The Sin of Partiality Explained

Partiality in judging is not good. Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right” will be cursed by people, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.
Proverbs 24:23-25

Many conservative Christians have been going all-in against supposed sins like racism and nationalism lately. My own church body even went so far as to threaten anyone on the ill-defined “alt-right” with excommunication. But as often happens when you doggedly pursue the world’s values, these conservatives have found themselves out on a theological limb. Naturally, they tie their moral outrage to their faith, for that ought to be the habit of a Christian. But they never actually received that outrage from Christianity in the first place–they just adopted it alongside the rest of the modern world. So sure, their actions earn them worldly accolades, but how are they to justify their vehemence to those like myself who were once convinced conservatives stood on Scripture?

“Love your neighbor” is a popular go-to, of course, but being a summary of the Law, it quickly descends into meaninglessness without any of the specifics it was meant to summarize. Citing the “law of love” can delay calls for a Scriptural warrant, but it does not actually answer them. By itself, it’s an inadequate rationale because it doesn’t define what love is. So where is a conservative to find Biblical specifics with which to convince themselves (and others) of their faithfulness?

“Partiality” is one of the early favorites in this quest. After all, God repeatedly declares that He Himself shows no partiality, and He counts it as a sin in both Testaments. Considering how tightly partiality is tied to favoritism, it’s easy to link that to favoring a particular nation, race, sex, or other group. It’s understandable that so many would consider this fertile soil for planting the seeds of antiracism or other woke nonsense in Scripture. Unfortunately for them, Biblical partiality can by no means be faithfully used to buttress Critical Theory’s narratives of oppression.

In the Biblical sense, partiality is simply a corruption of moral or legal judgment driven by personal interest. The consequences are laid out quite clearly in the Proverb cited above–it leads a man to declare evil good and good evil and thereby fail in his responsibility to judge with right judgement.

Many of partiality’s mechanisms are also made quite explicit in Scripture. For example, when Moses appoints leaders among the Israelites in Deuteronomy 1, he warns them, “You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s.” So allowing a man’s worldly power to intimidate you into favoring him in your judgment would be one such mechanism. Deuteronomy 16 provides a similar warning to such judges: “You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow.” And so we recognize bribery as another mechanism by which one is tempted to pervert justice for his own benefit.

The long and the short of the matter is that self-interest should seize no foothold in the mind of a judge. The righteous laws he has been appointed to uphold–whether legal or moral–should alone determine his judgments. And we can see this wisdom at work in functional legal systems. For example, when a judge simply cannot set aside his self-interest, it’s generally his responsibility to recuse himself from the case. Likewise, Americans have a legal protection so that spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other in court for precisely this reason.

Scripture also makes it quite clear that God Himself judges impartially. In Romans 2, Paul declares that “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.” Likewise, he warns slave masters in Ephesians 6 that their respective earthly station will not influence our impartial God when He judges the faithfulness of slave and master alike according to justice.

Now, does this mean that God will be impartial with respect to black & white or American & foreigner–and that we ought to judge likewise? Absolutely! But that doesn’t compel anyone to antiracism, globalism, or the like. For just as Scripture explains to us what partiality is, it also gives us many examples of what partiality isn’t.

For example, it is quite clear that choosing one tribe of people over another cannot be partiality. Globalists often slather over Deuteronomy 10 when God says, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” However, in doing so, they almost universally fail to quote the preceding sentences which read, “Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.”

Indeed, our impartial God set the Israelites apart in a way far different than anything He did for other ancient tribes. That is why in Romans 3, when Paul asks “what advantage has the Jew,” he can answer “Much in every way” and ascribe it to God’s action. But this is by no means partiality. All will indeed be held accountable by God to the same Law without respect for tribe. But he will nevertheless show mercy to whom he will show mercy  and be generous with what is His, for these are matters of unmerited Fatherly love rather than the pronouncements of a judge. He gave to the Israelites far better than they deserved, just as He gives to us far better than we deserve.

And so the sin of partiality cannot mean that we ought never prefer one thing, person, or people over another. When a groom takes an oath to love his bride above all others, he’s not taking an oath to show partiality. Neither does a father show partiality when he pursues the welfare of his own children more than the children of strangers. Neither does a ruler show partiality when he defends his nation against another nation. Neither does a soldier show partiality when he specifically targets enemy combatants rather than his allies. Such priorities are by no means perversions of justice. They are merely the faithful and just fulfillment of the vocations God has given us.

Neither can partiality mean that we ought never recognize any kind of stereotype–another shibboleth of antiracists, feminists, and other Critical Theorists. When James warns Christians not to show partiality in the congregation by the way they treat rich versus poor, he also negatively stereotypes the rich by saying, “Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?” Accordingly, it is clear that when he warns against making distinctions and becoming judges with evil thoughts, he is referring to applying worldly standards of judgment to Christians rather than simply observing the many patterns of distinctions that exist among different kinds of people.

This is why the same God who condemns partiality also says “wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord,”  “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever,” and “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” We must judge by justice alone, but the judge still recognizes the human relationships and distinctions which God Himself has ordained and protected with His just Law. Only then can a judge truly render justice to everyone under his purview.

Now, are there specific instances in which partiality and today’s various -ism’s coincide? Certainly. The judge who blithely condemns an accused black man just because he knows blacks are more likely to commit crimes has indeed demonstrated partiality. His job was to consider the evidence. The husband who just ignores the sounds that frightened his wife in the night because he knows women tend to be insecure has indeed demonstrated partiality. His job was to protect his family. The officer who ignores a rapist because the victim was a foreigner who shouldn’t have been there in the first place has indeed demonstrated partiality. His job was to restrain the evildoer. The men who do such things have let their own interests turn them away from justice.

The sin, however, is in the abandonment of righteous judgment and responsibilities rather than in any observations about or preferences for a particular group. Partiality only computes to racism, sexism, homophobia, and so forth when we accept Critical Theory’s narratives as defining justice in the first place. But those narratives are what false teachers project onto Scripture, not what they find there. God defines his justice quite well in Biblical Law. Rooting our judgments in anything else will inevitably corrupt us.

And this is where we find the great irony of modern partiality. The high and mighty who are actually able to subvert justice through intimidation are not the racists, the sexists, the nationalists, and so forth. Rather, the doctrines of Critical Theory are culturally and legally ascendant among us. If our conservatives truly heeded Scripture’s warnings against being intimidated by the high and mighty, they would first look to cancel culture and wokeism to find partiality at work.

If they did so, they would find no shortage of examples among us. For example, say a so-called “Nazi” falls under church discipline, and his church breaks just about every rule they have when carrying it out. Justice would insist on due process, whereas dismissing that as irrelevant nitpicking because he’s a hated Nazi would be blatant partiality. Likewise, say you encounter a woman who really wants to teach men theology and exercise authority over them in the Church. Justice would insist you clearly tell her “no.” But if you were uncomfortable telling her “no” and worried that your wife or daughter or congregants might think its sexist, then partiality would lead you to carve out a path for her to teach instead. Or say you find out that a book you championed ended up including all manner of false teachings and worldly errors. Justice would insist you either make sure the problems are fixed or rescind your endorsement of that book. Partiality, however, might instead lead you to seek retribution against the volume’s critics and insist that the obvious problems don’t exist to protect various reputations. All of these things are very real examples of the Biblical sin of partiality running rampant in the Church.

The scales are falling off the eyes of many as they watch conservative Christians and our institutions lose their religion over the worldly concerns of Critical Theory and scramble in vain to find a Biblical justification to cover their nakedness. But appeals to Biblical partiality will not save them, for it does not at all mean what they want it to.

A time of choice is upon you, conservatives. Would you follow “justice and only justice?” Would you be no respecter of persons? Would you work to keep your church on the straight and narrow? Then its time to take a good, hard look at yourselves in the mirror, because the eyes of the faithful are on you. And when you one day stand before God to make an account of your work, there will be no partiality with Him.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
This entry was posted in Ethics, Law, Lutheranism, The Modern Church, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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