When leading members in the church uncritically participate in class based favoritism, they become complicit in oppression. The message of James is simple and arresting. Judgement awaits those who ignore God’s preferential option for the poor and become participants in prevailing discriminatory logics.
For all our show of humility, Christians have capitalized on the doctrine of election, distorting it to create a very real power differential between ourselves and the world beyond Christianity, at home and abroad. In an ironic twist, we have become the builders who are rejecting precious stones.
The familiar standards of “innocent until proven guilty” and “beyond a reasonable doubt” are meant to protect people from false accusations, but also contribute to the assumption that should doubt the stories of victims of assault and harassment, even when we know these crimes are depressingly common. The Christian preferential option for the poor, however, means that we should have a preferential option for victims, meaning that our presumption is to believe in and side with the victims of assault and harassment in the church and the public arena.
A number of years ago, as I was trying to finalize my dissertation proposal at a large Catholic university, I ran into some problems. My topic was the preferential option for the poor and U.S. middle-class Christians. I knew I was stretching some of the boundaries of theological ethics by focusing on class analysis and the philosophical underpinnings of “The American Dream” as obstacles to faithful expression of the option for the poor in the U.S.
In the first presidential debate of 2012, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney tried to outdo one another in currying favor with the middle class. Yet Catholic social teaching proposes a preferential option for the poor. Catholics are called to promote the common good of all by putting the poor front and center.