There has been much written about privilege on the internet this week if you read Christian blogs. As I understand it the triggering event was an emergent leader, Phyllis Tickle, making statements as a part of a closing remarks at a conference that were viewed by some as anti-feminist. (If you want to read a few blogs that stood out to me there are these by Julie Clawson, Suzannah Paul, Rachel Held Evans, and Kathy Escobar.)
So here I am, as a Christian, a woman, reading about privilege and living as a part of the church. I try to follow Jesus and sometimes even remember to pray that I don’t suck at it, and am thankful these conversations are happening.
The discussion of privilege is one the church needs to have. We need to keep on having it. We shouldn’t stop having it. We have come a way, but we still have a long way still to go in terms of equality. Not only for women, but for children, for the elderly, for single parents, for those who have mental illness, for people of different races and cultures, for people who live in different counties that we may never meet, for people of different economic standing than our own, for people of different sexual orientations, for people of different faiths, for people who have been abused, for people who have physical disabilities, for those I am overlooking including on this list due to my own privilege and bias. I still have a long way to go.
Oh glory would be the day when as a church that the church would be a consistent leader in recognizing our own privilege and working to end dehumanization in the world. Instead of the more common dragging our feet that we do treat people equally or even worse, arguing that we don’t have to treat people equally. Glory would be the day that the church would instead be a leader in seeking forgiveness and reconciliation for the past and current wrongs. I pray that day comes.
Because as a Christian I follow a God who came to live with us. Who associated with everyone he wasn’t supposed to associate with. Who taught women (unheard of), touched the untouchable (dangerous for personal and community health), redefined who one’s neighbour is (politically destabilizing) and then told his followers to go out and love them too. Then he pushes further by saying anyone can love their friend, but if you know me and my grace I’m calling you to love not only your friend but your enemy too. He loved people in such a radical way that the privileged people who upheld the status quo in his culture wanted him killed. I pray these truths never grow stale.
Now theology is important because it frames how people live out their faith, it shapes how we do this thing Christians call the gospel. Jesus talked about theology, if you describe talking about theology as mostly telling stories. Personally, I don’t have many theological answers these days besides love God and love my neighbour. But I do know this. Jesus is a God of presence, of relationship. He lived among us in part to show this, to show us that relationship matters. To show us that presence is a gift in and of itself. To show us that serving with thought and respect is mutually beneficial.
Jesus doesn’t call us to these things for some way of earning anything, no everything he has given us is free, there is nothing there for us to earn. What I would love is for the church as a whole to see is that this calling us out into loving relationship with others is a part of the gift Jesus is holding out to us, ready to bless if we will only take it.
Jesus shows us that there is beauty waiting for us in going beyond our comfort zone and entering into relationship by loving others who have differences from ourselves, loving those who are marginalized, whose needs are different from our own, who perhaps are even our enemy. The kingdom is there, waiting for us to partake in and it is wide open with room for everyone. No cover charge. It is a place where forgiveness flows, hearts are opened and souls are healed.
Here’s how I know: it’s what I get from Jesus.
So I’ve started to follow him into relationships with people different from myself. (Of course it turns out – surprise! that we have similarities too.) Being in relationship makes it harder to hold on to my prejudices. It becomes harder to look past how a group of people you aren’t a part of is marginalized, ignored, forgotten. It can illuminate how I am contributing to their dehumanization. It can lead to understanding that cannot be achieved through argument or debate.
Through relationship with people, my own sin is exposed and it’s hard to avoid conviction. I have to lean into God for forgiveness and grace. I have to pray that I want to work with God to bring about the beauty of the all-encompassing kingdom, while living in the tension that I still often choose my own selfish desires. Although I wouldn’t have guessed it to be so, this too is a gift.
So I imagine and hope and pray that one day we will not think if we are man or woman or anything else, but simply judge how we are treating others as a follower of Jesus. (It seems this is an area of slow growth for Christ’s bride as Paul wrote something along these lines many, many years ago now.)
Imagine if this ragamuffin bunch of sinner/ saints who make up the church and love Jesus, imagine if we keep asking ourselves, do we really know people who are different from ourselves? Do we regularly go to a group where we are the minority and approach being a part of it with humility? Are we out there in relationship with the people the establishment says aren’t worth bothering with? The people who it would be easy to avoid sharing life with? The people who we don’t understand? Are we loving them like they are beloved by God? Are we choosing to partake in this gift of relationship?
What if we asked ourselves, do we know them well enough and have we listened long enough that we understand their perspective? Do we care enough that we would stand up for their issues, things that don’t affect us but are important to them? Do we feel enough connection to use our resources to meet their needs?
Do we love enough that we would bend down and write a message that brings forth peace and forgiveness in the dirt if they were surrounded by an angry mob welding rocks? Do we love enough that we would carry their cross? Lay down our life? Not for our issues but for theirs?
(Because no, not me either, not that last part, or for very many people outside the walls of my own home, not all the way. It’s hard for me yet to see that part as gift, not sacrifice, but my heart tells me it is, if I would be brave enough to face it.)
But Jesus did. He thinks humans are worth it. He is present and in relationship with us because that’s how he loves. And somehow, by the grace of God, through the sacrifice of Jesus and by joining in the dance of the holy spirit, we can join in bringing a bit more of that wholeness down to earth. Let it be so.