One of the ELCA blogs caught my eye because of this single word: “privilege.” It is about time that it gets called out in public discussion.
RE: Hunger Rumblings http://blogs.elca.org/hungerrumblings/post/privilege-22112011/
I was surprised that this post, while taking two paragraphs to set a context for his observation, never connected the dots between lack of privilege, hunger and justice. People with privilege certainly a group larger than “the 1%” identified by the Occupy Movementactively resist not only the loss of their privilege but even the identification of their privilege as such. They rationalize what they have as necessity, or earned, or in their contract or as the result of doing “nothing illegal.”
There are many voices in the current strident partisanship in America who decry the sense of “entitlement” in programs for people at the bottom of society, and from that argument they are earnestly trying to unweave our badly-frayed safety net for the poor/elderly/hungry/vulnerable. Ironically, the most strident voices are themselves coming from the most privileged segment of our society.
Privilege itself has balkanized our society. It is the “elephant in the room” of political discourse on many hotly-debated matters, including federal bail-out programs, immigration reform, and access to health care, education, jobs, and criminal justice. Even the sexuality wars of our times stem from the sense of entitlement which heterosexual people typically feel gives them the right to deny equality before the law to LGBT people.
Unfortunately, a sense of privilege has long since permeated the mainline church, especially in those denominations and congregations that cater to suburban upper/middle class (and mostly white) people. This sense of privilege is a cancer which continues to attack the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus. Need we look any further than the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:312, the Parable of the Judgment (Mt. 25:3146), or the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:1931) to see where privilege or lack of privilege is found in Christs teachings?
But privileged Christians can begin the “critical self-reflection and repentance” to which Creech refers, and hopefully resist the corrosive power of privilege by seeing what we have not as privilege but as gift. It is easy to rationalize our privilege as entitlement. Before God none of us has, or deserves, privileges. But that truth should not be easily “spiritualized” as simply a matter of forgiveness or justification by grace (gift) alone. All that we are, and have, and hope to do with our lives, are gifts of God. Even that we can get up every day, and use our health and wealth productively, is a gift. We do not deserve life itself. Life is a gift.
We have all heard the lame jokes about a family sitting down to a table of leftovers where someone who thinks it is unnecessary to give thanks says “This food was already blessed once before!” But when I give thanks at each meal, it is not the food which is blessed. I am blessed that I am able, once again, to eat. So recognizing that our whole lives are gifts may help us to begin to see those all around us for whom food, health, shelter, safety, dignity and justice are all still deeply felt hungers.
Pastor Dan Hooper