I am writing this post as an outsider looking into a world view that is vastly different from mine. I have to admit, I am a white, middle-class, highly educated, male who has been raised in that environment. I don’t apologize for being that person, but admit I have a privileged perspective on life. Over the years while working with Intimate Partner Violence Prevention and treatment providers I came to realize that the typical guy who was described at trainings and conferences as the problem, was me. Privilege was our way of operating. I did not understand what it was like to be cautiously approached because of the color of my skin. Only once in my life have I been randomly pulled over and had my drivers’ license checked. I have not worried about being rejected in a job because of my gender, dress, or ethnicity. Even more we took for granted that others had to struggle just to be considered for opportunities I expected to receive.
I also found out from friends that being a white guy who tried to quote Martin Luther King Jr. and speak out for oppressed groups was not always appreciated. I guess it seemed pretty presumptuous to assume that I could fight for peoples’ rights, when I had little understanding what it meant to be oppressed. My only experience of oppression is to have heard the voices of those who have suffered. I have listened over the years to men and women share their stories and it has hurt to hear their pain and yet know I was part of the problem. Yet, by their grace and love they helped us to see that we can all be part of the solution.
In addition to this I am thankful to the many who have guided us in their journey by encouraging us to join them in addressing rights, justice, and oppression. However, in doing this I have learned that identifying and addressing my own privileged attitudes is key to joining others in the struggle for love, equality, respect, and justice.
Am I comfortable pointing the finger at myself, and others like me, and admitting to the changes that must be made?
There is a danger to doing this. If we begin with ourselves we are many times criticized for being “anti-male,” “male bashing,” “anti-white,” or “pandering to the whims of those who need to stop complaining.” Yet, is it wrong to admit our own problems and work to change behaviors that are wrong?
It happens every time I:
- Complain that women seem to want to be accommodated in the work place
- Walk up the stairs without asking how those with disabilities would make it
- Argue that directors and actors of color maybe just weren’t good enough to be nominated this year…
- Deny that people of color shouldn’t complain for being harassed by the police
- Argue that being politically correct is another attack on white individuals
If silence is what we expect from those different from us, then maybe that is why we have been silent over injustices in our country, churches, and neighborhoods. Martin Luther King wrote:
“I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: ‘Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.’ In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: ‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.’ And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.” Why We Can’t Wait, 90.
He points the finger at men like me. As a church leader, have I used my position of power and authority to speak out on these issues? I hear many ministers claim that “social justice” is not a Christian calling, yet maybe Dr. King is right. Is it acceptable in the Lord’s sight to be silent on an issue that contributes to the oppression of humans? Is the Gospel (Good News) simply a bullet point list of steps to one’s spiritual salvation, while a generation continues to be ignored because of gender, skin color, physical and mental state, ethnicity, or religious choice? Does the Gospel change lives only, or a culture?
Today is not only a great day to celebrate the birth of a great man, it is a good day for those of us in the position of privilege to repent and ask for transformation. It is a day for us to listen and maybe share with others the voices of those who suffer. As fathers, it’s also a day for us to model for our kids, the courage of justice and grace.
I recently finished an excellent book entitled Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community by Leah Gunning Francis,
a professor at Eden Seminary in St. Louis. The book discusses the murder of Michael Brown and the response of clergy during the firestorm of protests in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, MO. I was amazed at the courage of many of the African American male and female, as well as more liberal church clergy during the protests. Ministers would form a barrier between protestors and police and pray, silencing much of the conflict. I was impressed with the love, support, and courage of Christians during these tumultuous times.
I later emailed Dr. Francis and asked, as a white conservative male minister, what was the response of the mainline conservative Evangelical church leaders during this time. Her response, “Unfortunately…Their voice and witness has been largely absent.”
May we remember the pain that brought awareness to this day, but may that pain and witness transform us to be courageous servants of Jesus.
May our voice and witness be present today and everyday forward!