Favoritism and In-Grouping

by Miles McPherson | June 23, 2020

Let me ask you a very direct question: do you discriminate against people who don’t look like you?

If you’re like most, your reflexive answer is no—of course not. You don’t treat other ethnicities with malice, and you don’t intentionally put those of another group down. In fact, you’re generally nice to people who don’t look like you because you want to do your part to bridge the racial divide. 

I commend your desire to honor people of other ethnicities. I do not doubt that you are sincere when you say "No, I do not discriminate—I am not racist." But if nearly everybody feels as you do, how have race relations deteriorated in our country? And why are we still seeing news stories about racial strife on a regular basis?

How have race relations deteriorated in our country? And why are we still seeing news stories about racial strife on a regular basis?

The truth is, most discriminatory acts are very subtle—so subtle that they may be imperceptible so that neither the perpetrator nor the victim sees it clearly enough to identify it. But when steady streams of subtly biased words and actions are directed against individuals of certain racial groups, day in and day out, resentment grows and breaks down any hope of racial harmony.

Racial bias is rooted in the act of in-grouping. An in-group is the group of people you closely identify with to the exclusion of all others: your circle of friends, your clique, your ethnic group, your church body where everyone looks like you. When you choose an in-group, the message you convey to everyone around you is either you are in or you are out. And when in-groups have a similar ethnic makeup, those who are not of that ethnic makeup feel left out, unwanted, and excluded.

Simply put, when we choose an in-group, which is often done subconsciously, we dishonor those we’ve chosen to exclude. Without realizing it, we express disdain for them and disregard their humanity. We treat them unequally. We show favoritism towards others at their expense. And we disregard God’s image in them – the same image that lives in us. 

In-grouping is a natural tendency, which makes it difficult to overcome – and yet, we MUST. The Bible teaches that Christians are not to show preference or favoritism under any circumstances: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism” (James 2:1). The Bible also calls favoritism sin: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:8-9). Paul instructed Timothy, a young church leader, “to do nothing out of favoritism” (1 Timothy 5:21). Favoritism – or in-grouping - is a serious offense in God’s eyes.

In-grouping is a natural tendency, which makes it difficult to overcome – and yet, we MUST.

God knows how hard it is for human beings to avoid showing favoritism. It’s literally impossible to overcome without God’s help. Even Christ’s closest followers struggled with bias against those who were different than them. When the apostle Peter was first called to minister to non-Jewish people, he was reluctant. He later admitted, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34). 

In-grouping is not from God, because it goes against Christ’s commandment to love and honor everybody equally. But with God’s help, you can overcome your tendency to pick and choose favorites. Pray that God would reveal the subtle biases in your own heart, and for the courage to expand your in-group to include everybody. Through this one small step, you will make huge strides towards eliminating racial strife in your community.


Holy Spirit lead me to do the will of the Father. Lord, I sure don't have racism figured out in my own heart, much less the whole world. But I do know that I need to start with me. Reveal to me the biases I have in favor of the members of my in-group. Reveal the biases I have against the members of my out-group and show me how I can love them as I love my in-group and myself.

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.


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