This year’s word is “unprecedented.” As we encounter challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic impact of the quarantine and unresolved race and justice issues, we’re drifting into new territory that is uncharted and unstable. If Facebook memes are any indication, the end of the world could be next week.
The speed and power with which the recent racial protests have surfaced have troubled many. The vehemence and violence of the tensions have suddenly erupted as if these problems appeared out of thin air. The reality is that these issues have been simmering underneath the surface for years. Only our myopic cultural bias has kept us from seeing the inequalities and discrepancies all along. The monochromatic social bubble of America is bursting, and the first instinct is to protect and defend that bubble. Herein is the problem.
Much has been said in recent weeks about privilege, particularly “white privilege.” Most whites despise this language, while people of color argue that the uncomfortableness of the phrase reveals the deeper social problem. Today, I want to talk about privilege, but not privilege related to a particular skin color, but what privilege is and how Christians can use it.
Privilege is social advantage. Privilege is power. As such, advantage and power can be used or abused. In and of itself, power is neither good nor evil. On the one hand, power is easily corrupted and used for self-interest and promotion. History would unfortunately show that those with privilege (often white people) typically perpetuate their advantages. On the other hand, power can be leveraged for the good of others, even at the personal expense of one’s own privileges. History would also show that such leaders can make a real and positive difference for others.
As follower of Christ, advantage and power are to be used to benefit others. Proverbs 31:8-9 says to “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.” In Philippians 2:3-5, the humility of Christ is highlighted as the model for the use of power: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
Racial justice, equality and reconciliation happens when those with power use it to defend, bless and empower those without it. A powerless person cannot enact and sustain needed social changes. But when loving Christians (regardless of race) use their power, advantage, influence and authority for justice, equality and reconciliation, transformations inevitably come and the kingdom of God advances.
Do whites have white privilege? Yes. But this direct answer eclipses the more significant and productive question: Regardless of your race, how will you actively use the privilege, powers and advantages you do have? Your ears can listen to the concerns of the disadvantaged. Your voice can speak for those without power. Your voice can speak power to power. Your influence matters.
At the end of the day, we should genuinely apologize for our abuse or neglect of privilege that perpetuates our comfortable status quo, especially at the expense of others. Positively, we should actively leverage our influence for the benefit of others. Jesus Christ, the human with the most power ever, used it to serve, suffer and lift others up. He once said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Our privilege as Christians is to love and serve — and even suffer — for the good of others.