Bias to the people

There are many examples of the way that the modern cult of “victimhood” produces evils in today’s society. One very current instance is the trend, newly arrived in the UK from America, for black mobs to to rampage through shopping centres inspired by some idea that looting is OK if you’re in an oppressed minority group. A second is the inability of the State to deal with male gangsters with guns, newly arrived in the UK from Albania in small boats, on the basis that there is no such thing as an illegal immigrant. A third is the abject apology of the Pope for the murder and mass-graves of First Nation Canadian children in Catholic schools, for which there is not only no real evidence, but also no attempt to find it, under some vague notion that actually digging up the alleged bodies would be disrespectful to ancient traditions… whereas a witch-hunt of innocent Catholics is not. Oh, we must not forget the demonisation of women who do not want to be impregnated in prisons by “trans women with a penis,” and many other such examples.

It seems that Christians may be particularly susceptible to acquiescing in these things because of the Church’s historical, indeed apostolic, concern for the poor and otherwise disadvantaged. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard that “Jesus favoured the marginalised,” (often with some hint that he shunned the religious or respectable). But I have a suspicion that the road from compassion to divisive Intersectionality in the churches originated from a distorted picture of Jesus (possibly even derived from Marxism, but that’s incidental) which endows him with a social partiality absent from the gospels.

For a starting point, let me cite an influential study from 1984, Bias to the Poor, whose message is summarised thus:

Christian theology provides a distinctive perspective on poverty, including an in-built ‘bias to the poor’ and a strong emphasis on a personal and collective responsibility to help those in poverty as an expression of God’s love for, and identification with, the ‘least of these’.

There could be discussion on whether this correctly identifies the referents for Jesus’s “the least of these [my brethren],” but one can immediately see how taking this seriously might eventually transmutate “the poor” into “the marginalised” and so lead to a whole raft of “affirmative action” including pushing for transsexual bishops, as well as justifying the instantiations of woke morality in my introduction. Preaching against immoral or anti-social acts might insensibly become unacceptable because seen as a violation of “Touch not my anointed,” the marginalised categories, of course, being romanticised as God’s specially favoured children.

My unease, at the time Bias to the Poor came out, about the desirability of such a “bias” came from my early years studying the Bible. Wading through the Mosaic law as a teenager, I was struck by a couple of counter-intuitive passages, given its undoubted concern for “the widow and the alien.”

You must not pervert justice; you must not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the rich; you are to judge your neighbor fairly. Leviticus 19:15

Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit. Exodus 23:2-3

I thought as a teenager that maybe I’d misread “partiality/favouritism to the poor,” and that it really meant, “against the poor.” But the translations are clear: the principle of the law is the impartiality of judgement for everybody, not a “bias to the poor.”

On reflection, it is this, rather than some white privilege or, in more traditional terms, middle-class complacency that makes me shuffle in my seat and stare at my Bible whenever a preacher tells me that Jesus preferred to spend his time with the marginalised and social outcasts. Don’t get me wrong – there is a very harsh critique of elites, both social and religious, throughout Jesus’s teaching, and he often makes it through unfavourable contrasts with the receptivity of the non-elite masses. But something very different is going on in his ministry than a “bias to the marginalised,” and I think it matters.

Such thoughts having recently impinged on my conscious mind, I decided to work through the gospels to see with exactly what kind of individuals Jesus is recorded as associating. It’s not necessarily straightforward. For example, since so many of the pericopes have to do with healing the sick or casting out demons, the sick are over-represented. But with exceptions (notably leprosy, where exclusion from the community was prescribed by God’s law) sickness has never been intrinsically stigmatic, since even kings get sick. And I’m not sure that even demonisation, of itself, led to ostracism in those days, since Jesus performed exorcisms on synagogue attenders. In any case, from modern examples I’ve heard of in Africa, demons can sometimes be considered just an irritating fact of life, like warts or migraines, in “respectable” tribal households.

The Pharisaic label of “sinner” is no more specific. In context, it does not seem to mean anything like “prostitute,” but something more general. As M. J. Wilkins writes:

From the standpoint of Jesus’s opponents a person was a sinner as long as he or she did not conform to the expectations of the sect. From the standpoint of Jesus, a person was a sinner as long as he or she remained opposed to the will of God.”

And so when Matthew is called, Jesus is invited to a house full of “tax collectors and sinners.” Tax-collectors were self-employed quislings of the Romans and reasonably well-to-do, and so unlikely to socialise with tramps or whores. “Sinners” here must mean something else. Despised by the populace publicans may have been, but then so are politicians, and they are scarcely “the marginalised.”

And so I’ve divided my list of approximately 68 personal encounters of Jesus in the gospels into three broad categories:

  • Those of high, or at least respectable, status with trades, houses, inheritances and so on.
  • Those of clearly low or marginalised status.
  • Those whose status is impossible to determine from the text.

By my estimation, 39 of the encounters mentioned are with high status individuals, including meals with Pharisees to meetings with governors and kings.

17 of the meetings are of the “uncertain” type: for example, the healing of a blind man in the crowd might involve a beggar, or a retired merchant. The Samaritan woman at the well may have been sexually immoral, but she had sufficient social status to mobilise the townspeople to hear Jesus.

Only 12 of my cases could be definitely attributed to outcasts, and many of these are because of severe demonisation, or leprosy leading to begging, rather than to culturally unacceptable lifestyles. In some cases the context only offers indirect clues: the woman taken in adultery must surely have been of low status in order to be made a test-case whilst the man was not. Rich and well-connected women also commit adultery, but where possible it is hushed up if only to save the reputation of the family.

And so in numerical terms, if anything the gospels suggest a bias to the rich, but I’m certain that that is as much an artifact as the emphasis on the sick. What we see instead, I’m certain, is that Jesus in his public ministry was utterly indifferent to the status of his hearers, like the Mosaic law, but only cared about their response to his gospel. The key point is that he saw them all – rich, poor, sinning basely or with theological subtlety – as children of Adam. Or to be more exact, in most cases they were children of Abraham directly included in the promises and the covenant, and needing to be called back to their God from their sin.

And so when, in Luke 7, a “sinner” wipes Jesus’s feet with her hair at a meal with a Pharisee, the episode is a commentary on the contrast Luke has just drawn between “all the people,” including tax collectors, who had been baptized by John and welcomed Jesus, and the self-righteous Pharisees who had refused baptism. It seems the woman was one of these ordinary people baptized for their sins, or else had been converted as she heard Jesus speak publicly, and she sought out Jesus personally from her devotion.

If John 12 and Mark 14 are parallel passages to Luke 7, she may even have been Mary the daughter of Lazarus – the formerly wayward daughter of a respectable householder, perhaps. The Pharisee and host could be Simon the leper, who invited the resurrected local man and unexpectedly got the daughter as well. If so, the categories of “socially accepted” and “marginalised” truly would break down, Jesus’s sole criterion being the response to himself.

Jesus criticised Simon’s attitude, but spoke to his need (his words being subtly ambiguous about whether Simon was ungrateful because he hadn’t needed much forgiveness, or because he hadn’t repented at all). The woman’s need was met by her self-abasing action – Jesus said less to her than he did to Simon.

What’s the lesson in this? Not that there should not be ministries to “the poor and marginalised,” because they are all children of Adam. My career was orientated to the sick, as a doctor, not because the sick are uniquely deserving of ministry, but simply because that was my vocation. Those who minister Christ patiently to the true “flotsam and jetson” of our society are to be both commended and supported by the churches. And the churches, and all of us therein, should welcome and love as brehren all those who come to worship with us, regardless of social status, former lifestyle, or trivialities like clothes and social graces. We are all redeemed children of Adam. And we may well need to apply Jesus’s critique of the religious for their false judgements to ourselves.

Yet even so, the story of the woman who washed Jesus’s feet reminds me of what I heard from a missionary not long ago (and mentioned here). After decades of “friendship evangelism” the mission team had many friends but few disciples, until they changed strategy and preached a more challenging message to those they met, calling for people to respond to Christ and pass on the word. It seems that the woman was actually saved by hearing either John the Baptist of Jesus preaching to the crowds: the personal interaction with Jesus was a fruit, not a means.

She loved much because she had (already) been forgiven much through faith – she was not forgiven because she made friends with Jesus.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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12 Responses to Bias to the people

  1. Levi says:

    The Samaritans were personae non grata from the point of view of the Jews. This is the whole thrust of the parable of the Good Samaritan, who rendered succour despite the Jewish taboo of even talking to or touching a Samaritan, let alone considering him within the purview of the category “neighbour”, for the purposes of Hillel’s second law, which Jesus is now universalising. I think you can add them to the list of the marginalised.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      The Good Samaritan was, of course, a fictional object lesson for Judaean Jews, and as you say they were marginalised in Judaea. One real example is the lone Samaritan leper amongst ten – but he was already on the lowest rung because of his membership of the “leper colony.” He is certainly commended individually for being more grateful to God than the Jewish lepers.

      A more complete real example (included in my list) was the Samaritan woman at the well, who was on home territory and so to whom, in the scheme of things, it was Jesus who was the outsider. In Bradford it’s the non-Muslim who is at the margin, whatever is happening in the country at large.

      The thing is more complex because Jesus was a lone man – were the disciples surprised because Jesus was speaking to a Samaritan, or to an unchaperoned woman, or to that particular “type” of woman? We’re not told. But for all her questionable lifestyle, she had the social influence to summon her townsfolk to Jesus. Yet Jesus spent time with her (if we ignore providence) simply because she was there when he was, and a daughter of Abraham, however illegitimate.

      • Levi says:

        You make an excellent point here, that had escaped me, and is one which highlights how much of the wrong-headed thinking of wokeness can ‘innocently’ arise, while also explaining it.

        Whereas I had looked upon the Samaritan as marginalised from the Jewish point of view, there is in a sense always a point of view from where he (or anyone) is not “marginalised”: alone with himself (psychological states aside); one with God, or amongst his fellows.

        Now, if I may betray the parable a little by expanding on the metaphor to give a contemporary flavour, it seems to me that, by distorting the meaning of Jesus’ interest in them as having special rather than universal significance, the Samaritans now have the upper hand in Judea, and have done so precisely by insisting on their status as “marginalised beings” – even where they are in the ascendancy – in order to beat the Judeans over the head with it as revenge. One inescapable irony is of course, that it is the descendants of the Judeans, who have long since passed from Judea into the world, who are most prominently acting as these, let’s call them Woke Samaritans, in the world.

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

          Let me try and draw a spiritual lesson from this (on the hoof, as it were). Jesus himself is the ultimate victim, but whilst his sufferings are eternally memorable (the Lamb that was slain upon the throne), he acts now as victor through those sufferings, and refuses the role of the oppressed.

          And this he gives us as an example, so that even when Christians are persecuted, they are to see themselves as privileged to be counted worthy to emulate Christ, as heirs of the Kingdom, and so on.

          I can’t say from experience whether that attitude is prevalent enough to act as a witness to the world, but I suspect it is a factor in the worldwide phenomenon of persecution. It isn’t just because the press/governments are indifferent that people root for Uyghurs, but not for butchered believers in Mozambique (say), but because the Christians tend not to set themselves up as victims to be preferred. Maybe?

          • Levi says:

            Yes, you are right. This is, yet again, one of Girard’s central theses, the socio-political expression of which he called in his later works, “ultrachristianity” (notably in Evolution & Conversion and in Battling to the End) – the radicalising of victimhood for the disguised, antique purposes of persecution, behind the new moral foil of “concern for victims” brought about by the Christian revelation, specifically of the innocence of the scapegoated, of those accused falsely under the power of an anthropological, “crowd phenomenon”, and of the méconnaissance of the crowds/accusers (“they know not what they do”).

            Christianity as revelation implicates us all in persecution (the doctrine of original sin and the Fall), as both victim and persecutor. Therefore, we are called upon, not to persist in zealous claims to justice but to penitently beg forgiveness of God, as we humbly forgive our neighbour; also, in imitation of Christ, we are to carry our own cross in the manner that he did, i.e., knowingly and willingly, in a lordly manner, without “victimhood”. For Christ was in no way a “victim” except in an ‘objective’ (read: crowd consensus) sense that he suffered unjust persecution. On the contrary, by his subjective will to suffer for all despite the injustice, he showed all how sin is truly overcome, victory through suffering without victimhood.

            It is a hard lesson to live by, let alone to discern, and of the few who have understood it, fewer still have undertaken to try it.

  2. Robert Byers says:

    YOU are resisting and that is effective because all these things come from small circles.
    Saying any Indians were murdered in canadfa ia absurd and must be proven before any conclusion. the Pope as usual is absurd too. There are no mass graves but siomply graves for a backward people in those days who could not get the died children back home and all died from diesease which was common on those days. Innocent until proven guilty please. Its unlikely a single Priest etc did any murder but its up to the accuser to prove it.
    Indeed graves don’t prove it and its wicked anyone ever said it did.
    If blacks riot in the nation on the principal of being a new people to the country then take to court, if guility, revoke citizenship. Remember Hume. its a contraxct for a foreogner to come inot ones country.
    Illegal immigrants are invaders. indeed long ago too many immgrants came in after the first resistence in the 1960’s indeed the origin for the beatles song GET BACK JOE.
    its simple a moral conflict that modern Englishmen fail to be strong at. The good Englishmen can’t demand thier will on these issues because of no moral will. some intellectual incompetence too.
    Indeed without christ as the head england will revery back to just another europpean nation and lose its historic moral and intellectual superiority. Seems like the poor queeem, sad to hear, England is dying in manly christian spirit. richer then ever but effeminate.

  3. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    “If blacks riot in the nation on the principal of being a new people to the country then take to court, if guility, revoke citizenship. Remember Hume. its a contraxct for a foreogner to come inot ones country.”

    Yes, well that’s a problem for 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants – as a descendant of Irishmen I hope they won’t revoke my citizenship for misdemeanours, especially in my youth. No, as the Scripture I cited says, the alien and the native should be subject to the same law… which is not to say that illegal immigrants may not be punished for a crime the native-born cannot commit.

    More significantly, I note that the accusations against Canadian Catholic schools are on a par with similar claims in Australia and Ireland, which were equally unsubstantiated. But of course the accusers know that the rumour quickly becomes accepted truth (especially when reinforced by opportunist politicians), whereas the lack of confirmation never makes it to public attention.

    • Robert Byers says:

      Whether its decond or third or tenth generation kids is urrelevant. if they are acting on a motive as a OTHER people relative to the people who lallowed them in the country then they are breaking the contract/the law . So upon being, by trial, found guility in very important matters their citizenship must be/or can be revoked. The alien in the bible was under the same law but thats the law. They could never act in criminal ways against the Hevrews etc and still claim citizenship. They could not help a foreign nation as a third column. They would be thrown out or have thier citizenship revoked.
      this is, as Hume woulfd say, a contract. they are allowed in but if become a enemy its revoked. No difference about kids after generations. Thats the point. they are saying they are a different or foreign people. AMEN> Take to court.
      Did you fight or war against englishmen? i doubt it. Serious stuff or minor stuff. I don’t know if your Irish catholic or scttish protestant but if you did terror bombs in the name of fighting England then surely you would agree that cancels your citizenship. You would be saying your a foreign people at war with the people who allowed you in. NOPE. The native always has moral, intellectual, legal protection from an immigrant.

      • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

        Well, on that basis the white Canadian who murders a First Nation Canadian has to go back to Germany, or Scotland, or wherever his 10th generation ancestors came from.

        As for my immigrant ancestor, he came from a highly Catholic area where, in the year he was born (1798) a revolt started. But paradoxically the whole family were Protestant iron workers – they may have been Methodists. But I would still feel disgruntled if, under any circumstances, I was sent back to Ireland after 200 years… not least because in that time nearly all lineages are thoroughly mixed with the home population.

        • Robert Byers says:

          lets think about this. The protestants in Ireland, I understand, were all Scottish/English/few others. Not the real Irish. INDEED you can’t be sent back. HOWEVERR if in the name of being a ‘IRSISH” person who directly attack the english people ON A issue of them being english and THIS being a important crime then YES you broke the contract with the English and can be sent back to your real people . not any crime but a crime of invasion with the english on identity motives.
          Otherwise you could laught and say I am a active enemy of the English in England and they can’t , after any other punishment for a crime, throw you out. I inist they could.
          Its about motive and identity and a important crime .
          In Canada, I reject the term First Nation as the term first is a invasive political term to undremine exclusive Canadian rights to CANADA nenver mind, a Canadian is the native. not Indians. if a Canadian murdered a Indian citizen of Canada (should be executed) he could not be sent back to some other country. Canada is his country and as a canadian has no origin other then that.
          If a Indian killed a canadian, with a motive based on hatred/opposition to my people THEN he must be ex[elled from my country. He is the immigrant people. Again howeverr he should be executed.
          The nations and peooples in nations have everything based on contracts. Whoops Locke, not Hume, taught us this. america broke from britain on broken contract accusations. then enforced the South on contracts.
          the immigrant who fights modern Britian is under contract. If he wars against you in the name of identity he is a invador and must/can be thrown back to where he came from. GET BACK JOE is Joe does evil in the name of being a other people.
          Otherwise you must surrender to thier will and whim as it seems many do. (Don’t anyone say the internet doesn’t talk about the great affairs of mankind eh. We just did)

          • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

            Well, personally, my family is of the “few others,” for reasons I’ve been unable to ascertain. But the bloodline goes back to the O’Gairbhins who served the Dukes of Ormonde from Kilkenny, via the Protestant Archbishop of Armagh and his brother, who were based in County Mayo.

            It would be interesting if they’d inherited John Garvey’s Church of Ireland faith, but few of the Roscommon descendants did, so it remains a religiously, though not a genealogically, open question.

            Clearly the Irish nationalist, or the Jihadi hater of all things Christian in England or Canada is a different case from where I started – a disorderly criminal mob apparently being favoured by soft treatment for reasons not of justice, but of race.

            But it seems to me you’re still inconsistent in deciding that white Canadians are natives with inalienable rights of residence, but Indian Canadians are not. My Aunt born in Kent married a Scottish Canadian tank commander and moved to Alberta after WW2, and her children are, of course, Canadians. As, indeed, was she.

            But if Uncle Bill had been a Navy man and married a Filipino, or a post-war businessman and married an Indian, I don’t see there is any difference.

            • Robert Byers says:

              That was interesting about that side of your family. Yes soft treatment comes from issues of identity and rejection of natural rights and so on.
              Yes canadians have inaleinable rightds to thier country. its not whiteness.Its about a particular people or group of people creating a nation. that nation is now canada, with French Canadians, and anyone can be a canadian if they are born and bred or bred early and are only us.Indians are not our people originally and even say nthey were different nations. They are immigrants to canada obviously. No they have no inaleinable rights to resu=idence in Canada. Being here already only was tiny groups of people moving about a wilderness without contracts with anyone to the land. We created the contracts and the nation.
              So if they do crime against us in the name of a foreign motive as a foreign people then they should be punished for the crime and expelled from my nation.
              Its a contract.
              Immigrants to britain made a contract with the natives. They will be countrymen in mutual safety and justice and gain.
              if they attack the natives they can’t say AHA we are owners of Britian too. NOPE. They do important crime in the name of foreign identies relkative to Englishmen then out they go. Revoking thier citizenship is a duty and right of the Countrymen of Britain.
              Its impossible for a immigrant to war or hurt the native and stay in the natives home.

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