There’s no denying that there are a handful of Evangelical churches that largely shape and control the American Christian culture.  You can probably think of a handful of them right off the top of your head.  Those churches have contributed much to the Kingdom and this post is not an attempt to argue whether their success is God-driven or marketing-driven.  Regardless, many necessary issues/concerns have been addressed by churches like this and they honored and glorified God in the process.

The focus of this post is the danger of having too much dominance over a culture and how the systems that govern many of these churches may be contributing to a larger problem that will impact our faith for a long time to come.

When any group rises to the top it is often accompanied by a sense of privilege.  It’s the “Good Ol’ Boys Club” mentality.  And, it often happens without its members even knowing it.  As a result of one group believing it is privileged another group consequentially is oppressed by the very nature of this belief system.  I have and you do not.

In other words, if dominant groups, in this case, larger affluent churches, really saw privilege and oppression as unacceptable – if white people saw race as their issues, if men saw gender as a men’s issue, if heterosexuals saw heterosexism as their problem – privilege and oppression wouldn’t have much of a place in the future of the church.  But that isn’t what’s happening.  Dominant groups don’t often engage these issues, and when they do, it’s not for very long or with much effect, and rarely do they address the systemic causes.

When asked “Why not?” certain responses pour out without hesitation.  These dominant church don’t see privilege as a problem.

  • Because they don’t know it exists in the first place.  They’re oblivious to it.  The reality of privilege doesn’t occur to them because they don’t go out of their way to see it or ask about it and because no one dares bring it up for fear of making things worse.  They also have no understanding of how their privilege actually oppresses others.
  • Because they don’t have to.  If you point it out to them, they may acknowledge that the trouble exists.  Otherwise, they don’t pay attention, because privilege insulates them from its consequences.  There is nothing to compel their attention except, perhaps, when a school shooting or sexual harassment lawsuit or a race riot or celebrity murder trial disrupts the natural flow of things.
  • Because they think it’s just a personal problem.  They think individuals usually get what they deserve, which makes the trouble just a sum of individual troubles.  This means that if whites or males get more than others, it’s because they have it coming – they work harder, they’re smarter, more capable.  If other people get less, it’s up to them to do something about it.
  • Because they want to protect their privilege.  On some level, they know they benefit from the status quo and they don’t want to change.  Many feel a sense of entitlement, that they deserve everything they have, including whatever advantages they have over others. 
  • Because their prejudiced – racist, sexist, heterosexist, classist.  They’re consciously hostile towards blacks, women, lesbians, gay men, the poor.  They believe in the superiority of their group, and the belief is like a high, thick wall. 
  • Because they’re afraid.  They may be sympathetic to doing something about the trouble, but they’re afraid of being blamed for it if they acknowledge that it exists.  They’re afraid of being saddled with guilt just for being white or male or middle-class, attacked and no place to hide.  They’re even more afraid that members of their own group – other whites, other heterosexuals, other men – will reject them if they break ranks and call attention to issues of privilege, making people feel uncomfortable or threatened.

Although doing the right thing can be morally compelling, it usually rests on a sense of obligation to principle more that to people, which can lead to disconnection (injustice) rather than to restorative justice (reconnection).  I take care of my children, for example, not because it’s the right thing to do and the neighbors would disapprove if I didn’t, but because I feel a sense of connection to them that carries with it an automatic sense of responsibility for their welfare.  The less connected to them I feel, the less responsible I’ll feel.  It isn’t that I owe them something as a debtor owes a creditor; it’s rather that my life is bound up in their lives and their in mine, which means that what happens to them in a sense also happens to me.  I don’t experience them as “others” whom I decide to help because it’s the right thing to do and I’m feeling charitable at the moment.  The family is something larger than myself that I participate in, and I can’t be a part of that without paying attention to what goes on in it.

Maybe that’s where we start…paying attention to all the members of the family.  No just the few in my club that look like me.  But, it can’t end there, as it usually does.  We must share resources, breach cross-cultural barriers, take risk, and sacrifice if the church is to ever be what God intended for it to be.

Where do you see privilege in your community?  Where do you see oppression?  What conversations do we need to start?  How are our youth being shaped by privilege and oppression?

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excerpts taken from:

Privilege, Power, and Difference by Allan G. Johnson

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