James and the Sin of Partiality

For a long time, I wondered if something was wrong with me. I can make friends with just about anyone but when I encounter a tight-knit tribe, I feel ostracized.

Case in point, there’s this group of people that goes to volleyball during the week. I’ve gone twice and both times, literally no one engaged with me. No one said hello. I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what their names were.

I felt lonely. Isolated. Unwanted.

And when I tried to have a conversation about it with a friend, I got the same response I always get in the church: You can’t be all things to all people.

Something about that unsettled me but I couldn’t pinpoint it until I read James 2: 1-4:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 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?

I thought back to my time in a high school youth group. We, well they, played volleyball while I watched. And I remember being so happy. I remember laughing and people chatting with me while they grabbed their water bottles. I remember feeling included, even though I didn’t play a single game.

Because I was included. I was wanted. I was accepted.

As a disabled young woman, I felt accepted as I was.

I think a lot of times in the church, if someone has dissatisfaction in community, we often write it off as well, we can’t be all things to all people. And that’s so true.

But when I evaluated this situation, I realized that the issue was not the activity. It was how I was treated differently between the two different groups.

Which meant, on some level, partiality was happening.

I’m not angry. I became super convicted. How was I showing partiality to people? How could I better reach out to marginalized individuals?

So I came up with a few suggestions:

Say hello. Introduce yourself. Ask questions. Pull other people into the conversation so the new person meets more people. Give a compliment. Tell a joke. Invite them to coffee.

I’ll never forget the time I learned how to play handball. I couldn’t play a game with the other people right away so the leader helped me practice one-on-one. We talked, he joked around. He made me feel included in an otherwise awkward situation. I’m sure he didn’t expect to have to help me that much but he taught me how to reflect Christ to someone who didn’t fit in.

Here’s the thing:

The church shouldn’t be tribal. Our relationships and interactions with one another should look counter-cultural. No one should feel like they have to fit the mold or church shop until they find the right culture (which is consumerist and entitled) in order to be loved by people in the church. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone. That’s impossible. But you can be inclusive of everyone so that they feel welcome enough to make connections with people they could become close with.

I wonder how many life-changing relationships I’ve missed out on because there were enough people in the group who failed to make me feel welcome.

This is my conviction. To strive to be the type of person that tries to make sure that the people that cross my path feel welcomed by me.

People are worth that much.

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