I recognize that I have been born into privilege on a grand scale. Even as a woman, the deck has largely been stacked in my favour, and it has taken little effort to attain economic, professional and social success.
For many years, these privileges were invisible to me. I didn’t give much thought to the privilege I was born into—the healthy meals prepared by my middle-class parents, the ease with which I attained good grades, the scholarships that helped carry me through post-secondary education. But as conversations and social movements around issues of gender inequity, systemic racism and sexual harassment became louder—or perhaps as I finally chose to listen—my eyes were opened to the truth of my privilege.
Since recognizing my privilege, and the many blind spots it has given me, I have intentionally sought to educate myself about the systemic oppression that has made life much more difficult for many groups. And yet, I recognize that learning about oppression is different than doing something about it.
In his book Subversive Witness: Scripture’s Call to Leverage Privilege, Dominique DuBois Gilliard, director of racial righteousness and reconciliation for the Evangelical Covenant Church in the United States, identifies that we participate in a world of disordered power and privilege. Privilege, he writes, is the byproduct of systemic oppression, something to which the church has often been indifferent. It is rarely neutral or benign, and almost always comes at the expense of our neighbours.
And we are called to love our neighbours, are we not?
God hears the cries of the poor and oppressed, those born without the privilege I too often take for granted. He hears their cries, and then he calls his followers—including privileged disciples—to be part of making things right. And we do so by leveraging our privilege on their behalf.
The Bible is full of examples of privileged individuals leveraging their power for the sake of others. Pharaoh’s daughter leveraged her privileged place in Egypt’s court to resist systemics in and save Moses’ life. Moses then went on to leverage his privileged upbringing to liberate an entire nation from slavery. And even Jesus leveraged his privilege when he humbled himself, making himself nothing and dying on a cross (see Philippians 2:7-8) to usher in salvation.
Leveraging privilege in the name of love for neighbouroften requires us to answer the Apostle Paul’s call to the Galatians to carry one another’s burdens (see Galatians 6:2). Esau McCaulley, a New Testament scholar and author, wisely identified in a July 11, 2022, Instagram post about racial privilege that “it is hard to be a faithful multi-ethnic church unless you are committed to … bear[ing] one another’s burdens. If one refuses to bear the burdens of the injustices others suffer, authentic community is compromised.”
Writer and educator Tracey M. Lewis-Giggetts puts it this way: “The question is whether [privileged] folks will be willing to heal, even if that healing means a loss of status, possible reduction of wealth, and certainly the sacrifice of what they’ve always believed about themselves and their [privilege].”
Carrying one another’s burdens means taking some of the other’s load upon ourselves. True solidarity costs something.
And yet, Gilliard reminds us that, while we are called to leverage privilege to further the kingdom and love our neighbour, “acknowledging privilege is not about condemnation, shaming or guilting one another into coerced actions. Christians are called to acknowledge privilege because it is real and because doing so liberates us from its power. Confronting and addressing privilege liberates us to live into our created purpose fully and freely.”
Are we, who find ourselves in positions of power and privilege, willing to leverage that which we have been given for the sake of others? Are we willing to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (see Proverbs 31:8)? Or, better yet, find a way to pass them the microphone? Are we willing to give up some of our wealth and status to allow for the healing of those who are oppressed while acknowledging that we serve a God of abundance—one who has created enough to sustain all our needs, but not our greed?
May we move beyond learning and listening toward accepting and acting, toward stewarding our privilege for the sake of our neighbour.
Captain Laura Van Schaick is the corps officer at Barrhaven Community Church in Ottawa, and the divisional secretary for women’s ministries in the Ontario Division.
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