Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Biblical Guide to Privilege

I've been thinking about the controversy stirred up by the acquittal of George Zimmerman this last week.  I don't care much about George Zimmerman nor the court system, but I am interested in how we respond to the discussion of race and privilege.

Let's face it, we live in a white culture in which whiteness, maleness, and a certain income level is the "norm" and everyone else has to prove themselves in order to make that norm.  If we can't prove ourselves, then we are suspect and worthy of fear and oppression.

The funny thing is how many people deny this is true.

Let's face it, if you are reading this blog, the likelihood is that you are privileged in some area.  And the Bible has something to say to you.

Who are the privileged?
Those who have greater resources than anyone around them, whether through birth or fate or labor. Resources could include opportunities in wealth, education, prestige, relationship, and esteem through race, sex, social class, or any other level of status as determined by society. We should remember that we are all privileged in some way, so these commands apply to all of us in some areas of our lives. If we live in the United States, even if we are among the poorest who live here, we are most likely privileged above the majority of the rest of the world.

If you have two coats and another has none, you are privileged.
If you are able to be politically active and another is not, you are privileged.
If you have supportive relationships and another does not, you are privileged.
If you have a job and another does not, you are privileged.
If you have excess time or money and another does not, you are privileged.
If you have peace when you go to sleep at night and another does not, you are privileged.
If you have clean drinking water and another does not, you are privileged.
If you never have to worry about racial injustice and another does, you are privileged.
If you belong to the majority religion of your culture or nation, you are privileged.

We are not all privileged in the same way.  For some, an area of privilege (for example, education) can erase much (not all) of the oppression an area of lowliness (such as race) gives us.   On the other hand, an area of oppression (such as poverty) could erase much benefit we have obtained some an area of privilege (such as a privileged race or sex).

But if we have an income above the poverty line in the U.S., or are educated, or have a solid social network then we have at least some areas of privilege and we need to pay attention to these following teachings of the Bible:

a. Do not boast about your privilege.
“Thus says the LORD, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:23-24

b. Do not use your privilege for primarily your own benefit.
But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.Luke 6:24-26
"The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Luke 12:16-21

c. Use what privilege and resources you have to benefit the oppressed.
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. I John 3:16-18

d. Surrender your material resources to benefit those who are needy.
Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:33-34

e. Set aside some of your privilege, so that God might raise you up.
When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this man,' and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 14:8-11

f. Use your privilege to make friends with the oppressed, God’s chosen, so that they might welcome you into God’s dwelling.
And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9

g. Welcome the oppressed into the benefits of your privilege.
And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." Luke 14:12-14

h. Use your privilege to create a context of justice for the needy and oppressed.
Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:3-4

i. Pay your workers their full wages on time.
Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. James 5:4

j. Do not cause those who are under your authority to be angry, but be at peace with all in as much as you are able.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger. Ephesians 6:4

k. Cheat no one, nor work for a company that cheats anyone of their wages. If you do cheat anyone of their meager resources, pay them back four times as much.
Do not defraud. Mark 10:19
Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. Luke 19:8-9

l. Repent of your sins—especially your misuse of your privilege— with tears.
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! James 5:1-3

m. Welcome the opportunity to be oppressed yourself, for then you will be of God’s people.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12

n. Don’t worry if you become needy through obedience to God’s commands, for God will provide for all your needs if you seek His righteousness first.
Do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing…. And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life's span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters? But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Luke 12:22-23, 25-26, 31

o. If you have taken advantage of all of your privilege for your own benefit, then God will give you a second life in order to punish you.
And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.’ Luke 16:20-25


  1. A thought provoking meditation,Steve.
    Even the under-privileged are privileged to some degree as compared with those who are even less privileged than them, and we can always find someone with even less(er) advantage than the poor guy before him. When I can make the benefits of my privilege somewhat 'available' to those less advantaged,then it is transformed into a Holy thing..a force for/of God. .. (mike)

  2. Thanks, Mike!

    I am always teaching my church that all of us, no matter how poor, are richer than others in some areas. And that we have a responsibility to help those in greater need, in the areas in which we have more. Sometimes we're the windshield, sometimes we're the bug. :)