The Problem with Supposed “Christian Privilege”

***The following is an article originally written for publication in April of 2018. The article was never picked up for publication (not for a lack of effort), but now that I have my own blog I’m able to publish the content I’d like to publish! Multiple news stories have been released in large media outlets over the past few weeks that lead me to want to re-visit this topic and conversation.

There is a fundamental problem with the notion that Christians in 21st century America gain favor, either consciously or unconsciously, over and against non-Christians. George Washington University made headlines earlier this month (see *** at top of page) when they hosted an event in training about supposed “Christian Privilege,” which they defined by claiming Christians “receive unmerited perks from institutions and systems all across our country.”

The fundamental problem with this notion is two-fold:  first of all there is a problem with the word “Christian,” at least as it is being used by those who hold to a belief in a current “Christian Privilege.” The problem here is that this word, which was first meant as a slur against first-century Christians, actually means quite literally-“Little-Christs.” Jesus of Nazareth had utterly disrupted the peace coming out of a southeastern corner of the Roman Empire, and just as many minority groups who have done likewise throughout history, the Christians were ridiculed, suppressed, and persecuted throughout the Roman Empire (yes, Christianity began in Jerusalem but keep in mind the Apostle Paul was martyred only a few decades later thousands of miles away in Rome). “Christian” is a word that belongs to the church-to Christ’s followers, yet in the instance of supposed “Christian Privilege,” it is exclusively “academics” who are defining what is meant by the use of the word “Christian.” This is a fundamental problem as has been acknowledged by these same academics in regards to the religion of Islam.

For example, in 2008 John L. Esposito wrote a helpful little book called “Who Speaks for Islam?” Gallup describes this book in this way, “Are we on the verge of an all-out war between the West and 1.3 billion Muslims? When the media searches for an answer to that question, they usually overlook the actual views of the world’s Muslims. ‘Who Speaks for Islam?’ is about this silenced majority.” In this book, Esposito rightfully points out that the actual beliefs and practices of today’s Muslims are greatly exaggerated and misunderstood throughout the Western world of academics and in the media. He rightly recognizes that Muslims should be allowed to define who they actually are for themselves rather than allowing outsiders define who they are based on their own perceptions and misconceptions about the Qu’ran and the Islamic faith. It is ironic then that John L. Esposito is a professor at none other than Georgetown University in Washington DC, which is an historically catholic school, yet he sees the need for allowing people of faith to define their own beliefs and attitudes while a short drive away at George Washington University (no religious affiliation) their religious professors appear to believe the opposite. They appear to be suggesting that they can define the word “Christian” better than Christianity’s own adherents while also suggesting they are better suited in having a platform to speak on what they perceive Christians believe, rather than allowing Christians to actually speak for themselves. Would they dare do the same in regards to Islam? It seems doubtful they would have the audacity to do such a thing. It appears then in claiming a “Christian privilege,” while not actually allowing Christians to speak for themselves and to express their own attitudes and beliefs (no Christian speaker was invited by George Washington University’s staff to the event) those who hold this view are actually undermining their own goals, because without actually allowing Christians to share what it is they believe and the way they think about issues how could one possibly know that the supposed “privilege” being discussed is actually “Christian?” Instead, what is inevitably presented about Christians’ beliefs and attitudes tend to become misperceived and exaggerated half-truths. This should cause all to demand that if any professor, lawmaker, or person of influence is going to speak on the topic of “Christian Privilege,” let them at the very least invite Christians into the conversations they are having to define the term for themselves and to present their own actual attitudes and beliefs; to not allow this is both cowardly and tyrannical.

The second problem with the notion of “Christian Privilege,” has to do with the word “privilege.” The idea presented by those who believe our society has an inherent “Christian Privilege,” is that in some way, shape, or form followers of Christ experience an advantage over non-Christians in today’s Western-World. In response to conservative reactions to George Washington University’s training on “Christian Privilege,” a writer for Patheos named Sarabeth Caplin wrote this, “You know what Christian privilege is? It’s living in a predominantly Christian country, under a government dominated by Christians, while claiming you’re the people who have it tougher than everybody else.  No wonder that seminar was so necessary.” Sarahbeth may be surprised to hear that I agree with her sentiments in this statement… however the statement itself is not true. Again, this is why Christians must be invited to the table to express their own actual attitudes and beliefs rather than allowing non-Christians to express those on their behalf; this is why doing so is actually tyrannical. It is tyrannical because it is senseless and outside the realms of reason to suggest we are living in a “Christian country,” considering many Bible-believing Christians today do not even believe there is such a thing as a Christian country (this author included). However, because the supposedly open-minded and freethinking academic and governmental leaders are not actually inviting Christians into their conversations to share this belief it is therefore going unexpressed to non-Christians, and so we again are relying on the perceptions of non-Christians to state and prove this claim.

In the gospels, there are numerous occasions when the people of Israel sought to crown Jesus as their governmental leader and authority and time and time again Jesus refused. Instead of seeking governmental control, Jesus said things like “My kingdom is not of this world.” When asked whether the Jews (Jesus’ own people) should pay taxes to Caesar, or not, Jesus replied “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God’s what is God’s.” Hardly sounds as though Jesus was concerned with a “Christian nation.” Following Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem had he been focused on establishing a Christian nation on earth he would have been crowned King in the Temple and fought for the nation of Israel, but he didn’t. Instead, he humbly resolved to take his perfection and nail it to the cross where he would bleed and die for the sins of all who will believe in him. In doing so, Jesus has established a nation far greater than any earthly “Christian nation,” and he has offered that anyone who is a citizen of any country can actually join into his kingdom by God’s grace through faith in Him; this is what Jesus called the “new-birth” and anyone who has not “been born again,” cannot be considered a Christian at least according to the biblical standard. Jesus was not concerned with a Christian nation (at least not as described above) because He reigns over a nation of born-again believers “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in his age but also in the one to come.”

There is another problem with allowing non-Christians to decide who is and who isn’t a Christian. Again, this came up in the time following the 9/11 bombings when there was a spike in Islamophobia throughout the United States. There were some who flew underneath the flag of Islam (and still are) who were (are) practicing an extremist view of Jihad and many liberal scholars throughout the United States were keen in pointing out that we need to allow Muslim scholars to help us to understand who actually is and who actually is not believing in the appropriate way warranted by the Qu’ran, and allow them to help non-Muslims to understand what are acceptable and unacceptable Muslim practices. The point, they claimed, was that not all who claim to be Muslim are actually living in accordance with Islamic beliefs. Why is it so with Islam but not Christianity? Of course it is, or at least it should be. And of course to understand this conversation fully one must critically think along the timeline of society from the first century on-wards and realize the impacts of the shift in imperial Christianity following Constantine’s conversion and throughout  the middle ages, along with the philosophical work of Renee Descartes, and Immanuel Kant, the effects of enlightenment thinking in the western  world including in new age spirituality, and in the very recent past a rise in those who identify as the “New Atheists.” There is not time in this piece to get into all of the history, but suffice it to say that simply suggesting there are more Christians in the United States and that they are in more influential positions than non-Christians throughout the country is an enormous intellectual stretch that cannot stand the test of actual research. If a reader would like to read each of the studies done most recently on the self-identification of Americans in terms of their religious affiliations then they may do so at http://news.gallup.com/poll/224642/2017-update-americans-religion.aspx

Another thing that must be taken into account in this sort of conversation is who has the loudest voice in our society and where are those voices coming from? The answer in the United States is that the media, Hollywood, university campuses, public school education, and politicians are most loudly and most often heard among the average Americans. Out of the top 10 largest publications in the United States, four of those publications are located in New York City. In New York City, only 23 % of adults self-identify as Protestant Christians. Only 9% of that 23 % are self-identified evangelicals (according to pewforum.org). This means there are more religious “nones” in the media’s most influential city than there are Protestant Christians. According to the exact same study, New Yorkers determine right and wrong (morality) mostly based on “common sense,” with only 26% claiming they base morality on religion. Considering Jesus says “If you love me you will obey my commands,” it seems as though the media center of our country is astoundingly NOT Christian in regards to their moral choices. 52 % of New Yorkers said in the survey that they “seldom/never” read Scripture. If Christian morality is revealed in Scripture, yet more New Yorkers do not read the Scripture than do read it then how can it possibly be said that the media capital of the nation is somehow biasing society towards Christianity rather than away from it?

Hollywood is located in Los Angeles. What you find when you read Pew’s findings on religion in Los Angeles is that the area is both slightly more religious and slightly more atheistic, and is therefore, more polarized than even New York City, however, there are generally similar findings in the poll for both cities. If our government is ran by Christians, and our government leaders were educated at universities then you would expect that these leaders were thus educated by Christian education or educators, but is that actually the case? Not at all, in fact, the opposite is true. Thankfully, collegeraptor.com has provided the top 10 colleges where current members of congress attended. First on that list is a place so liberal they have removed all hints of their formerly Christian heritage, Harvard University, also home to the leading professor Diana Eck who heads the “Pluralism Project (hardly christianly biased).” Second on said list is University of Michigan, located in Ann Arbor, which in 2015 was dubbed by the Washington Post as the “most liberal town in Michigan.” Third on the list is Stanford and shall this really keep going? Not one Christian school appears in the top echelons of said list as one would expect from a government that is “dominated by Christians.” The only school that even has a hint of recent biblically conservative faculty on the list is Princeton, which is home to perhaps the least morally biblical philosopher in the United States, Peter Singer.

As a society we would be wise to only apply the word “privilege” to people and places where privilege actually exists. Does upper-class privilege exist? Absolutely! Just drive your car through West Palm Beach, Florida and you will visibly observe this sort of privilege. Does male privilege exist? Absolutely and ashamedly so! In an article for Americanprogress.org this truth is quite obvious, “While they (women) are 44 percent of the overall S&P 500 labor force and 36 percent of first- or mid-level officials and managers in those companies, they are only 25 percent of executive- and senior-level officials and managers, hold only 20 percent of board seats, and are only 6 percent of CEOs,” writes Judith Warner. So you see, I’m willing to admit privilege where it can accurately be shown to exist…

But does “Christian Privilege” actually exist? We can’t even actually answer this question until we deal with the problems suggested above. As a society we must allow Bible-believing Christians to actually speak for themselves and express their own attitudes to actually determine what is Christian thinking and living rather than what others perceive are Christian attitudes and living. Furthermore, we must determine what we mean by the word “privilege” as applied to the beliefs and attitudes actually held by Christians rather than those which are perceived by some within our society. If Americans were to un-biasedly have this conversation it seems they may actually find that the lines between privilege and persecution are far murkier than most realize. “The Guardian” reported that in 2017, Christians in Egypt suffered “unprecedented” persecution and they report that about 130 Christians lost their life in Egypt last year. I personally know of a young Egyptian man who came to the Cleveland Clinic to study as a resident in anesthesiology, and he is a committed bible-believing Christian. In a conversation about Christian persecution he stated (author’s paraphrase), “In Egypt they will literally kill you for being a Christian, but in America what I’ve seen people doing is actually worse I think, because they refuse to physically kill you; they would rather kill you on the inside.”

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