Evangelicals and Progressives, let’s dialogue about privilege

Evangelicals and Progressives, let’s dialogue about privilege January 15, 2021

Among the many misunderstandings between Evangelicals and Progressives, the idea of “privilege” is high on the list.

As our country grows more and more polarized, we Christians are participating in the mudslinging just as much as anyone else. Evangelicals are lining up mostly with political Conservatives, while Christian Progressives are mostly siding with political Progressives and Liberals.

My brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be so (James 3:10).

As I’ve scrolled through social media the last few days, and read carefully through comments on my post in which I called for dialogue, several patterns and themes have caught my eye. One of them is the differing ways we define privilege.

Much of what I read refers to Conservatives, but I will use “Evangelicals” here, since we are in a religious forum – not that the terms are interchangeable, but I see a great deal of overlap.

(Disclaimer: I realize that my descriptions and assumptions about Evangelicals here are not representative of all members of that group. Everyone is unique. The whole reason for this dialogue is so that we can understand each other in a more nuanced way, so if you feel that I characterized you unfairly, please comment! Expand my knowledge. And expect that, when I feel misunderstood, I will bring it up too. If you’re interested in this type of dialogue, subscribe to my newsletter!)

Evangelical understanding of privilege

Harry and others suggest that privilege is something that Progressives have. Progressive politicians and the media especially have (in Harry’s words) a “megaphone,” and they use it to “manipulate and oppress society for their own worldly political gain.” One form of manipulation is the labeling of Evangelicals as “racists, sexists, ‘phobes of various sorts, etc.”

These Evangelicals object to such labels – but even more, they object to the worldliness of the Progressive agenda. Evangelicals want all people to have privilege (not just Progressives) – Kingdom of God privilege. This is the only privilege that “truly matters.”

Classic definition of privilege

The Evangelical take on “privilege” is not conventional. Peggy McIntosh (among other things, an activist and author) gave us a definition years ago, and it has become mainstream:

Privilege: a set of unearned assets that a white person in America can count on cashing in each day but to which they remain largely oblivious.

Those last words are key: people with privilege aren’t generally aware they have privilege.

If this definition doesn’t make sense, watch this video, or this one (or any of dozens of other similar clips) that illustrate the idea of privilege.

You didn’t watch a video, did you?? I knew it! Ok, one more chance – don’t be lazy now. This video is less than a minute long. Watch it. I’ll wait.

Finished? Good.

If you are white, and/or male, and/or cisgender, and/or middle class+, you are privileged. That’s not a slur, it’s not an accusation. It’s a fact. Your life has had fewer barriers than people who lack those those traits. That’s not to suggest you didn’t work hard.

 

We had a Black president, but that doesn’t mean every Black child could become President. Obama had some privileges (and, no doubt, some luck) that enabled him to go far. If you look at his early life, you will find that he was a hard worker – but that wasn’t the only factor in his success.

He grew up middle class, in a family that valued (and could afford) education, and had what could be described as a culturally rich upbringing. Obama went to some of the finest schools and was noticed by influential people. The rest is history.

“Privilege,” then, refers to those factors in our lives – some of us have more than others – that make it easier to be successful. (If you still don’t understand, you didn’t watch those videos, did you? You have one more chance – scroll up and do it!)

Privilege is not having the most cable news channels on your side (biggest “megaphone”) – but it is what gets more white men and pretty blonde women on television, and fewer people of color, or heavyset or older women.

Being progressive might give me privilege in some situations – for example, I might be hired for a certain job because my paradigm matches that of a progressive employer; or I may be be voted onto my school board if I live in a progressive district. But in a hiring situation with a conservative employer, or in a conservative school district, being progressive is a liability.

Bottom line: Progressives are not “privileged” because they’re Progressives. (Still don’t believe me? Ask any unemployed Black Progressive.)

To my white Evangelical friends: does this make sense? Can you see why Progressives say you have privilege? Can you see how “white privilege” is not fake news? If not, please push back. Let’s continue to dialogue.

Let’s not talk in generalizations though! Please don’t say, “Progressives manipulate and oppress society.” Be specific.

For example, if whiteness does not carry privilege, can you explain why more people of color are poor and in prison than white people, or why more people of color are killed by police than white people?

“Kingdom of God privilege”

Harry and others have expressed their longing for all people to have the privilege of being part of God’s Kingdom, and that is a lovely sentiment.

But, as I commented to Harry in my previous post,

People who don’t know Jesus need Jesus. People who are physically starving and don’t know Jesus need food AND Jesus.

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15-16)

When Progressive Christians push hard to get more government services for the poor, it’s not because we want to manipulate and oppress Conservative Christians. It’s because we hate to see deep poverty in a prosperous country. It’s because when people don’t have to live from meal to meal, they can begin to overcome the generational poverty that has made them underprivileged – in many cases ever since the Emancipation Proclamation.

It is puzzling for Progressive Christians to see Conservative Christians who don’t want these things.

So let’s keep talking. Let’s understand each other better.

 


FEATURED IMAGE: “white privilege” by EliasSchewel is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


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7 responses to “Evangelicals and Progressives, let’s dialogue about privilege”

  1. Kathryn. The most privileged group in western nations is the Progressive Left.

    And to use the words of the Leftist Peggy McIntosh, “people with privilege aren’t generally aware they have privilege”, I consider Peggy’s words more accurately apply to the most privileged group in society, that being Progressive Left.

    The Progressive Left are conveniently unaware of their status as the most privileged group in society.

    They dominate the megaphones of society (mainstream media, academia, Hollywood, FB, Google, politics, corporations, etc) and thus control public debate/thought.

    Privileged Progressives control public debate, hence they are first and foremost responsible (through their hatefully divisive identity politics, etc, they’ve been pushing over the past decade) for the polarized and fractured society we see today.

    How does Progressive Left privilege play out?
    Their position of power result in censorship by their Leftist comrades the Big Tech oligarchs who target Conservatives, Evangelicals, etc for opposing the “Wokeness” of the privileged Progressive Left.

    The privileged Progressives oppressive Cancel culture results in Conservatives or anyone who does not submit to “political correctness” to lose their jobs, denied jobs/contracts, their businesses forced to shut down, constant violence or death threats to family members and pets, etc, etc.

    Too often I hear people indicating fear about making a valid and logical observation about aspects of society, simply because of the abusive Cancel culture of the privileged Progressive Left that has been escalating over the past decades.

    The former liberal Left Tammy Bruce described the political Left’s divisive identity politics as the “tactic of fanning the flames of resentment.”

    Tammy described it as:
    “Twist any and every event under the rubric of human relations into an assault on women, blacks, gays…and exploit it. If [the event doesn’t fit,] then an appropriate incident must be invented to remind your constituents of their victimhood.”

    Kathryn. You asked why are more people of color in prison, etc?

    It’s because the privileged Progressive Left have long been “fanning the flames of resentment” keeping people of color down through a victimhood mindset (as admitted by people of color themselves).

    In addition, these people of color in prison, etc too often lack the Father+Mother family privilege that lays a good foundation for life (as is also admitted by people of color).

    Kathryn. I suggest you listen to people of color outside the Progressive Left bubble. Whilst it’s good that you’re starting dialogue with an individual like me to hear another’s perspective, I suggest you go further and listen to people of color like Candace Owens, Larry Elder, etc also.

    BTW, you quoted James 3:10, but that is in regards to teachers preaching blessings (gospel of grace) and cursings (righteousness by works of the law), as the context indicates. This theme of not mixing grace with works of the law (Romans 11:6) is described in many different ways in the Bible.

    And just a reminder to all here, I’m non-denominational. I’m not an Evangelical.

  2. As we see, the white right is very paranoid. Progressives, who usually are ignored even within the Democratic Party, are somehow persecuting conservatives? But then, keep in mind that conservatives think they’re persecuted if they can’t discriminate against gays, force Christianity into schools and government, and deprive tens of millions of health care access.

    The white right no longer even articulates policies or platforms. They only whine about imaginary persecution. Listening to them is like reading science fiction. It is not connected to reality on this planet.

    As for Christianity, I look in vain for any validation for white-right politics in the Gospels. Still haven’t found anything… I do find Jesus asserting that treating people well is of primary importance, I read that he warns the wealthy that their riches could block their path to salvation. Still looking for where he says billionaires should have massive tax cuts and the poor should be blamed for their own povery, à la Reagan. Nope, nothing.

  3. Unfortunately, once again, an opponent of these claims about white privilege made the usual broad generalizations and ad hominem cracks instead of citing enough evidence to force the “left” to re-think their position. Buddy, there’s no getting around the evidence in government and social-agency reports, or in these videos (Did you watch the videos?) Jesus himself calls for humility, for some bridling of the ego. Surely the beneficiaries of American race and class privilege can afford to answer this call?

  4. A few decades ago, we “leftists” used the term “institutional racism”, where now it is popular to say, “white privilege”. I think our term is preferable as it actually describes the structure of racism and privilege: it is institutional! “White privilege” asserts that this racism exists, but the term itself provides no explication at all.

    I’m labelled as “white”, though I do not share in the mainstream “white” culture of the USA simply because my life experiences and education have not been those of the “white” mainstream. Nonetheless, I am very aware of how much better the Police treat me because of my pointy nose, brown (now also grey) hair, green eyes and relatively light coloring, than they treat black people, Mexicans, etc. This is not because some leftist source propagandized me to believe that; it is because I have experienced it firsthand countless times.

    I recall in Sunday School in the Methodist Church they’d have us sing a song: “Red or yellow, black or white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Well, if Jesus loves all those people, perhaps it would behoove the Christian Right (who seems to be always wrong) to actually get to know some of them, find out what they experience, see things from a perspective other than their own very isolated whites-only world.

  5. Yes, knowledge is power, the saying goes, and once one is actually knowledgeable about people by knowing them, it is difficult to hate them for their group identity. Right after 9-11, in a rural California town, I went into the Subway knowing that the owners were a Hindu couple from India, and I asked them, are you having problems over this? Yes, the man told me. People keep coming in demanding, “Are you Ay-rabs?” He would respond, “No, we are Hindus, from India.” Then the redneck in question would demand, “Is that Ay-rab?” Knowing people really makes a difference, you are so right. I’ve known a lot of Persians and Iranian Jews. I was walking across campus with a Persian woman and omg I couldn’t believe the harassment to which she was subjected! White males, entirely, were yelling insults, usually including, yet again, some anti-Arab nonsense. She said she endured this abuse every day on campus. Pointing out that Iranians aren’t Arabs would have made no difference, since they hate Iranians, too. Well, all these events are of a kind with my experiences with white racism directed against blacks, Jews, Mexicans and others, and it’s ignorant and unacceptable in any case.

    I was raised a white Yank, by parents who were moderately racist, who specifically (especially my mother) did not like Hindus, Jews, Native Americans, Arabs and blacks. I was fortunate, however, in having had significant contact with at least the blacks and Jews when young, and so even as a child I came to the realization that the bigotry against those people was bogus, evil, unacceptable, and I was able to extend that understanding even to people whom I did not know. So as a teenager in the 60’s I was very much in favor of Dr. King, Malcolm, the BPP, etc. Well, as an adult I’ve had a lot of friends from all over, from Senegal to Iraq, from Brazil to India and I can only have the same message for all people: do what Jesus taught, treat others as you’d be treated, the same injunctions are present in Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, etc., and that has to be the starting point: mutual respect, a desire for peace, a hatred for injustice.

    Well I could preach this all day, sorry.

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