The Well Blog

The Privilege I Never Knew I Had

November 2, 2015
Andrew Feil
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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, ESV

So much ink has been spilled recently around the racial tension that has been swamping our nation. This is politically and theologically charged stuff. I do not write this thinking I will convince you of anything, but to just share how I came to a paradigm-shifting idea of my own privilege and what it means to live and love like Jesus.

I come from Bakersfield, CA. Buck Owens. Okies (think Grapes of Wrath). Korn. Nascar (think Kevin Harvick). David Carr.

I grew up with parents who loved me and who worked hard to provide the best for our family. The best included new suburban neighborhoods, elementary school and high schools.

Growing up in the suburbs I was isolated from “the hood” (east and south Bakersfield). I was isolated from people who looked different than me. So in this environment I grew to understand what normal was. Normal was other people who looked, sounded and acted just like me.

Understanding my racial identity and the privilege that went along with it was and still is a journey, but the lights finally came on when I heard from someone who had a very different life experience than me. This person was beaten to the point of death for simply helping people register to vote. This person was pastor, writer and speaker, Dr. John M. Perkins.[1]

Perkins challenged me on two fronts:

  1. To recognize the story-arch of reconciliation (including racial) throughout Scripture
  2. To recognize the privileges that have been afforded to me by being a white middle class heterosexual male Christian, and to steward those privileges well

The term privilege Perkins used seemed to undercut my own sense of pride and hard work that had gotten the good grades and leadership awards. I worked hard for what I had accomplished!

Because of my background I had no understanding of the wonderful cards I was dealt. As Perkins and other people in Fresno later shared with me, financial backing, educational attainment, family structure, societal mobility and more were passed down to me because of my cards. Yes I had worked hard, but I also got a great deck – a deck many would dream to have.

Like most folks, I went through the “7 Stages of White Identity.”[2]

Not aware of race as a significant factor in society and assuming hard work was all that mattered, I grew up colorblind. But now I had been awoken. I had an experience, like Paul, of the scales falling off my eyes (Acts 9:18).

I then became defensive. I felt attacked for my privilege. This new framework of race and privilege then made me self-righteous. I judged other white people for their ignorance and indifference. Judgmentalism led to an overall sense of confusion and apathy of where to go from here. If this world is so broken and different, how can I, with so little understanding and influence, help?

But many conversations, and continued spiritual and personal growth have pushed me to another stage: the stage of empowerment. Knowing I will never arrive and have oh so much to learn, I now feel empowered. Empowered to live and love like Jesus. Empowered to not be ashamed of where and how I was born, but to receive grace from God, yet with a weight and responsibility to steward this gracious gift well.

I feel empowered to speak up for those who don’t have as large of a voice as me because of their skin color, gender or economic background. I feel empowered to take on the servant posture of Christ, looking not only to my own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-11). Which means I have to bear other people’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and give up my power, position or privilege, like Christ.

I write this knowing I am not going to shift your worldview, but to share how recognizing that privilege is not a giving up of your identity, but rather a taking on of Christ. To "live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together we may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That I may welcome others as Christ welcomed them, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:5-7, author paraphrase).

As a majority middle class white church, we will do well to do as Christ did, recognizing our privilege, listening to other people’s stories, and after listening, empathizing so we may serve others well.

My prayer is we would be a reconciling church that would acknowledge the power that race, class and gender have played in creating an exclusive society, and we would use our privilege to give our lives away in love and service to others. And in loving and serving well, we would point our city, nation and world to Jesus, and give them an example of what the Kingdom of God is like and what heaven will look like!



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