A confession of favoritism

I show favoritism. When I receive a request for help of some kind, my mind immediately begins processing that request through a number of filters.
• What is my relationship to this person? I will aid a friend before I help an acquaintance and an acquaintance receives more consideration than a total stranger.

• Why does this person need my help? I am unlikely to help if I sense that that he/she is taking advantage of my kindness with inadequate motives.

• Does this person intend to return the favor someday? If so, then I am willing to do more for that person.

• How did this person ask for assistance? I am far more likely to help someone who asks me for assistance if he/she does so in a respectful manner.

But as a I consider my list of filters, I realize that I am much more likely to assist people who share my values – in other words, people who are more like me. 

I have wrestled with this tendency as I have come to realize two fundamental truths.

First truth: My values are shaped by my culture as a middle class American. For example, the Umbundu language of central Angola has no word for “please” and thus the Ovimbundu people communicate “respect” in other ways. Rarely does anyone say, “please” before asking for help.

Another example: my belief that the recipient should show some intention to repay my kindness arises from my American ideals about charity. My parents taught me, “Always repay your debts.” We had some lean years when I was young, but my dad always found a way to repay a kindness. He wound not accept a free lunch. But why should I expect an Angolan friend to offer something in return for my assistance? In traditional Angolan culture, those that have an abundance are expected to share with those that have a need.

Second truth: Jesus freely helped those could never repay their debt. Many whom Jesus helped were complete strangers to Him. Some were taking advantage of Jesus’ kindness with less than perfect motives (the crowd of 5,000, John 6:26) and others would not have seemed to need help at all (Zacchaeus, Luke 19).

If Peter had employed logic like mine, I doubt he would ever have arrived at Cornelius’s home. Peter preferred the company of Jews. It took a vision from God followed by a command from the Holy Spirit (Acts 10.19-20) to get Peter going in the right direction. Thus Peter’s words in 10.34-35 carry great weight. Peter himself showed favoritism (see Galatians 2.11-14). But Peter learned that God values all people equally.

God wants all people to come to know Him (1 Timothy 2:4). When I have an opportunity to serve another, I should fight against my tendency to help only those who share my values. God does not show favoritism, nor should I.

I see this wisdom in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:42. “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Also see Luke 6:30-36.)

I also see how Peter’s experience in Acts 10 shaped his theology. He instructed the church to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3.15).

I am recommitting myself to serve as many as I am able, especially those who look and think differently than I. I pray that through these efforts, God will give me more opportunities to share the reason for my hope with others.

Robert Meyer

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