Acknowledging privilege and taking action on injustice require constant vigilance. Brené Brown
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh (‘privileged’), I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 3:4-7)
Several months later, I attended another church leader gathering in our area. A guest pastor and his team were sharing about their work in western Africa. These men were faith-filled and genuine, but it was obvious that they do not consider women co-equals in leadership at home or in the faith community.
At the end of the presentation, someone asked all the pastors in the audience to come forward and pray for this team. I was the only female who went forward in a sea of local male pastors. Once we were in place, the event host asked my colleague Scott to lead the prayer aloud, to which he replied, “I think Katie should lead it.”
Once again, Scott was passing his privilege to me.
My story relates to Paul’s warning in Philippians: Don’t trust in ‘the flesh’.
For the purpose of this reflection, I’ve paraphrased “flesh” to “privilege”. When Paul refers to the ‘the flesh’ here as well as Galatians and Romans, he is talking about the pride of physical descent, in which the Jews placed their confidence. Paul admits that ethnic privilege had been his confidence too.
Ethnic privilege was big in the ancient world, and continues in our day. And there are many other forms of privilege in our society: race, gender, sexual orientation, class, family status, age group… Privilege means that you can afford to look the other way, because you are not the one being harassed, underpaid, pulled over, deported, lynched, shut out, etc…
Paul’s message in Philippians 3 is that he had taken a long, painful look at privilege and decided to pick it apart and remove it from his life. I don’t think he’s bragging. I think he’s telling a painful story of ‘humiliation leading to transformation’, which we can only hear if we listen without judgment.
And Paul is now clear in his thinking: If I passively rest in my privilege, I cannot be the distinctive light of life that God has created me to be—I cannot be the transforming presence that the children of God are made for. Furthermore, whatever privileged identity I am resting on will eventually fall apart and no longer be able to support True Life. (Hence Paul’s choice of the term ‘flesh’ that decays.)
In the rising strong process, The Rumble is for doing deep work with two things: 1.) Painful emotions and 2.) Human need (Chapter 8). Within the scope of human need, Brené Brown addresses such things as connection, self-worth, privilege and asking for help.
I invite you to read Chapter 8 of Rising Strong alongside Philippians 3. What is Paul teaching us about rumbling with privilege? We’ve heard Paul’s story, Brené’s story, a bit of my story. What is your story; and how does it lead you to take action against injustice?
LORD God, help my awareness of my privilege embolden me to look injustice in the eye and take action.