James is, without a doubt, my favorite book in the entire Bible. I’ve reread it several times, but the line that has stuck out to me most recently was chapter 1, verse 27:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
I love this line, because it brings up the two things that churches can focus on the most: social justice and personal purity. It’s interesting because liberal churches tend to be very intense about social justice and caring for the poor, while conservative churches will focus much more on staying holy and pure.
This division is seen in the moral compasses of liberals and conservatives. A psychology professor started a website called YourMorals.org where he started a poll on a variety of moral questions. He then grouped people’s responses to see how much they cared about harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. The results are below. Liberals tend to care more about harm and fairness than conservatives, and conservatives care more about purity and authority than liberals.
I love James 1:27 because it indicates that we must care about both. It challenges both conservatives and liberals to expand their moral compasses.
But most importantly, I think it summarizes Matthew 22: 37-40 perfectly.
Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Staying holy and unpolluted by the world is the clearest way of loving God with all your heart and soul and mind. Caring for the widows and orphans is the clearest way of loving your neighbor as yourself. James 1:27 just sums up Jesus’ two greatest commandments and re-establishes that this is the religion that God wants. This is the religion that God finds faultless. This is the religion that God finds pure.
So what religion are we living out? Is it true Christianity – all of the challenging parts as well? Or are we just settling for our own biased moral compasses and using Christianity as an excuse?