Living In and Stepping Out of Privilege, Part 1

Justice“Justice is our worship in action.”  These are the words of Mark Reddy, Executive Producer of The Justice Conference, and I am only beginning to learn what they mean. Many have gone before me and I want to learn, so it was for this purpose that a week and a half ago I joined over 2,500 Christians in Chicago for The Justice Conference 2015. Birthed in 2010 by Ken Wytsma (Antioch Church, Bend, OR) and Stephan Bauman (World Relief), The Justice Conference commits to presenting leading voices – both nationally and internationally – with the goal of impacting a generation for justice. The theology behind the conference is simple: “an understanding of God should compel love for others and engagement in justice.”

Speakers at the conference included Eugene Cho, Louie Giglio, Bob Goff, and more, with panel discussions on race and reconciliation that hosted a diverse group of male and female church leaders, advocates, and reconcilers from around the country. Pre-conferences allowed attendees to interact on a more intimate level with great thinkers, professors, and leaders on the topics of Race & Reconciliation, Global Poverty, and Human Trafficking. With several simultaneous satellite viewings of the conference around the United States and two other conferences throughout the year in Hong Kong, China and Melbourne, Australia, the reach of the conference is wide and makes it one of the largest biblical and social justice conferences in the world.

With so many people of different ethnicities and backgrounds presenting different opportunities to engage the world from their unique perspectives, there was a lot that was thought provoking. For me, there is one topic that continues to rise to the surface as relevant both to our nation and to my particular area of the country, the South, specifically Atlanta and her metro suburbs. I walked away from this year’s Justice Conference with a better understanding of privilege and how, as a follower of Christ, that means I am to engage the world.

Privilege is certainly a buzzword and causes many to bristle at its mention. It often comes off as an indictment, an accusation. It feels threatening, and nobody is comfortable with that. What was most helpful to me in understanding privilege was a discussion on what privilege is not.

  • It is not an attack, either individually or corporately. It is about something larger and is not personal.
  • It is not about blame. You did not create it or cause it.
  • It is not discounting individual struggles and barriers.

Privilege is recognizing that certain people from certain groups have relative advantages. Families with more money have more options when it comes to education. Men often have more opportunities in the workplace than women. If you are part of the majority culture or race, it is possible that you have been able to go through life without recognizing that what you perceive to be normative and cultureless is experienced by people of minority cultures as something quite distinct. This is what Daniel Hill, a pastor in Chicago and moderator of a panel discussion on race, calls our own “racial-cultural identity.” He says, “because white culture and the dominant, overall culture of America overlap to such a high degree, it’s hard for many of us who are white to understand and embrace our own racial-cultural identity.” It is as the common phrase goes – the fish cannot describe the water he swims in even if he tried. It is biblical to see every person as made in the image of God and as part of his handiwork (Ephesians 2:10), so there is no shame in being part of the majority culture. However, those of us who are part of the majority must recognize that despite the challenges we have had, how hard our family members worked for us, and how hard we have worked ourselves, there are people in our country who have had a harder time at accomplishing the same achievements based simply on their skin color. To be in the majority is an enormous advantage and with this comes the responsibility for those of us who fall in this camp to steward that advantage for service to the kingdom of God, which includes recognizing our privilege and aligning ourselves with those who have been oppressed.

For Christians, understanding our culture and engaging it has been a challenge since the days of the early church. In his enduring work titled Christ & Culture, Richard Niebuhr calls this struggle “the enduring problem.” How do we understand Christ’s call to love God, love our neighbor, and tell about the kingdom of God? These are complex and nuanced answers. Through events like the Justice Conference and the diverse voices speaking into my life helping me to see my blindness, I am finding that a crucial first step must be for me to recognize my privilege and lay down my rights. I am encouraged by the words of Racial Reconciler and conference speaker, Austin Brown, who said, “This is hard work. This is daily work. This is messy work. And you can do it.” Most importantly, we have a God who is a God of justice and He will make things right. I pray, as believers in Christ who are one with Him and with each other, we would have the humility and courage to do the hard work necessary to obey and join Him.

 

Lindsey Yoder is the mother of two and a student at Reformed Theological Seminary Atlanta.

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  • Susan Sheffield

    Excellent commentary and reflection. I, too, have realized that we are not born on a level playing field. Those who are privileged have an obligation to help those who have less in regards to their resources and/or disabilities. I commend Mrs. Yoder for bringing this issue to the forefront. Not only do the poor need the privileged, but the privileged need the poor.