Classism is prejudice toward or against groups of people based on social class. Classism includes bias based on racial, economic, educational, or ethnic standards. In countries such as India, classism is such an integral part of the culture that people rarely question it. Higher castes would never consider marrying or even associating with those of lower castes. In more Westernized cultures, recognized castes may not exist, but other forms of classism do.
Classism is nothing new. People have found ways to divide themselves, honor some, and dishonor others since time began. By the time Jesus was born, classism was firmly entrenched in Jewish society. Samaritans were despised because of nationality, and tax collectors were despised because of occupation (Matthew 18:17; Luke 18:11; John 4:9). Anyone who was not a Jew was considered a Gentile and therefore “unclean.” The invading Romans dominated the legal system, and the Pharisees and religious leaders dominated all things spiritual. Everyone else was second class and expected to pay proper homage to their superiors (Matthew 5:42; 23:2–7). Classism ruled, and the scribes and Pharisees wanted to keep it that way.
Jesus’ arrival in the world exploded the social hierarchy of the day. Although rightfully a king, Jesus bypassed Herod’s palace and chose to be born into a working-class family. He sent the first birth announcements to a group of shepherds, an even lower rung on the social ladder (Luke 1 — 2). As a man, Jesus could have become a Pharisee and lorded His high position over everyone else. Instead, He ate “with tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11). He was considered a rabbi, an exalted position, yet He never used that title to exploit or demean others. He bucked the classism that existed in His world by choosing fishermen and a tax collector as disciples (Matthew 4:19; 9:9), honoring a poor widow (Luke 21:1–4), and publicly forgiving an adulteress (John 8:1–11). He used a Samaritan as the hero of a parable (Luke 10:25–37) and validated women by seeing that they were the first to tell of His resurrection (Luke 24:1–10). He later broke down even more walls by giving Peter a vision and telling Him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). By this, Peter knew that Jesus was offering eternal life to Gentiles as well as Jews.
Christianity is the great equalizer in that it destroys self-righteous classism. The Bible explicitly forbids classism in the church (James 2:1–4). According to the Bible, all people are sinners and equally undeserving of forgiveness (Romans 3:23; 6:23). We must all stand before God one day, and there will be no favoritism then (Acts 10:34). When Jesus took on the sins of the world, His sacrifice was extended to everyone who believes (1 John 2:2). Paul says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are . . . heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26–29).
It’s often said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross, and it’s true. Jesus’ sacrifice on behalf of sinners brings to naught all worldly notions of class, caste, and social standing. The aristocrat and the pauper are both equally in need of the Savior, equally saved by grace through faith, and equally granted an eternal inheritance in Christ.
According to Scripture, there are only two “classes” of people: those who are perishing and those who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18; Romans 3:22). But there is no pride or prejudice involved. It is a higher form of classism, where the redeemed serve the unredeemed and act as ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Christians do not lord their position in Christ over those still lost in sin; rather, they “become all things to all people” (2 Corinthians 9:22) to reach as many as possible with the good news.