Recently there was a visitor to one of our services that felt I had made some comments during the service that would be offensive to people of color. I have learned to take criticism seriously and did quite a bit self-examination about the matter. My comments came as I talked of the youth that were willing to be violent and destructive in order to bring attention to their social concerns. The visitor was someone who was doing a very good work with inner city youth, mostly of color. They suggested that I didn’t know enough about white privilege to be speaking about the behavior of these minority young people. Having worked in the jail ministry for thirty four years where I had dealt with poor and disenfranchised youth who had turned to crime and addiction, I could understand the compassion and concern of my friend. I also had grown up poor and lived on more than one occasion in the poverty area of Louisville, Ky. I certainly was not offended by the challenge that they posed to me about what I really understood about people of color and their struggles. Our church is multi-racial. We have attendees of different color and I would not want them offended by a misplaced comment from me as the pastor. I have some thoughts to share about my own experience concerning the racial struggle that the church must deal within our current culture.
The issue of white privilege has surfaced as a rally cry for those who feel our nation is still flawed by prejudice and oppression of minorities. They look at the poverty and crime statistics and conclude that because people of color have a higher percentage of population living below the poverty level and make up a larger percentage of those convicted for crimes that the problem resides with the white population. I am not going to try and take a position on that issue. I may not have the life and professional experience to decide if there is white privilege or not, but I do have a lifetime of experience teaching Biblical principles. I know that all the debating, protests and fighting over what is to blame for the social stress we all feel has only served to create division, anger and retaliation. There was a time when it was easy to see the political and social reasons for discrimination and reasonable people agreed to fix those problems. Today there are so many conflicting and confusing elements concerning social justice issues. Those being blamed do not feel they have done anything to harm others of any color while those who feel disenfranchised keep telling them that they have.
I’m not sure anyone can pull American citizens back together or be able to discuss real issues without being condemned for political correctness by the current means being employed. I want to suggest that we consider privilege from another perspective. I want to introduce you to the term “American privilege”. What is American privilege? I grew up under the poverty level. My parents were hard working and loving people. They made some decisions based on their desire to help others that limited our household income. My parents never let the lack of money cause their children to believe that we couldn’t chase our dreams. I participated in any school functions that I desired. I attended the University of Kentucky and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. How was this possible? Because of American privilege. Through the years I have spoken with many foreign missionaries about the conditions that oppress people in other countries. They use the phrase often that “only in America” can a poor person of any color can rise to greatness. American privilege is the opportunity for all children to obtain a free public education. High school graduates below the poverty level can work for academic scholarships and obtain free grants to attend college or trade schools. Young people who are willing to work and lift themselves above bitterness and blame can still achieve success. Exceptional character is still noticed by others.
It breaks my heart to see people disrespect the flag during the national anthem. They do have the freedom to protest and exercise their right of free speech to bring attention to a social justice issues but do they realize what they are saying by their method to express themselves? They are saying that there is no American privilege. They are dishonoring the very people who died for their freedom. Those who feel oppressed or disenfranchised should celebrate the national anthem as a symbol of hope. They should celebrate free speech and freedom of assembly. They should celebrate a country where there are so many citizens that would stop and consider the conditions their neighbors live in. Instead of drawing positive attention and empathy to their social justice concerns, those who dishonor the flag alienate and discourage others who can’t understand what they have done wrong.
Is it possible that there is also such a thing as “majority privilege”? In any culture and nation there is going to be a racial, religious and economic majority. The majority of the population will have the greater influence on cultural standards, elections and other social factors. American leaders and social institutions have become increasingly consumed with asking the majority to sacrifice its values and interests to accommodate minority populations. The majority has historically been willing to do that for people of color but in recent years the majority has been labeled the bad guys. They have been mandated through political means and court rulings to forsake their traditional values to accommodate minorities that are identified by behavioral traits instead of unchangeable features like race. Most of the population in the majority believe in social justice for all and race has become less of a factor in their assessment of others.
There is one more category of people that must be discussed and that is those who have “Christian privilege”. Freedom of religion is a critical part of American Privilege. Christianity is the true religion of peace and love. It reconciles people to God and to each other. There is no color or any other social barrier between people of Christian faith. If every person believed in salvation through Jesus Christ and practiced the love, humility and compassion that is taught in the Bible, what kind of world would we have?
I can’t speak with authority about such issues as white privilege but I know that violence, revenge, blame and vindictiveness can only cause a society to fail. American privilege is still alive for all people who will work and take advantage of the opportunities that are still there. It is true that it can be more difficult for those who start out in poverty or belong to a minority but American privilege still opens the door for all, just ask the professional athletes, who are protesting the flag, that came from poor and minority backgrounds to become millionaires and successful people. I fear that the current reaction to real and perceived social injustice will bring an end to American privilege and soon after there will be an end to religious liberty, free speech and other constitutional freedoms as government will have to become more totalitarian to control a society where anarchy rules.
May we all cherish American privilege and pray for the God in Heaven to bring healing to our land.