"We see the preferential bias for the poor clearly revealed here in Mary's Magnificat. That is not new doctrine, something liberation theology invented. It's very traditional theology.

"What does it mean? It means the people on the bottom of the system — any system — are usually much more ready to hear the word of God. Longing and thirsting for righteousness, they are more ready to stop protecting the status quo. Therefore they're much more ready for conversion. They have a head start, a symbolic if not real advantage.

"Jesus says directly, as we'll see later on, 'I've come to preach the gospel to the poor' (4:18). We've found, after fifteen hundred years in the Western church of trying to preach the gospel primarily to kings, princes, the rich and powerful, that the message always seemed to get prostituted. It liberates nobody: the powerful remain in their illusions and preoccupations with security; the poor remain victimized and often bitter.

"We are beginning to make an important discovery. When you preach to the prisoners, to the financially poor, the handicapped, to those who are not the beneficiaries of the system — then you get a much purer response to the gospel. It is not as likely to be used and abused for the purposes of control and power. I think that's why we're only now coming to deal with Jesus' words about war and poverty. As long as we continued to preach the gospel to the people on top, it was used by them merely to support their system and worldview. They never got around to dealing with the radical questions of the gospel as round in the Magnificat.

"So in the church today we speak of the bias toward the poor. We use the word 'bias' intentionally. When you own your bias, then the cards are on the table. The trouble is that those enjoying the benefits of our capitalist system will seldom admit that they have a bias on the other side. 'I don't have a bias,' American middle-class Christians seem to say. 'I just have the truth.' The rationalization of power, patriarchy and free-market economics is seldom owned, because one can't see one's own shadow side.

"What I've learned in middle-class America in my fifty years is that this bias toward the rich and powerful is seen as the truth and correct view of the world. The gospel is calling us: 'Can you be converted to leave your viewpoint, to move away from your vantage point where you are the beneficiary, where you see the gospel supporting your political worldview and economic status quo, and stand in another viewpoint?' Every viewpoint is a view from a point! I'm not saying the preferential option for the poor is the whole truth, but it is an essential truth and a starting point for the gospel Jesus preached.

"It's not an exclusive option, but it is a primary, preferred, and necessary one. Without including this preferential option we will read and interpret the gospels incorrectly, so they will support and maintain our bias. We call that 'establishment theology' because it preserve the existing power structure. It maintains things the way the are, which is usually in support of power and control instead of truth and justice.

"This current bias seems so self-evident once it's spelled out that it's amazing it has taken us so long to recognize it. If you've ever worked with poor people, you know that the people on the bottom of any system are quite aware of the establishment bias. Perhaps one of the reasons why women's religious consciousness has developed so much more quickly than men's is because women have been at the bottom of this system. People on the bottom ask different questions.

"Here I am, an ordained white American male, quite comfortable and secure teaching about this establishment bias, yet I am its ultimate beneficiary. We white males control most of this planet and probably have 80 percent of the power and possessions on the earth. White, middle-class males are one of the hardest groups to preach the gospel to. Why would they want to talk about conversion and change? Why would we guys want to change anything? We're enjoying it. We've got everything. Try to talk the gospel to the people at the top. It's next to impossible.

"Luke tells us that Jesus tried it several times; with Simon the Pharisees he failed and with Zacchaeus he had some success. Most of the time in this gospel Luke just keeps preaching to the edge — to the poor, the little ones — because they are much more ready to hear the Word of God without distorting it."