Distress of the Privileged

November 15, 2013Doug Muder

Post image for Distress of the Privileged

Editors Note: This essay originally appeared at The Weekly Sift

In a memorable scene from the 1998 film Pleasantville (in which two 1998 teen-agers are transported into the black-and-white world of a 1950s TV show), the father of the TV-perfect Parker family returns from work and says the magic words “Honey, I’m home!”, expecting them to conjure up a smiling wife, adorable children, and dinner on the table.

This time, though, it doesn’t work. No wife, no kids, no food. Confused, he repeats the invocation, as if he must have said it wrong. After searching the house, he wanders out into the rain and plaintively questions this strangely malfunctioning Universe: “Where’s my dinner?”

Privileged distress. I’m not bringing this up just to discuss old movies. As the culture evolves, people who benefitted from the old ways invariably see themselves as victims of change. The world used to fit them like a glove, but it no longer does. Increasingly, they find themselves in unfamiliar situations that feel unfair or even unsafe. Their concerns used to take center stage, but now they must compete with the formerly invisible concerns of others.

If you are one of the newly-visible others, this all sounds whiny compared to the problems you face every day. It’s tempting to blast through such privileged resistance with anger and insult.

Tempting, but also, I think, a mistake. The privileged are still privileged enough to foment a counter-revolution, if their frustrated sense of entitlement hardens.

So I think it’s worthwhile to spend a minute or two looking at the world from George Parker’s point of view: He’s a good 1950s TV father. He never set out to be the bad guy. He never meant to stifle his wife’s humanity or enforce a dull conformity on his kids. Nobody ever asked him whether the world should be black-and-white; it justwas.

George never demanded a privileged role, he just uncritically accepted the role society assigned him and played it to the best of his ability. And now suddenly that society isn’t working for the people he loves, and they’re blaming him.

It seems so unfair. He doesn’t want anybody to be unhappy. He just wants dinner.

Levels of distress. But even as we accept the reality of George’s privileged-white-male distress, we need to hold on to the understanding that the less privileged citizens of Pleasantville are distressed in an entirely different way. (Margaret Atwood is supposed to have summed up the gender power-differential like this: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”)

George deserves compassion, but his until-recently-ideal housewife Betty Parker (and the other characters assigned subservient roles) deserves justice. George and Betty’s claims are not equivalent, and if we treat them the same way, we do Betty an injustice.

Tolerating Dan Cathy. Now let’s look at a more recent case from real life.

One of the best things to come out of July’s Chick-fil-A brouhaha was a series of posts on the Owldolatrous blog, in which a gay man (Wayne Self) did his best to wrangle the distress of the privileged.

The privileged in this case are represented by Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy, who stirred up a hornet’s nest when he denounced the “prideful, arrogant attitude” of those who support same-sex marriage, saying that they “are inviting God’s judgment on our nation”.

His comments drew attention to the millions that Chick-fil-A’s founding family has contributed to anti-gay organizations, and led to calls for a boycott of their restaurants.

To which his defenders responded: Is tolerance a one-way street? Cathy was just expressing the genuine beliefs of his faith. As an American, he has freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Why can’t gays and their supporters respect that?

“Nothing mutual about it.” Self starts his post by acknowledging Cathy’s distress, but refusing to accept it as equivalent to his own. Cathy is suffering because people are saying bad things about him and refusing to buy his sandwiches. Meanwhile, 29 states (including Self’s home state of Louisiana) let employers fire gays for being gay. There are 75 countries Self and his partner can’t safely visit, because homosexuality is illegal and (in some of them) punishable by death.

The Cathy family has given $5 million to organizations that work to maintain this state of oppression. Self comments:

This isn’t about mutual tolerance because there’s nothing mutual about it. If we agree to disagree on this issue, you walk away a full member of this society and I don’t. There is no “live and let live” on this issue because Dan Cathy is spending millions to very specifically NOT let me live. I’m not trying to do that to him.

Christian push-back. That post got over a million page views and (at last count) 1595 comments, including some push-back from conservative Christians. Self’s follow-up responded to one commenter who wrote that he supported Chick-fil-A as

[a] company with a founder who speaks for what seems to be the minority these days.

In other words, I specifically feel BASHED by the general media and liberal establishment and gay activists for simply being a Bible-believing Christian. From TV shows, movies, mainstream news and music, so much is Intolerance of my conservative beliefs. I am labeled a HOMOPHOBIC and a HATER. … I neither fear nor hate homosexuals.

Self brings in a blog post by Bristol Palin, in which she scoffs at an interviewer’s implication that she might refuse to have a gay partner on “Dancing With the Stars”.

In their simplistic minds, the fact that I’m a Christian, that I believe in God’s plan for marriage, means that I must hate gays and must hate to even be in their presence.  Well, they were right about one thing: there was hate in that media room, but the hate was theirs, not mine.

… To the Left, “tolerance” means agreeing with them on, well, everything.  To me, tolerance means learning to live and work with each other when we don’t agree – and won’t ever agree.

Like Bristol Palin, Self’s commenter sees himself as the victim of bigotry. He isn’t aware of hating anybody. He just wants to preserve the world he grew up in, and can’t be bothered to picture how others suffer in that world.

He wants dinner.

Aesop II. Self answers with a story: a sequel to the Aesop fable of the mouse who saves a lion.

[A story is] the only way I know to address some of these things without resorting to words that hurt or offend, or shut down discussion.

Aesop’s tale ends with the mouse and the lion as friends, but Self notes that they are still not equal: The Lion is King of the Jungle and the Mouse … is a mouse.

In Self’s sequel, the Lion hosts the Kingdom Ball, to which mice are never invited, because they disgust many of the larger animals. Nothing personal, the Lion explains to his friend, it’s just the way things are.

At this point, Self breaks out of the story to explain why (in spite of the fact that his commenter feels “BASHED by the general media and liberal establishment”) he is casting conservative Christians as the Lion and gays as the Mouse: It is not illegal to be a Christian in any state. You can’t be fired for Christianity. Christians may feel bashed by criticism, but gays get literally bashed by hate crimes. Christians may feel like people are trying to silence them, but the Tennessee legislature debated a bill making it illegal to say the word gay in public schools. (The senate passed it.)

There is a vast difference between being told you’re superstitious or old-fashioned and being told you’re an abomination that doesn’t deserve to live. There’s a vast difference between being told you’re acting hateful and being told God hates you.

I’ve been gay and Christian all my life. Trust me: Christian is easier. It’s not even close.

Leonine distress. But does the Lion have reason to be annoyed with the Mouse? Of course. The Mouse is making trouble by asking to go where he’s not wanted. The Mouse is “prideful” for expecting the rules to change to suit him. However, Self admits that the Lion probably doesn’t hate or fear the Mouse.

I don’t think you hate me. I certainly don’t think you’re afraid of me. Neither is Bristol Palin. She probably even has LGBT people she calls friends. She just disagrees with them about whether they should be invited to the party (the party, in this case, being marriage).

But here’s the problem: the basis of that disagreement is her belief that her relationships are intrinsically better than ours. 

There’s a word for this type of statement: supremacist.

Ah, now we get to “words that hurt or offend”. Here’s what he means by it:

Supremacy is the habit of believing or acting as if your life, your love, your culture, your self has more intrinsic worth than those of people who differ from you.

Self sees a supremacist attitude in the commenter’s

sense of comfort with yourself as an appropriate judge of my choices, ideas, or behaviors, … unwillingness to appreciate the inherent inequality in a debate where I have to ask you for equality … [and] unwillingness to acknowledge the stake that you have have in your feeling of superiority rather than blame it on God.

[The third point is one that is not made often enough: A lot of interpretation and selective reading is required to find "God's plan for marriage" in the Bible. Did that doctrine arise on its own merits, or because it rationalizes heterosexual supremacy?Elsewhere, I made a similar point about right-wing Protestants' adoption of the bizarre Catholic ensoulment-at-conception doctrine: Anti-abortion politics came first, and theology changed to rationalize it.]

Now let’s finish the fable: Uninvited, the Mouse crashes the party. The shocked guests go silent, the Lion is furious, and the ensuing argument leads to violence: The Lion chucks the Mouse out the window, ending both the party and the friendship.

The lesson: Supremacy itself isn’t hate. You may even have affection for the person you feel superior to. But supremacy contains the seeds of hate.

Supremacy turns to hate when the feeling of innate superiority is openly challenged. … Supremacy is why you and Bristol Palin have more outrage at your own inconvenience than at the legitimate oppression of others.

We can talk about the subjugation of women later, honey. Where’s my dinner?

George Parker’s choices. All his life, George has tried to be a good guy by the lights of his society. But society has changed and he hasn’t, so he isn’t seen as a good guy any more. He feels terrible about that, but what can he do?

One possibility: Maybe he could learn to be a good guy by the lights of this new society. It would be hard. He’d have to give up some of his privileges. He’d have to examine his habits to see which ones embody assumptions of supremacy. He’d have to learn how to see the world through the eyes of others, rather than just assume that they will play their designated social roles. Early on, he would probably make a lot of mistakes and his former inferiors would correct him. It would be embarrassing.

But there is an alternative: counter-revolution. George could decide that his habits, his expectations, and the society they fit are RIGHT, and this new society is WRONG. If he joined with the other fathers (and right-thinking mothers like the one in the poster) of Pleasantville, maybe they could force everyone else back into their traditional roles.

Which choice he makes will depend largely on the other characters. If they aren’t firm in their convictions, the counter-revolution may seem easy. (“There, there, honey. I know you’re upset. But be reasonable.”) But if their resentment is implacable, becoming a good guy in the new world may seem impossible.

Only the middle path — firmness together with understanding — has a chance to tame George and bring him back into society on new terms.

Privileged distress today. Once you grasp the concept of privileged distress, you’ll see it everywhere: the rich feel “punished” by taxeswhites believe they are the real victims of racism; employers’ religious freedom is threatened when they can’t deny contraception to their employees; English-speakers resent bilingualism — it goes on and on.

And what is the Tea Party movement other than a counter-revolution? It comes cloaked in religion and fiscal responsibility, but scratch the surface and you’ll find privileged distress: Change has taken something from us and we want it back.

Confronting this distress is tricky, because neither acceptance nor rejection is quite right. The distress is usually very real, so rejecting it outright just marks you as closed-minded and unsympathetic. It never works to ask others for empathy without offering it back to them.

At the same time, my straight-white-male sunburn can’t be allowed to compete on equal terms with your heart attack. To me, it may seem fair to flip a coin for the first available ambulance, but it really isn’t. Don’t try to tell me my burn doesn’t hurt, but don’t consent to the coin-flip.

The Owldolatrous approach — acknowledging the distress while continuing to point out the difference in scale — is as good as I’ve seen. Ultimately, the privileged need to be won over. Their sense of justice needs to be engaged rather than beaten down. The ones who still want to be good people need to be offered hope that such an outcome is possible in this new world.

  • Thom Jones

    Unfortunately, as many of the Corporatists or People of Privilege are of the psychopathic brand, no amount of words will win over these “privileged.”

    • Nekeisha

      This is a pretty fatalistic way of looking at human being, in my opinion. I certainly wasn’t born with the level of consciousness that I have now, and it was words–words in books, words from people I love and trust, words from strangers who made sense, words of Jesus–as well as lived witnesses that has moved me steadily from a place of ignorance to a place where I am passionate about (and learning more about) resisting injustice. Twelve years ago, lots of people who consider themselves to be Jesus Radicals now were “psychopaths.” If we don’t think we can help individuals change, what hope is there for changing large nebulous and monstrous systems that can’t be convinced of anything?

  • truebador

    What a timely article! Thank you for this gift Doug. I simply cannot remember the last time I read something that hit home in such a clear way. It is really difficult to know how to be a good person in this day and age but those of us who are trying are on the right track. I identify with the Pleasantville father on a certain level and also with his wife who has embraced a higher consciousness. I think that ability to feel how both sides feel is a big step in overcoming some of the privileges that hold us back. All this makes me wonder if anyone has thought about putting together something like a privilege manifesto? Perhaps something along the lines of 12 Marks of the New Monasticism.

    • Nekeisha

      Thanks truebador. What I found so profound about this article is that it spoke to both of my realities. As a woman of color from an immigrant background, I understand experience of oppression profoundly. And while I don’t believe that embodied knowledge should be dismissed or taken lightly, I also know I have not always thought in complex ways about how I am privileged in relationship to others who do not share my sexuality, for example. That is why I appreciate intersectionality and metaphors like “web of oppression.” It is crucial to be thinking about the ways my multiple identity markers are working for and against me at any given time. It is also critical to be thinking about the ways various unjust systems support and connect to one another. When we view these oppressions in isolation, we can miss the ways we are being complicit in harming others.

  • Privileged gay Christian

    What arguments like these so miss is context. “Privilege” in one area is not true in every area.

    What is true on Wall Street is not true in the Ivy League classroom.

    So say you’re a gay Christian who is “side B”.
    You get called “just like a KKK member who admits he is attracted to a Black woman”
    You are told that you have “sentenced yourself to a life of repressed loneliness under the guise of religion.”
    You are told that people like you “cause gay teen suicide.”
    Flip the responses and you have harassment which drives people to suicide. Say it to me, you’re fighting against a privileged institution and someone who has internalized bigotry.

    So I’m a middle class Christian and, no, I don’t like seeing the rate of homelessness for GLBT youth. I don’t believe in bullying. I am for Civil gay marriage. I ask my friends not to use “gay” and “fag” and other derogatory slurs. My Church donates to shelters for teens on street– regardless if they “adhere to our teaching” on human sexuality or not.

    But because I believe Jesus is the Lord of my life, including my sexuality, and that same-sex and extra-marital sex cannot be part of that plan, I am responsible for gay suicides? I don’t preach this teaching, yelling at non-Christian gay teens. I live it.

    Arguments like this ignore even the possibility that different situations exist in different areas. My opinion may be tolerated in Christian circles (where still a lot of prejudice exists even on BEING gay–even if one is not in a relationship) but would never be tolerated in an Ivy league school and is even controversial on my Southern liberal arts campus.

    Your point is taken about “paying attention to scale” (of infringements on one’s person) but don’t for a moment think that any person is more pure than another. We are all capable of “oppressing” one another. If you do not believe a minority group can become the same sort of oppressors as they were rising against, I suggest you look at every revolutionary movement (where “subverting the powers that be” quickly turns into the same oppression under the excuse of “protecting the revolution”).

    While men, for example, have generalized and overwhemlingly unfair privileges in society, why should that mean issues like a greater mortality rate, risk of mental illness, or education inequality be ignored because of men’s historical social dominance?

    We can’t afford to ignore any injustice–even if it is injustice created in the face of, and in opposition to, greater injustice. That’s my problem with “well, let’s help those privileged people just get over it– there’s bigger problems.” It ignores genuine problems at best and can be vindictive at worst.

    • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

      I hope people look at this article so they can read your (much more valuable) comment. Very well said. And, from what I can see here, very well lived. You have my respect and admiration.

    • guest

      “privileged Christian’s” argument is saying privileged groups/ individuals can be oppressed by non privileged groups. This line of argument leads to the theory of “reverse racism” among other defensive postures used by privileged groups to re-victimize oppressed peoples

      Unfortunately this comment typifies a lack of familiarity with privilege theory and a troubling attempt to revictimize oppressed peoples. “privileged gay Christian” is using “context” as a way to discredit a discussion of privilege on a social scale. We know for example, that people of color and women are the most marginalized and likely to be impacted by poverty and violence. While it may be true that there is a self identifying male person of color who is president that doesn’t negate the fact that people of color are under privileged in general. And while it may be true there are many poor whites in Appalachia that doesn’t change the fact that white males and white cisgendered culture is privileged.

      Privilege theory acknowledges that individuals within an oppressed and or marginalized people group may be viewed as integrated or “passing” by the dominant white cisgendered culture. By virtue of “passing” those individuals may be more privileged than those who are not “passing.” So there is an understanding of how an individual without privilege may attain some amount of privilege within white cisgendered culture.

      .

      Well, suffice to say I have many problems with “privileged Christian’s” comments that I won’t get into.

  • guest

    Hi,
    With respect to God we are all in the same bin, that is the bin of the needy… We need redemption, we need salvation, we need conversion, we need mercy, we need forgiveness. But it is an injustice to regard my heterosexual relationship with my husband (particularly our sexual relationship) the same as an homosexual relationship. Me and my husband are in need of God, homosexuals too. But to regard marriage between a man and a woman the same as a homosexual relationship is wrong and it does no one any justice.

  • JDav

    Excellent article.

  • http://newaustralianwineskins.wordpress.com/ John T.

    An associated issue beyond matters of degree is the question of who defines what disadvantage is, the advantaged or the disadvantaged?

    For example, colonial society might define “justice” as everybody’s right to participate equally in colonial society on colonial societies terms. However colonised indigenous people might define “justice” as a return of tribal land and the right to live traditional lifestyle.

    I guess there is a similar issue with gay marriage. Does the marriage norm define what sexual justice is? Does sexual liberation mean all people are free to engage in monogamous nuclear families just like the heterosexual norm or does it mean freedom to define ones own sexual practice and relationships? Is justice simply inclusion into mainstream norms or is it the extinguishment of condemnation and harassment of non-normative lifestyle?

  • truebador

    Looking back this week on the 50th of JFK’s assassination I’m so very saddened by the lack of progress we’ve made in overcoming the blight of racism in this country. Everywhere I look I see the bright future that could have been realized if Kennedy had survived the 60′s. Merton and King would have certainly helped the cause as well. It just breaks my heart to look back on that turbulent decade and think what might have been. I truly believe we as a country were privileged to have Kennedy as president for those brief three years if for no other reason than the way he seemed to intuit the holy spirit by ushering in the civil rights movement. But to look back on how far we’ve come and pat ourselves on the back for The Civil Rights Act and Affirmative Action does little to quell the feeling that so much more would have been accomplished had he lived to complete a second term. Perhaps this article and others are helping us to remember. I highly recommend James W. Douglass’ “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why he died and why it matters.” Mr. Douglass has been involved in the Christian nonviolence movement and the Catholic Worker Movement for many years.

  • From Manhattan Declaration

    Dear Friends,

    Thanksgiving is an opportunity to reflect on our blessings. It is an important exercise that brings to the fore the main things, reordering priorities and granting perspective. Yet sometimes Thanksgiving leaves me feeling lousy — and not just because I ate too much!

    During the Pilgrims’ first winter at Plymouth, starvation, exposure and disease took a tremendous toll. Just 44 of the original 102 settlers survived to see spring. This small band desperately tried to stay warm while confined to the cold, damp Mayflower or in crude wooden structures erected in the mud. Few families were spared the death of a beloved father, mother, son or daughter.

    I have never suffered so. And I wonder, “Do I really understand what it means to be thankful?”

    Many who have been richly blessed with family, freedom, health, wealth and opportunity feel the same way. We know God delights in blessing us, and we know our blessings do not come at others’ expense. We understand the special responsibility we bear to be a blessing to others through generosity and charity. And we know the pursuit of suffering for its own sake is not a Christian calling. So why do we feel so lousy?

    For me, it is because I long to respond in kind to God’s blessings. Like the dying man in the film Saving Private Ryan, I want to earn the rich life I inherited.

    Have you ever been close to someone who had a hard time receiving a gift or accepting a helping hand? The idol of self-sufficiency is a prevalent god, a sin that boils down to pride. This life came to me through the unimaginable suffering and hard work of the generations that came before. Mustn’t I do something to deserve it?

    That is the lie that must be thrown out. There is no space for guilt or self-condemnation. To accept our heritage and its fruits is to receive a providential gift — and to gain perspective. After all, the wonders of 21st century America are but a fraction as magnificent as the life Christ freely offers to all, a life we cannot earn and do not deserve.

    This Thanksgiving I am committed to rejecting the lousiness. I refuse to doubt that God loves me, that he has blessed me, and that there is nothing I can do to repay him. I will accept his gifts with gladness, and I will be thankful.

    Sincerely,

    Eric Teetsel, Executive Director

    • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

      “…we know our blessings do not come at others’ expense…” Really? What makes you so sure of this?

      It seems like Thanksgiving, with the sad history that followed it, proves that your statement is not always true. Very often horribly untrue.

      • from Manhattan Declaration

        Brother Paul, I find the majority of the posts and discussion here to be a reflection of pop culture, adapting to fads instead of the everlasting values of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. My post was an invitation to praise God for the many blessings he has bestowed upon us while living into the Christian faith. I don’t sense that there are too many Jesus Radicals who are seeking to live out the Gospel and praise God. Perhaps I’m wrong, I hope so.

        • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

          I notice you didn’t answer my question…

      • Guest

        If our blessings came at the expense of others then they are truly curses in disguise. But if they are true blessings then they come from God, who gives freely to all.

        • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

          “…then they are truly curses in disguise.” You’re right about that.

          Much of the wealth Christians in this country justify as “blessings” is really a curse to them, making it harder for them to follow poor, homeless Jesus.

          • IHOP

            We’re told throughout the NT that Christian believers will be blessed both spiritually and materially. (Philippians 4: 19, 3rd John 1:2) I know you probably hate the health and wealth preaching but that doesn’t mean you can just dismiss the parts of the Bible you don’t like.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            Yes, definitely. I’m often accused of emphasizing the blessing promises too strongly, insisting we should be experiencing those right now.

            The thing is, it’s Jesus who shows us what that spiritual and material blessing from God looks like. That’s not hoarded wealth while others starve, needing armed police to guard it. Jesus was powerless and (monetarily) poor, but had everything he needed and a life of freedom, showing God’s generosity to those who depend on him.

            Again, that’s totally different from the “blessing” that comes through oppression and plunder and legal inheritance that keeps wealth in the hands of the powerful few.

          • Guest

            Monetarily poor maybe but politically powerless???? No way, Jesus was a master politician. His parables were politically loaded metaphors whose main purpose was to leverage power.
            If any of this discussion is serious about confronting privilege where it hurts we must be willing to leverage power. For starters we need to start advocating for women, people of color and non cisgendered people when they seek positions of power. We need to network with allies to promote movements which actively seek to move political power into the hands and voices of non- privileged peoples.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            I see that Jesus could have leveraged political power, as he did have a popular following (temporarily, until they got to know him better). It seems to me very revealing that I do not see him actually using the political power he could have used. He seems to have intentionally avoided using that kind of power.

            Do you have some specific examples where you see Jesus leveraging political power?

          • http://newaustralianwineskins.wordpress.com/ John T.

            How’s this for political leverage and a popular following?

            Jesus began his movement by preaching in Galilee synagogues, in the heartland of resistance to Rome. He then joined John’s extra-temple Baptism movement that we are told the whole of Israel was participating in. He held mass meetings in Galilee followed by a speaking tour of Samaria. Then he lead a mass march from Galilee to Jerusalem where he confronted the religious and political elite. He was crucified but after his death, according to the book of Acts, thousands more joined the movement, Jerusalem turned to God and the Samaritan nation turned to God. A short time after the crucifixion. according to Josephus, the united Hebrews of Galilee, Samaria and Jerusalem rebelled against Rome, evicted the Roman armies and established indigenous self government.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            This is the one example I see in what you say that could be interpreted as a “political leverage” action by Jesus (though it seems far from clear that Jesus organized anything but a donkey): “Then he lead a mass march from Galilee to Jerusalem where he confronted the religious and political elite.”

            And the results of this “leverage”? From what I read, it caused the political leaders to delay a bit before they had him crucified. That doesn’t indicate much political power to me (or Jesus chose not to leverage it).

            This is straying further from the point of the article here. If you can find a way to bring it back, I’ll continue the discussion.

          • Guest

            It is revealing that privileged classes and individuals tend to think of Jesus as non political or giving up power whereas those who are not privileged as much may tend to see Jesus’ ministry as a way to attain power both personally and communally (Black Liberation Theology as one such example).
            You are right, privilege is political power and both are important, denying their importance is something privileged groups/ individuals tend to do as a way to change the topic away from their unwillingness to address the power dynamics.
            Quite frankly your argument against granting the underprivileged more political power because it’s full of temptations and evil sounds like a theology that romanticizes poverty and becomes a default argument for social inequity and the maintenance of privileged power relations.
            A theology of anti political, quietism and passivity is a privilege that many people of color, women, non- able bodied, non- cis gendered people cannot afford.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            An argument romanticizing poverty is hypocritical and promotes inequity only when those preaching it do not embrace poverty themselves. If political power and wealth are indeed evils, then those preaching this should reject those evils for themselves (not just for the poor). This is what Jesus did. And this does address the power dynamics.

            You speak quite freely of what the less privileged believe and what they “cannot afford.” Yet I know they do not all fit your ideological model for them. Many, many have with great faith followed the example of the anti-political (power), pacifist Jesus.

          • Guest

            “An argument romanticizing poverty is hypocritical and promotes inequity only when those preaching it do not embrace poverty themselves”
            I disagree, I think it’s the epitome of hipocracy when white people from privileged backgrounds romanticize poverty and tell poor people that they should keep on being poor if they want to be Christians.
            It’s hypocritical even if privileged white people embrace poverty because their poverty is a decision to refute some of the privilege they were born with. There are certainly privileges that go along with being white and male that cannot be refuted or renounced.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            Of course you’re welcome to your opinion. But it doesn’t seem relevant here as no one is “telling poor people that they should keep on being poor if they want to be Christians.”

            I agree: “There are certainly privileges that go along with being white and male that cannot be refuted or renounced.” I don’t think those unrenounceable privileges need to be renounced (or felt guilty about), just as Jesus didn’t renounce being male or Jewish in his male- and Jewish-dominated society.

          • Guest

            Guilt is part of the process of understanding privilege, it’s not the destination but it’s part of the journey.Another part of checking privilege is doing the work to understand how our identity(ies) empower or disempower us. If a white male for example is unwilling to do this work it’s difficult for them to understand how their privilege oppresses others in ways that are not often obvious to those with privilege. And as far as I know Jesus was a Jew in a Roman dominated society.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            Okay, I can accept guilt as “part of the process.” I just don’t see anyone getting past that part, just more lamenting and repenting. So what’s the next step? Is there one? Because I hear people (including you) saying there is no way to renounce your privilege, and that this privilege oppresses others. So it sounds like there’s no choice but to continue to oppress others by our identity (unless of course the society changes, which isn’t happening any time soon)? Which seems to lead back to endless guilt. And that’s what I keep hearing from people.

            p.s. yes Rome ruled Judea, but the society was not Roman but overwhelmingly Jewish, which heavily impacted the lives of the women living there, the Samaritans, the lepers, etc.

          • Guest

            I wouldn’t say that I’m fixated on privilege, I’ve done the work to become conscious of privilege dynamics and language so I am sensitive to the issues. I want to be clear that some people who have also done privilege work reject the idea that guilt is part of the process of checking privilege, they see it as an extension of white privilege.
            I believe guilt can be a part of the process and can be a rather long and tedious part of the journey but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. Hopefully those who do the work to become conscious of privilege will move onto acceptance of their privilege (own it) and learn to check it when it is used in an oppressive way and use it to empower those who are not privileged.
            I think Jesus’ example can be seen as empowering those who were oppressed in his society. And I think his identity as a Jewish male under Roman Law is much more akin to being a person of color in the US than being a white male in the US.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            “…when it is used in an oppressive way…” So then, say, white male privilege is not necessarily oppressive, depending on how it’s used?

            I agree Jesus helped empower the oppressed. I just don’t see him doing it with human power, political power. Jesus empowered them by offering them the power of God, which he himself demonstrated again and again, and which didn’t depend on gathering money or organizing large groups of people. It was the gift of God, available immediately, to anyone. And much greater than the power of the rulers or owners (or any other “privileged” people).

          • http://newaustralianwineskins.wordpress.com/ John T.

            We are told in the new testament that the poor will receive material blessing, not everybody. The good news is for the poor.

            Jesus told the rich ruler that he must sell everything he had and give it to the poor and when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. Jesus is not good news for the rich.

      • Guest

        But I ask: Is the Cross then a blessing or a curse? Didn’t it come at the expense of the Son of God? So then, what is it?…

        • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

          A blessing to those to whom freedom was given by the free choice of Jesus. A curse to those who sought to profit by killing him (and cared nothing about his freedom or his suffering). They sunk deeper in their bondage.

        • Guest

          Therefore, at least on one instance ( maybe more), a blessing can come at the expense of another(s)

          • http://www.markvans.info/ markvans

            That is the exact logic that is used to perpetuate empire. If the Gospel isn’t good news for the oppressed, it isn’t the Gospel.

          • IHOP

            What’s wrong with empire, God has blessed some nations with vast land and wealth throughout history? That’s not our place to judge which nations are worthy. Can’t the gospel be good news for everyone, not just “the oppressed?”

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            You’re just playing with words. The cross was “at the expense” of Jesus, perhaps, but he chose to offer that. Freely, as a gift. The “at the expense of others” that people are objecting to involves resources and service that were taken by force, by violence, hoarded and guarded by force and violence, pressing those others down into poverty and slavery.

        • Guest

          I’m contemplating all of these mysteries in my heart and, out of amazement, I’m talking outloud… God bless.

  • Sandra Jones Smith

    Very deep, technical thought regarding self perception?

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