Privilege, Kenosis and Mutuality

As increasing amounts of white male followers of Jesus awaken to the reality of our privilege––and thus power––within both the church and society at large, we are confronted with the questions of how we faithfully dislodge ourselves from power for the sake of others and what it means to live in such a space. This awakening, to the extent that it challenges patriarchal structures and well-established systems of power, will alienate you. That is, when you begin challenging traditionally held beliefs about equality, gender and sexual orientation within an Evangelical realm, you find yourself hard pressed to find a church community that is willing to entertain your questions and walk that journey with you. But I am not the victim. What is solidarity for me is another’s alienation and exclusion for simply being who they are.

Following this path through the Christian narrative has opened my eyes to the ways that fears of the unknown threaten control and power, and instigate a recoil effect that justifies and perpetuates inequality. My experiences within Evangelical circles has revealed an immense fear of being wrong. I admit that I too used to fear being wrong about particular beliefs or nuances in my theology. I thought that to get something wrong would throw my entire faith out of balance. It would pop the chain on my bicycle. It’s my assumption that this fear of getting things wrong dictates how Christians treat women and people who identify as queer with regards to acceptance, value and participation within church communities. It is far easier to operate within the bounds of safety and comfort at the risk of excluding others than it is to risk our power and certitude by and affirming the voices and experiences of those who challenge our beliefs. This fear lures us into believing that God will be displeased with us if we get this part wrong, do this thing incorrectly, or allow this other thing. This fear creates structures in which any deviation is tantamount to capsizing.

Jesus changes the story for me. And for you. I’m constantly disarmed by the Apostle Paul’s words about Jesus in Philippians 2.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death––even death on a cross.

The more I absorb these words into my being, I cannot help but to understand that having the same mind in me that was in Jesus means that I work to recognize my privilege and make attempts to dislodge myself from the ways that it silences others. My whiteness is not something to be exploited. My sex and gender are not things to be exploited. It means that I humble myself to the point of willingness to diminish my power and my voice so that others are lifted up. But this isn’t about straight white men throwing up our hands and saying, “Here! You take the reins!” This is about shared power, which is far more difficult, but far more beautiful. And necessary. Shared power demands that we play well with others. It demands that we not privilege particular voices and experiences over others. It demands that we relinquish our control over how things should be for us to remain comfortable, and instead ask, “What makes you comfortable?” and then honor that. In order to experience shared power there needs to be an environment in which all people are regarded as valuable, important and equal. But furthermore, it requires an environment where we value, trust, and allow ourselves and our theology to be shaped by the varied experiences and stories of others.

Sallie McFague talks about the Christian gospel as a “destabilizing, inclusive, nonhierarchical vision of fulfillment for all of creation.” That is the gospel of mutuality. Me fulfilling you and you fulfilling me.

I have by no means arrived anywhere beyond the privilege I benefit from as a straight, Christian, white male. I find myself at the intersection of no longer willing to tolerate Christianity’s devaluation of women and persons identifying as queer, and my own complicity in the systems and cycles that perpetuate this inequality in the name of Christianity. I recognize the irony of me arguing for these values out of my privilege and the increased weight that my words hold over the words of another saying the same things. Maybe Christianity can play a role in changing that reality.

Until then, I will do my best to honor you and your stories.

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READ: Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

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