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Brittany Taylor

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Is “white privilege” a type of Biblical “favoritism” that whites have accepted and defended?  

Abstract: This article identifies the Bible’s consistent warnings towards the dangers and consequences of favoritism. It provides scriptural analysis where favoritism is discussed and Biblical figures are analyzed. It asks the question, “Is “White Privilege” a type of Biblical “favoritism” that Whites have accepted and defended?” If “White Privilege” is a type of favoritism, then the Bible considers this a sin. It is unlawful, unfair and unjust. These assumptions and assertions are being voiced from a white, 37 year old female who is unable to aptly empathize and understand the atrocities this favoritism has caused. However, this is an article for my White brothers and sisters in Christ who uphold Bible truths to be the bedrock of their lives, but also consider White Privilege to not be an issue or a reality. This article is for the White man and woman who have either embraced ignorance or allowed tolerance of White Privilege. For my Black brothers and sisters in Christ, White Privilege must be eradicated if lawfulness and fairness are to prevail. Christ reconciles and never shows favoritism.[1] We as a nation under God must do likewise.

Have we as White people believed that we are better and more deserving without realizing it?

Do we manifest a pride and entitlement that believes we are the “favorite”?

What is favoritism according to the dictionary?

fa·vor·it·ism| ˈfāv(ə)rəˌtizəm | noun  | the practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another

The New Testament likes to use the phrase “respecter of persons” or prosōpolēmpsia.[2]

Romans 2:11: For God does not show favoritism.

Other variations or considerations of “favoritism” in a modern translation would be “partiality” or “one who discriminates”. These are found in 1 Timothy 5:21 and Acts 10:34-36. 

In the Old Testament, we see the word “partiality” and “favoritism” appear in Leviticus 19:15, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” Job 34:19 acknowledges God as the one “who shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of his hands?”

We see in Genesis 37:2-5, the phrases “more than all” and “loved him more” to describe the favoritism Jacob had towards Joseph, the son of his favorite wife Rachel. We see in Genesis 25-37, the effect of Jacob being preferred by his mother Rebekah and how it divided him from his brother Esau. It appears there was a cultural acceptance to favor a child over another despite the division and jealousy it caused between siblings. It became a generational recurrence where favoritism was accepted.

It is important we elaborate on the characters already mentioned:

Rebekah: Wife of Isaac and mom to Jacob and Esau. Favored Jacob over Esau.

Jacob: Son of Isaac and Rebekah. Knew he was the favorite. Father of 12 sons including Joseph who was his favorite.

Esau: Son of Isaac and Rebekah. Heir to Isaac’s blessing.

Rachel: Favorite wife of Jacob. Mother to Joseph and Benjamin.

Leah: Second wife to Jacob. Not preferred by Jacob and mother to 6 sons.

Joseph: Favorite son of Jacob.

Here is a chart that might help[3]:

It must be said that I am making gross assumptions on the nature of these family dynamics and the generational effects. I am in no way arguing that these are facts and my interpretation is sound. I am simply asking questions that the text in our postmodern era deserves. There are legitimate concerns that arise when we see a parent preferring a child. It can have disastrous effects, therefore, it might prove an interesting exercise to inquire. The Old and New Testament clearly articulate that any form of favoritism, partiality, or respecter of persons is unlawful and against God’s nature. For the purposes of our discussion, my observations and questions focus primarily on the actions of Jacob receiving and showing favoritism and its direct effect on his sibling relationship with Esau and the dynamic of the sibling relationship of his sons.

Observations:

Jacob was favored by his mother.[4] He married Rachel and Leah but significantly preferred Rachel over Leah. The two sons from his preferred wife were Joseph and Benjamin. Benjamin became the favorite when Joseph “died”. Jacob did not hide who he favored with his wives just as Rebekah did not hide that her favorite was Jacob. Jacob just repeated what he saw/experienced. Like the eleven sons of Jacob and Esau, Jacob’s brother, they were able to reconcile despite how they were deferred. Esau and Jacob reconciled and so did Joseph with his eleven brothers. The favoritism led to feelings of rejection, blame and resentment. It led them both to intense anger, feelings of rejection and hurt. The influence of Rebekah and Leah is profound. Rebekah’s preference for Jacob over Esau created a disparity that robbed Esau. Yet, Esau forgave his brother. Leah’s secondary status was known, yet her sons could later reconcile with their brother.

Questions:

  1. Did Jacob continue to show favoritism because he was favored by his mother?
  2. Did Jacob think that favoritism is lawful because his preferment made him very blessed?
  3. Did Jacob’s favoritism towards Jacob cause Joseph to be prideful? 
  4. Were Leah’s biological sons raised knowing that their mother wasn’t the favorite wife? 
  5. Did the brothers just get mad when their brother mentioned the two dreams or was there a bitterness already brewing before the dreams were shared? 

These are impossible questions to answer. We cannot make gross assessments of these character’s intentions. The only option is to allow the language, context, and literary conventions reveal parallels. 

James 2:1-13 discusses the ramifications of favoritism. It admonishes the actions of Rebekah and Jacob who seemed to consider favoritism as a responsible parenting approach.

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?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,”[b] also said, “You shall not murder.”[c] If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.[5]

A literary relationship can be found in verses 8-9 where the use of “if” reveals a  “cause and effect” relationship. Loving your neighbor is lawful. Favoritism causes lawlessness. I may be overreaching in my assumptions of Rebekah, Jacob and Joseph but clearly the repetition of the word “favoritism” in Genesis 37:3 and again in James 2:1-13 must be acknowledged. The law listed in Leviticus 19:15 listed favoritism as unlawful. Despite it being addressed in God’s law, there were repeat offenders like Rebekah and Jacob. Apparently, it is listed as a violation of God’s nature because it had disastrous consequences. Despite the law’s admonishment of favoritism, the lineage of Abraham found it acceptable to prefer or to show favorites. It became a societal norm to give more love, attention and acknowledgement to one son over another. The feelings and worth of the other sons were not considered which made it permissible to prefer. This is destructive and demeaning. It permits division, brews hostility and suppresses advancement. It is simply wrong.

What can we learn from these characters/figures/symbols?

Rebekah & Jacob: Favoritism creates disparities and robs people of their blessing.

Joseph: Pride as a result of preferment only deepens hostilities.

Esau & 11 Brothers: Engaging in a dialogue of reconciliation is both heroic and counter-cultural[6]

I want to redirect our focus to Joseph who seemed to brag to his brothers that they would bow to him in Genesis 37. He clearly knew he was the favorite. He had a coat of many colors that no other son received and was the son of his dad’s, favorite wife. How could Joseph not be aware that his dream would not offend his brothers? 

Rebekah and Jacob preferred and it caused issues. Jacob and Joseph were preferred and it led to pride and boasting. This severed relationships between Jacob’s wives and sons and between Joseph and his brothers. 

What is so transformative about this entire family lineage is that reconciliation happened twice. It was desperately needed. The true heroes in this story are the response of Esau in Genesis 32 and the eleven brothers in Genesis 49. Jacob recognized how his privilege stole Esau’s rightful inheritance. Jacob knew his actions were wrong. Esau had every right to hate, but he accepted Jacob. The brothers reconciled with their lost brother, while Joseph could stand before them humbled by abandonment, slander, imprisonment and rejection. He had felt the consequences of his pride and he could empathize with why they were hurt by their father’s favoritism and his boastful pride. One can remain in conflict or cross over into forgiveness when two opposing people meet at the intersection of reconciliation.  

Has “White Privilege” blinded White people like me to the pain and destruction of those who were not the favorite? Has our ignorance and/or tolerance of our “White Privilege” lawfully permitted the degradation and suppression of Black parents and their siblings? Laws, economic institutions, the criminal justice system, neighborhoods, schools, etc. have been tools or “coats of many colors” that have favored, promoted and preferred Whites over Blacks for centuries. To maintain this supremacy, Blacks have been demoralized and dethroned to uphold the white ideal. Whites get so defensive when we put an adjective like “white” in front of a noun or “black” in front of a movement. However, if we don’t acknowledge the identities that have formed these societal norms and the insistence to maintain these ideologies, then we will never intersect and reconcile. Robin DiAngeli in her book White Fragility says this, “Naming who has access and who doesn’t guides our efforts in challenging injustice.”[7] Before we can reconcile, we must accept the adjectives that define race. DiAngelo continues, “Not naming the groups that face barriers only serves those who already have access; the assumption is that the access enjoyed by the controlling group is universal.” We have assumed. I have assumed. I have assumed that all were able to go to the same schools, have the same economic means and overcome the same barriers as I have. I was wrong. I assumed. Disparities occur because of favoritism. If white people fail to recognize these disparities then we forfeit reconciliation.

Esau was completely stripped of his inheritance. He was robbed. If Jacob assumed that he was rightfully the heir and Esau was not as worthy than him, then he engaged in a supremacist mindset that pridefully boasted of his inheritance at the expense of his brother. What is worse is that Jacob did the same thing to his children. The cycle of favoritism enveloped this family and it cost Jacob decades with his son and Joseph many years unlearning and relinquishing his pride.

Eventually, reconciliation came and it came to glorify, rectify and redeem. The intersection in Genesis 34 and 49-50 proves that God can redeem when the preferred recognize the damage they caused by their pride and the deferred are able to receive God’s ability to come to the intersection. 

What can Esau and the 11 brothers teach us?

The mere act of wanting to dialogue is poignant and eternal. Being forgiven is the one thing we as White people do not deserve, but it’s release glorifies the giver and the creator who authored the reunion.

What did Joseph and Jacob teach us?

White Privilege must be dissolved and annulled. Favoritism must be acknowledged. White people cannot meet at this crossroads without acknowledging where they were undeniably preferred.

What can Rebekah teach us?

Some will leave their legacy of favoritism and die thinking it’s ok. It will unravel unity and agreement in generations. It will enslave and bind. It will do irrevocable harm until reconciliation enters.

What can Jacob teach us?

Jacob seemed to never abandon the favoritism model despite being forgiven by Esau. We can be forgiven of our preferred status and still repeat the same mistakes with our children. Some will not learn even after they have been forgiven. 

However, the great reconciler is Christ who determines that the Gentile is a part of the family as much as the Jew. Favoritism and preferment died with Jesus and reconciliation rose three days later.  


[1] Romans 2:11 (NIV)

[2] “G4382 – Prosōpolēmpsia – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NIV),” Blue Letter Bible, accessed June 20, 2020, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4382&t=NIV

[3] “Abraham’s Family Tree Chart,” Bible Study, accessed June 21, 2020, https://www.biblestudy.org/maps/map-of-lineage-from-abraham-to-jesus.html. The lineage of Esau is included in Genesis 36.

[4] Genesis 25:28 (NIV)

[5] James 1:2-14 (NIV)

[6] Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2007), 15.

[7] Robin J. DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why Its so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism (London: Allen Lane, an Imprint of Penguin Books, 2019), Kindle Edition. Loc. 285.

I am not black, but I will fight with you.

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