How the Parable of the Talents is Applicable in Today’s Pandemic and Protests

In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus shared a story of a man who gave his servants five talents, two talents, and one talent, each according to his abilities. The servant with five talents traded with them, making five more talents. The servant with two talents did the same. But the one who received only one talent buried and hid his talent in the ground. When the master returned, he asked each servant how they used their talents. He commended the first and second servants, telling them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share in your master’s happiness!” To the servant who hid his talents in the ground, the master blasted, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gathered where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned, I would have received it back with interest.”

This Parable teaches us many lessons. First, we are to invest the talents with which we have been blessed. Our talents are not our own. They are the Lord’s investment in us and He has planted all with talents. This Parable may explain why we elevate those who’ve invested in their talents while looking down on those who haven’t. God looks down on those who’ve abused His blessings.

Enter the perfect storm of the Coronavirus pandemic and protests of 2020. A man named George Floyd of Minneapolis was wrongfully murdered by a cop who had him pinned on the ground with a knee on his neck. Eight times, George called out in pain, begging for his life because he couldn’t breathe. Eight times, the cop decided to ignore his pleas. This tragedy has called attention to police brutality, which everyone abhors. This tragedy has also called attention to the “black lives matter” movement since George was a black man and the cop was white. Some within the “black lives matter” movement are of the opinion that the American society suffers from systemic racism. This is a complicated issue, which I will partially address here through the aforementioned Biblical passage and relatively recent studies.

Are there racists in the United States today? Yes. Sadly, we still suffer from memories of the misguided and egregious views of some of our ancestors. Slaves were kidnapped from Africa and often forcibly separated from their families between 1620 and 1863. Those who escaped were often captured, beaten, and returned to Southern plantations where they were often subjected to horrific, unfair, and unjust treatment. Thankfully, documentaries such as “Roots” have made the public well aware of the tribulations of the South.

Though slavery is also documented in the Bible, slavery in Biblical times was different. It was not race-based; it was often voluntary servitude; kidnapping was punishable by death; and slaves who escaped were to be housed and protected by those who encountered them.

St. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[1] This is the foundation of the U.S. legal system, which despite its cognitive dissonance of the past has always valued individualism, equality, liberty, and justice for all.

In 1776, the founding fathers of the U.S. stated the following in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”   

Despite our pledges and our awareness of our past, some still harbor racist views towards black people. This is witnessed anytime anyone waves a Confederate flag, which is the war flag of the South from its fight against the North during the U.S. Civil War in the 19th century. To me, this flag does not symbolize Southern nostalgia or pride, though some claim it does. Why fly a flag that reminds people of the way their ancestors were treated so viciously in the past? Thankfully, in recent days, NASCAR has banned the flag from its races. NASCAR has finally acknowledged why so many of its patrons were flying the flag, which is a visible showcasing of racism.

Up until 1964, when Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was passed, the United States suffered from racist discrimination in the workplace. Title VII prohibited discrimination against race, religion, color, national origin, or sex. No longer could bosses make promotion and hiring decisions (or other decisions) based on a person’s race. In 1968, the Fair Housing Act was passed. This Act (and another in 1975) prohibited redlining, which is when lending institutions used race as a basis for excluding people in certain neighborhoods from receiving loans. Some have claimed redlining continues today, but studies that have found disparities in today’s bank loans have failed to account for credit scores or income, which lenders use to make lending decisions. People with poor credit scores or low income are less likely to be able to obtain loans to buy houses because lenders may fear they won’t have the ability to pay the loans as their income or histories strongly suggest.

Despite legal protections, some have claimed that racism persists, providing evidence in studies showing statistically significant preferences for less “ethnic-sounding” names. Names are important. They have been associated with expectations of intelligence, job success, and popularity.[2] Studies have found discrimination against Turkish-sounding names in Germany, foreign-sounding (versus native) names in Sweden, and Arab names in the Netherlands.[3] In the U.S., scholars have found that resumes with the first names “Emily” and “Greg” were much more likely to receive callbacks than resumes with more ethnic-sounding names like “Lakisha” and “Jamal.”[4] Criticisms of this study have suggested the names may be references to social class rather than racism. These critics have suggested hiring discrimination based on preferences for middle or upper classes over those who are impoverished. They’ve suggested the need for studies with names associated with lower class whites, such as “Bubba,” “Fern,” or “Ricky Bobby.” Some have found that discrimination is not found in resumes with ethnic-sounding last names such as Washington and Jefferson verses white-sounding last names like Thompson and Anderson.[5] Yet not everyone may associate these names with races.

Taken together, these findings suggest discrimination in the U.S. may not be at the level of race so much as at the level of class. It seems that people may discriminate against those of the lower class.

So what is behind class distinctions in a country where the American dream is owning a home and the pledge is for equality of opportunity for all? In America, “rags to riches” stories abound and people tend to glamorize those who’ve escaped from their inner-city circumstances to achieve and thrive. In sports, business and universities, we find numerous overcomers. Everyone loves the story of the person who’s capitalized on his or her talents and reaped many rewards. That said, people don’t like the story of the people who bury their talents or don’t take accountability or responsibility for their own actions. This is not about those who can’t get out of their circumstances. This is about those who’ve given up too early, attributing their problems to the “system.”

Everyone makes choices. Some choose education. Asians and Jews are well-known for pushing their kids to succeed academically. Perhaps these pushes over time have contributed to their higher average intelligence quotients. The beauty of this choice for other minorities is the universities often weigh race and class to ensure those in the harshest circumstances have the opportunities to thrive. Who doesn’t love the stories of the kids in the inner cities who’ve studied very hard to get out of their circumstances and have landed admissions at Harvard, Stanford, or MIT?  

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2018, the median annual household pay for high school graduates is $46,073. The median pay for those with some college is $57,807. Households with a Bachelor’s degree earn am average median pay of $93,533. Pay for advanced degrees is even higher. Education matters. The Parable of the Talents suggests our Lord wants us to invest our talents by advancing ourselves.

The U.S. Census has also found disparities in family compositions. In 2019, 25 percent of white families were managed by single parents while 65 percent of black families had single parents. Crimes are disproportionately committed by this population.[6] The economic challenges for families with a parent who must both manage the home and bring in an income are monumental. Usually the mothers are managing these families, so kids are without father figures who can serve as appropriate role models. These challenges at home may lead to a vicious cycle where people keep choosing to have kids out of wedlock, enhancing the chances of poverty.

So, what can we do to improve these situations? We should be aware of class discrimination and racist decisions. We should also encourage the family unit and education. Finally, we should encourage that everyone seeks the Lord for help in discovering our talents. We’re all given talents and we need to invest in them as they are our Lord’s investment in us.  

By: SJ Thomason, Ph.D., Business Administration.

[1] Galatians 3:28

[2] Bruning, Polinko, Zerbst & Buckingham, (2000)

[3] Derous, E. & Ryan, A.M. (2012). Documenting the adverse impact of resume screening: Degree of ethnic identification matters. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 20(4), 464-476. Carlsson, M., & Rooth, D. O. (2008). Is it your foreign name or foreign qualifications? An experimental study of ethnic discrimination in hiring. Discussion Paper 3810. Bonn: Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA). Kaas, L., & Manger, C. (2011). Ethnic discrimination in Germany’s labor market: A field experiment. German Economic Review, 13, 1–20.

[4] Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2004). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination. American Economic Review, 94, 991–1013.

[5] Darolia, R., Koedel, C., Martorell, P. & Perez-Arce, F. (2015). Race and gender effects on employer interest in job applicants: new evidence from a resume field experiment. Applied Economics Letters, 23(12), 853-856.

[6] MacDonald, H. (2020). The myth of systemic police racism. Wall Street Journal. June 2.

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