Who are the privileged?
Those who have greater resources than anyone around them, whether through birth or fate or labor. Resources could include opportunities in wealth, education, prestige, relationship, and esteem through race, sex, social class, or any other level of status as determined by society. We should remember that we are all privileged in some ways, so these commands apply to all of us in some areas of our lives.
a. Do not boast about your privilege.
“Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:23-24
b. Do not use your privilege for your own benefit.
But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way. Luke 6:24-26
“The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:16-21
c. Use what privilege and resources you have to benefit the oppressed.
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. I John 3:16-18
d. Surrender your material resources to benefit those who are needy.
Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:33-34
e. Set aside some of your privilege, so that God might raise you up.
When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:8-11
f. Use your privilege to make friends with the oppressed, God’s chosen, so that they might welcome you into God’s dwelling.
And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9
g. Welcome the oppressed into the benefits of your privilege.
And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14
h. Pay your workers their full wages on time.
Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. James 5:4
i. Do not cause those who are under your authority to be angry, but be at peace with all in as much as you are able.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger. Ephesians 6:4
j. Cheat no one, nor work for a company that cheats anyone of their wages. If you do cheat anyone of their meager resources, pay them back four times as much.
Do not defraud. Mark 10:19
Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. Luke 19:8-9
k. Repent of your sins–especially your misuse of your privilege– with tears.
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! James 5:1-3
l. Welcome the opportunity to be oppressed yourself, for then you will be of God’s people.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12
m. Don’t worry if you become needy through obedience to God’s commands, for God will provide for all your needs if you seek His righteousness first.
Do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing…. And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters? But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Luke 12:22-23, 25-26, 31
n. If you have taken advantage of all of your privilege for your own benefit, then God will give you a second life in order to punish you.
And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.’ Luke 16:20-25
As if it weren’t long enough, there is one other command I failed to put in:
Create a context of justice for the needy and oppressed.
Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:3-4
Also, Philippians 2:3-4
Paul reminds those in authority, to give up their power, and let others who are “lower” than them take leadership roles in the church.
And, let’s not forget the entire book of Philemon, where Paul asks Philemon to make his slave his brother.
If you look at Paul through the lens of the patron client system in Greco-Roman culture, you’ll see what a radical he was. He was proposing that people give up their status and consider themselves to be equal with each other. (There is neither slave nor free, etc…) Paul models for us the way we need to put our powers aside and be Christ to each other. I love Paul for this reason! (I think I’m probably one of the only Anabaptists to think this–Paul has such a bad repuation in modern, liberal Christianity.)
Excellent– thanks Amy! We could create a regular biblical theology of the privileged!
I really like this list. alot.
How can you not use your privilege for your own benefit. That negates the inherent nature of privilege as a social entity and dynamic and (wrongly) reduces it to an individual choice dynamic.
If you are white, you will receive preferential treatment by store clerks, loan officers, real estate agents, police/military and other white people generally.
The intention of using your privilege as a white person to do some kind of good work does not prevent or mitigate this at all. Privilege is usually a social structure that is used whether one likes it or not, precisely because it is social and not individual.
Things like not working for a company that cheats people their wages. This isn’t possible. All companies cheat people of their wages. If I am selling a chair, I must pay my employee that makes the chair less than the value of the chair my employee produces. I must keep some of the value she/he produces for myself. In fact, I must keep a lot of the value my employees produce in making the chairs. That is how business owners become rich while their employees producing the value just make ends meet.
Having the privilege to run a business under capitalism is by definition exploitation.
In this sense, and I believe this is the correct frame to analyze this, most of the list is negated in its practical application to the real world. The impulse is admirable, though.
I’d like to think this discussion is more than an admirable impulse.
It’s one thing to use power. We all do it. It’s the way our world works. It’s quite another thing to use your power at the expense of shaming or degrading someone else. THAT is what Paul is talking about.
It’s a tall order, that is for sure. But, it is the call we have. So, I plan to work towards that “admirable” goal.
Inegmar, it seems that you are taking an unnessessarily fatalistic approach to privilege.
First of all, I want to reiterate that privilege is something that is shared by most people, just in different areas. Perhaps one person is of color, but male, thus he has both privilege and oppression. Another person is female but educated. Another person is wealthy but homosexual. Another person is poor but a citizen of the U.S. All of these people have a mix of both privilege and oppression– inate power and inate weakness. Thus they can understand both the mourning of oppression and the power of the oppressed, if they can see past the blinders of their culture which is communicating to them that they are “normal” or they are “victim”. For the most part, we all have power, we all have experienced loss.
Secondly, there are two types of privilege: that which we have, inately, and that which we use. I can’t help being white, and that naturally gives me certain privilege from birth. Most of us on this forum were born as citizens of the U.S. and that gives us an authority and a power that is there, wherever in the world we go. While this privilege gives us inate power, we can show that this power can be marginalized, if we choose it to. I could go to Bangladesh as a U.S. citizen and become a window washer with the poorest in Dhaka. My privilege is not gone– I am not any less an American or white– but over time I can show that my privilege is marginalized. I am contextualizing my inate privilege in a manner to associate with the lowest and to become one of them.
But there are other kinds of privilege that we can use– education, relationships with the powerful, finances, political power, inheritance, authority etc. The opportunity for this privilege is also innate, but this form of privilege is able to be directed. Our culture trains us to use this privilege in order to establish a “normal” existence, i.e. a privileged one. This is using privilege for our own benefit.
The Bible, however, teaches us that it is our responsibility to use what privilege we have to create justice, to create equity, to stop oppression, to create opportunities for those who do not have privilege.
And this, as I see it, is a choice, the choice that the Bible gives us. We can live to be consumers, live for the increase of our family and thus increase privilege for our generations after us. Or we can surrender the use of our privilege and give the use of it to those who do not have.
We cannot change who we are. But we can change who we serve.