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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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Station 9 – Jesus falls the third time

At the ninth station before the cross we again see Jesus’ knees buckle beneath him as he falls to the ground to a chorus of weeping and cheering. As he falls for the third time, we are painfully aware that Jesus could have chosen an easier path with far less resistance. We are drawn toward the path of least resistance–the path with the least levels of friction and discomfort. Jesus willingly chose the hard way. In Matthew 7, Jesus tells the crowd that has gathered to listen to him:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Jesus never invited masses of people into his orbit by promising them comfort in life and bright days ahead. Instead, he talked about difficulties, narrow roads and opposition from friends and family as what was ahead for those who were crazy enough to take him seriously and live like he lived. AJ Swoboda writes about this difficulty of deciding to live in a way that takes Jesus seriously:

If they say yes, we look at them with a sense of genuine compassion, and then with all of our strength, we should punch them square in the face. Then we should say, “Welcome to the kingdom of pain. This thing sucks. Hope you’re ready.” And we should do that because following Jesus is hard.[1]

The third temptation of Jesus in the desert contrasts this third time that he falls to the ground in exhaustion on his way to Golgotha. In the desert, Jesus has been drawn out into the wilderness and is left in deep vulnerability, humanity and weakness. The Gospel of Matthew chronicles this experience with three temptations. The third temptation of Jesus is as follows:

Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Power and weakness are in stark juxtaposition here. In the desert, Jesus reorients our understanding of power and the political realm by resisting Satan’s offer. Jacques Ellul is worth reading here at length:

Jesus does not represent a-politicism or spiritualism. His is a fundamental attack on political authority. It is not indifference concerning what politics can be or can do. It is a refusal of politics. Jesus is not a tender dreamer gliding in the sky “above politics.” He challenges every attempt to validate the political realm, and rejects its authority because it does not conform to the will of God. Indeed, this is given precise confirmation by the account of the Temptations. The third temptation in Matthew’s account is the one in which the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and tells him, “I will give you all these things if you prostrate yourself and adore me.” Jesus responds with a refusal to adore him.

He does not refute what Satan says. He does not tell him that these kingdoms and political authorities are not Satan’s. No. On the contrary, he is in implicit agreement. Satan can give political authority but the condition for exercising political authority is adoration of the power of evil. That is the consistent and unique teaching of the Gospels.[2]

Jesus’ life ends in such hands of political power and evil. How much easier Jesus’ life would have been had he simply given in while in the desert. One’s life gets increasingly difficult in correlation to the extent that one resists empire. Jesus makes it clear that his life is one of resistance to empire. His calls for non-violence, his actions in direct opposition to the religious establishment and his questioning of and non-compliance with authority would ultimately earn him an execution by the state in the ultimate denial of self. But Jesus did not do all these things as an end in themselves. His resistance was others-oriented. He resisted oppressive structures that he could have comfortably lived his life in spite of or in ignorance of.

As Jesus approaches closer and closer to the cross, we must ask ourselves what is really going on here? What, if any, are the connections between the move to deny ourselves and pick up our crosses and participation with empire and systems that hurt and dehumanize people, making them secondary to our pursuit of luxury.

Prayer: God, may I be aware of the systems of oppression or injustice which I am a part of or gain privilege from. May this awareness move me to action that is oriented toward a more just and equal earth community.

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1. A.J. Swoboda, Messy: God Likes it That Way (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012), page 39.
2. Jacque Ellul, “Anarchism and Christianity,” Katallagete 7, no.3 (Fall 1980), page 20.