Classism and the Bible
I did a very “unrevolutionary” thing this past week. I spent three nights at a “4 Diamond” hotel in La Jolla. It was actually a gift from my parents to me and my family. I am very grateful for the gift. It was luxurious. And very restful. The service was nice, too…
On one occasion we arrived to our room and our toilet was stuffed. So that night they sent us hummus and two award winning beers to make it up to us. On another night our pay per view didn’t work, so they sent us chips and guacamole and a card typed with a personalized apology.
To be honest, by the end of our stay, we were starting to get disgusted by the luxury and pretension of the place. Every time we wanted our car we had to give a tip to the valet which was equivalent to the daily wage received by millions of people in the developing world. There were lots of rich business people and travelers from the United States and Mexico. They were always dressed to the hilt. One morning I wandered down to the coffee shop with my daughter in tow to buy orange juice and two muffins for $50 million dollars. As l looked around, I saw an upper class Mexican family looking like they had just come from Miami out of an episode of “Burn Notice.” Whether white, slightly tanned, Asian, or African American, it seemed that many people at the hotel were preoccupied with status, and the money they had or pretended to have. I felt it. To be honest, it was intoxicating. The luxury made you feel self-important and it fed your ego. It made you want more and more…Pretty scary.
It felt like we were at a temple dedicated to excessive luxury and the worship of the American Dream.
This got me thinking about Classism and the Bible…
Each of us uniquely reflects the image of God in terms of our natural abilities and giftings. I.e., some of us are artists, some are good at putting things together mechanically, some are good at math, some are good with ideas, some are good with science, some are good with woodwork, some are good at arguing, etc. As human beings who have gone astray, we have placed high economic value on some divine giftings and not on others. If someone is good at memorization and arguing, then we give them a law license and pay them $100,000 a year. If someone is good at understanding science and memorizing facts about the way the human body functions, then we call them a doctor and pay them $200,000 a year. On the other hand, if someone is good with mechanical things and fixing widgets, then we might pay them $10 an hour and force them to join a union. Along similar lines, if someone has less intellectual prowess and is gifted in manual arts, we might pay them the federal minimum wage and hope that they can come up with enough money to pay their rent.
In other words, we have created socio-economic classes based upon divine giftings. We have placed a premium on certain God-given gifts and abilities and devalued others. From God’s perspective, every individual gifting and set of skill sets is equally valuable. The plumber reflects the image of God just as much as the cardiologist, and the sandwich maker at Subway’s just as much as the corporate lawyer from Wilson & Sonsini. In fact, the Bible warns against classism and looking down at the poor in many verses. Some of my favorite verses on this topic are found in the epistle of James:
“Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business…” (James 1: 9-11)
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 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. 3 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,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
“Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?” (James 2: 1-7)
As a result of forgetting the biblical truth that all are equally made in the image of God based upon their distinct talents and skill sets, human beings have created classism. The rich man in the Polo shirt who walks around with a fancy cell phone looks down upon the undocumented worker who makes his hamburger at Burger King for $5.00 an hour. The severely surgically altered woman at Fashion Island in Newport Beach who carries a poodle in her purse shuns the stinky plumber who de-clogs the copper pipes of her gated-community home. The rich denounce the poor for being lazy and decry all government assistance programs. The upper middle class pass Proposition 209 in California and denounce race-based affirmative action programs as unnecessary despite the deplorable discrepancies between a public school education in the suburbs and one in “the hood.” They block efforts to reform health care so that all people can have access to decent doctors and hospitals.
Such classism is biblically offensive. Unfortunately its also very tempting because it feeds the ego and makes us feel self-important.
Jesus, please help us to see everyone the way You do. All are equal in Your sight. All are made in Your image. Help us to treat everyone fairly and equitably as a reflection of this truth. Amen.