Wrestling With Privilege

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Published with permission. This post originally appeared on the YALT blog

This month marks the end of my first term as an Elder at Sanctuary. I’m stepping down and making way for new people to take on the mantle of leadership at our church (I’m excited we will have an almost entirely female council this coming year!).

In one of my first YALT posts after being installed as an Elder, I asked for prayer for myself, for our church leadership, and for the leaders of every church. I’ve been grateful for the support I have received during my time in office, I’ve certainly needed it! As I wind down my time though, I find myself regretting the things I didn’t have time to do, or didn’t properly appreciate the importance of.

I have spoken with other past elders and heard them express similar feelings. But it’s not struggling to make my house visits or some other stated duty that I regret falling short on during my service as an Elder. Rather, my deepest regret is that I did not advocate more for, nor amplify the voices of, marginalized and ostracized minorities while in office.

Just before the presidential election I wrote for YALT and argued that our faith is not placed in the civil government of any country, but solely in Christ. A faith rooted in grace, service and love as demonstrated by Christ himself. Yet empire and power remain tempting idols. Beginning at Synod 2016, and continuing through the US presidential election, I have seen fellow Christians advance messages of bigotry and racism, sometimes in the name of political power, sometimes in the name of dogmatic purity, sometimes seemingly just out of spite and fear of the other. I’ve heard terms like “clarity” and “biblical” used in arguments to defend positions that are hard-hearted, even hateful. I’ve heard people, laity and clergy, speak of unity and righteousness in our politics and our denomination, and then manipulate people and processes for vicious, divisive ends.

Until recently, I’ve been inclined to take the path of “when they go low, we go high", believing it was enough to trust that history and demographics, even scripture, were on my side. If only we wait this out, things will be different in the future. But hate cannot be driven out with passivity, patience and politeness. Even when fighting back in love, action is required. And sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, that action requires some cost of us. For too long I have left already marginalized people to bear the brunt of that cost. As a white, Christian, cis-hetero, male, I have privilege in our society. As an Elder and a Dutch man in the CRC, I have privilege in our denomination. My privilege affords me a significant amount of capital to spend advocating for people expressing fear and pain in response to the actions of our society and our denomination. I will not, cannot, remain politely silent.

In the Pacific Northwest, I don’t often encounter people who seek to marginalize women, people of color, or the LGBT community, at least not openly. I more often find myself surrounded by fellow Christians who live out the expansive grace I know. We want to remove preconditions and litmus tests that form roadblocks between Christ and non-believers, lapsed believers and even those who have rejected the church outright. We desire this not because we believe the life of faith should be easy, but because we believe it is only in relationship, with soft-hearted hospitality, that we bring others into deep and lasting transformative discipleship with Christ and other believers.

Going forward, as individuals and church communities, we cannot be silent. We are not that ignorant or naive. Nor can we be self-righteous and distant in the face of suffering and injustice. To do so puts us in league with the Pharisees. We must ask hard questions and speak and act prophetically. Yes, we will stumble and err at times, and even in the liberal, progressive Pacific Northwest we don’t have all the answers. But I want the church to be known as a place that has love and compassion for the widow, orphan and stranger. That is known as safe and hospitable to the outsider. Whatever it looks like, however we pursue it, I want my church to choose to wrestle honestly with questions of privilege and injustice, and then learn to look at our callings to make and be disciples of Christ with fresh eyes. I want to challenge you: How will you do this in yourself, in your church, and in your community?

(If you’re curious what starting this conversation sounds like at my church, check out the 1/1/17 sermon at Sanctuary)

I am proud to be an Elder that says all are welcome at this table. I am proud to welcome widows, orphans and outsiders into my family. I believe God’s grace and love are greater and more expansive than I can imagine, and that His ways are often beyond my understanding. Faith and life are messy, but I don’t know anywhere in the Bible where Christ elevates ritual cleanliness and piety above the messy but absolute reality of His love for everyone. The gospel is grace, Christ is love.

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Jonathan:  I have to ask, and intend these questions respectfully:  So why didn't you?  And a second question: Why can't you now, even if not an elder?   And finally, What specifically do you believe you so failed to do?

Doug,

As I said in the post, I didn't think it was necessary for me to be more vocal. Maybe that's the bubble I live in, maybe it was naivety with how the parliamentary system of our denomination works. And while there is a lot I can still do and say as a member of a CRC, I cannot, for example, be a voting member of Synod as a non-office bearer.

If you want a more specific example, my Classis sent a rather mundane overture to Synod related to the Pastoral Guidance Committee report. It was not until I arrived at Synod that I found out you cannot serve on a Synod committee if your Classis has an overture before that committee. I would have spoken much more vocally at our Classis meeting had I known this. I assumed that since the "real" debate would be at Synod, there was no point in making a fuss at the level of our Classis. At least as a delegate to Synod, I was grateful I got a chance to speak on the floor there.

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