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  • Writer's pictureKrista Bontrager

The Shell Game of Identifying the Oppressed and Marginalized

Whenever we hear pastors talk about the "marginalized" or the "oppressed," we usually cringe a little inside. A deeply biblical idea has been co-opted by the culture and morphed to mean something completely different. Tonight, we had a conversation about this confusion, to help straighten out what has become a very crooked line by bringing the issues back to God's standards.


Who are the marginalized?

What the world says:

  • According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), marginalized communities are those excluded from mainstream social, economic, educational, and/or cultural life. Examples may include groups excluded due to race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, language, and/or immigration status. Marginalization occurs due to unequal power relationships between the social groups.

  • Graphics and documents to look for: “Matrix of Oppression” (Routledge, 2007); “Wheel of Oppression” or “Wheel of Power”; and the Minnesota Psychological Association’s “Marginalized Populations.”

What the Bible says:

  • Exodus 22: 21-27: “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbor's cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.”

  • Categories mentioned: sojourner, widow, fatherless, poor (and also disabled, mentioned often in Jesus’ ministry)

  • Deuteronomy 10: 17-18: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

Notice:  The Bible and the world/culture use the same words of marginalized and oppressed, but they mean different things! A marginalized person is someone who is living on the margins of society and is vulnerable to oppression, but it doesn’t mean they are actively being oppressed! In our society right now, the definitions of marginalized and oppressed mean the same thing, but in Scripture some of the so-called marginalized/oppressed categories involve sins!

Articles mentioned:

How do we love our neighbor?

  • Romans 13:8-10: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

  • Exodus 23: 1-6: “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. “If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him. “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.”

  • Psalm 82: 2-4: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah. Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

  • Proverbs 31: 8-9: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”


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