America) has today. It is often claimed that modern society cares nothing for the concept of “sin,” but this cannot be further from the truth. The concept is recognized as much as ever – and yes, also in the so-called “secular” public domain, where people are constantly persecuted by what is effectively the blasphemy laws of the secular democratic state. As I’m writing this article, I have on the desk next to me a fine my wife and I received a day prior from a certain Western government’s Ministry of Justice. The crime for which we are fined is the distribution of Christian pro-life literature in front of an abortion clinic. Of course, technically speaking, the law which we disobeyed states that literature may not be distributed at certain times of the day in certain parts of a particular city, but the point is that the officials were called out to check on us because of the very nature of our action, which is considered to be opposed to the ideals of the current state religion. Within a minute after we handed out the first flyer, law enforcement, obviously spying on us, was on the scene. A counterargument may be that this law applies to the distribution of all literature in the given area at the given time, but the point is that whenever Christians are fined by the government for speaking up against the legal murder of innocent babies at any given time, there is clearly tyranny. There is a clear “sin” which legislation of this sort is intended to combat.
Liberals may claim that the Enlightenment liberated mankind from the “oppression” of true liberty by the Medieval Church, but they have no idea what they’re talking about. The simple fact of the matter is that in 1755, discrimination was (rightly) regarded by English society not as a sin, but as an inescapable part of human life, which can be used for good (when executed in accordance with God’s Law) and bad (when executed unrighteously). However, because the modern atheistic state is unable to appeal to a higher moral standard than itself, it has to continually resort to forms of deception in order to make its order appear more acceptable to the general population – this is evident in its declaration of discrimination as sinful. Marxism portrays discrimination as sinful per se, but only after re-defining discrimination as unjust discrimination against other (groups of) people on the basis on race, sex, religion, or class. Furthermore, of course, by continually selectively applying this standard through public discourse, everyone becomes aware of the “fact” that while not wanting your country to be overrun by Muslim hordes is discriminatory, victimizing those who oppose abortion, for example, is simply necessarily to defend “freedoms” and “human rights.”
Note, for example, these striking similarities between the primary definitions of discrimination provided by modern dictionaries and certain anti-discrimination clauses in modern constitutions:
Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.
~ Article 1 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (adopted in 1983)
No person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone . . . on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth. Discrimination on one or more of the grounds listed . . . is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair.
~ Section 9 (3-5) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (adopted in 1996)
It is clear that a certain institutionalized religious notion of sin, with the state and its appointed judges as supreme moral authority, is also reflected in the dictionaries produced by the society living under this establishment. This holistic societal upheaval of the authority of biblical law and the war against its recognition of divinely ordained distinctions has resulted in the revolting and immoral zeitgeist which we have to endure today, where for example unisex bathrooms, a direct threat to the safety of women and a violation of the privacy of all, may be publicly instituted, yet publicly speaking up against murdering unborn babies is not tolerated. At the same time, even in what is supposed to be the public worship of the Triune God on Sunday morning, all we hear is even more appeals for increased conformity to the law of Satan – “thou shalt not discriminate.” Contrary to this, biblical law demands discrimination by both the people and the state, and often on the basis of religion, sex, race, and sexual orientation.
The root problem of the absurdity that cultural Marxism has brought upon our formerly Christian civilization lies in the fact that the willful declaration of discrimination’s intrinsic sinfulness is far removed from all divinely created realities reflected in God’s Law. This includes divinely sanctioned distinctions which cannot be disregarded by any society if it is to function sensibly. Discrimination is an inescapable part of human existence – in fact, it is an integral part of what makes human existence possible and sensible. All humans discriminate almost every day in almost every decision we make. Therefore, to declare discrimination as sinful, as this “Reformed” pastor with his sermon on James 2 did, is nothing short of resorting to the heresy of Gnosticism. The only coherent solution to this societal problem is a return to the biblical law of partiality, which demands of every Christian to live a life marked by the continual exercise of righteous discrimination.
Mallison, J. 2003. Faith, Reason, and Revelation in Theodore Beza, 1519-1605. Oxford University Press: New York, pp. 70-72 ↩