According to Dictionary.com, privilege is defined the following way:
- a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most.
- a special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons in authority or office to free them from certain obligations or liabilities.
- a grant to an individual, corporation, etc., of a special right or immunity, under certain conditions.
- the principle or condition of enjoying special rights or immunities.
Privilege is a touchy subject. Which, itself, is amazing. Of course privilege is touchy – especially for those who have privilege. It is expected by those who have privilege, that they would, by definition, be exempt from having a conversation about privilege.
And so, as a society, those with privilege often get to dictate what is acceptable to talk about publicly. Public discourse is contained so as to protect the privileged from being uncomfortable.
If you don’t have to deal with or think about politics, because it doesn’t really impact your life, then you are privileged. If you don’t have to think about or deal with issues around race or gender, then you are privileged. If you don’t have to think about or figure out where your next meal is or where you are going to sleep tonight, then you are privileged.
Let me be clear – none of this makes you a bad person, or a good person. It’s more just a recognition of your status in society. Let me repeat that. If you are privileged, it says nothing about what type of person you are. There’s no accusation that you are inherently bad or evil. It’s only a statement of where you are in life right now. Right now being the key.
You might not have always been there. Maybe you were though. You might not always be as privileged as you are either. It’s just where you are right now. The future doesn’t promise that you will remain where you are.
The better question is this – given your level of privilege, regardless of how much privilege you have, what are you going to do with it?
Does it exist for your own benefit? Are you more interested in turning inward on yourself to use your comfort to make your life comfortable, to protect yourself? Maybe you’ll even extend that to your family and friends.
But what about to those who you don’t know? Do you have an obligation to use the privilege you have to benefit others – even those you don’t know?
By definition, privilege frees a person from obligations.
So the question becomes this – if you are a follower of Jesus, can you live by the definition of privilege? Are followers of Jesus exempt from the obligations that God places on them?
Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Are we obligated to do that? Or are we exempt from that, and hence, privileged? Can Christians – disciples or followers of Jesus – truly be privileged?
In Matthew 25, we hear Jesus talking about how nations will be judged. Nations are privileged too, not just individuals. Can a privileged nation be exempt from God’s commands?
Jesus tells us to follow his commands. Jesus tells us to offer forgiveness. Jesus tells us to pray for those who persecute us. Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and die daily.
So which is it, Christian? Do we hold onto our privilege? Or do we embrace Jesus? The two are not compatible. It is literally impossible to hold onto our privilege and honestly follow Jesus. Scripture talks about Jesus emptying himself and becoming a slave. Jesus didn’t take his privilege of being the Son of God and use it for himself – instead, he used it for the benefit of all creation. Followers of Jesus are called to follow his lead and example.
For those of us that are privileged, we are called to use that privilege for the benefit of those around us, and to those we don’t even know. It’s the very meaning of the doing until others as we would have then do unto us. It is the meaning of what it means to love our neighbor. It is the very meaning of living into the Imago Dei – the Image of God.
Let us use our privilege to benefit those without privilege. Let us deny ourselves daily, see the image of God in those without privilege, and love our less privileged neighbors. That’s what the unfolding of the Kingdom of God is all about.