“We’re blessed with so much in America.” If you’ve traveled abroad, gone on a mission trip or spoken with someone who has, at some point you’ve probably said or heard that phrase. I’ve heard it, because I’ve said it as an attempt to make sense of the incredible gap in resources I witnessed between myself and others. And I was wrong to say it.
Here’s why: If our resources are a result of God’s favor, then a lot of people must not be favored by God. That’s the prosperity gospel, and it’s no gospel at all. All that we have is not a blessing and not from God if it means that what others don’t have is a curse from God. There must be other factors at work here.
Let me speak for myself for just a moment. I’m a well-educated, able-bodied, straight, white male, a married Baptist pastor from Texas. Few people experience more privilege in society than I do. But does that mean God loves me more and therefore made more born to a white middle-class family in America instead of to a poor brown family in Mexico? Yes, I’ve worked hard to be who I am today. But that work has come on top of plenty of opportunities and resources that others — who work just as hard and harder than me — don’t have. I can’t change who I am, but I can admit that much of what I have is not merely the result of God’s blessings. Rather, my “blessings” could be seen as an unfair advantage in the system.
I didn’t choose to be born into privilege, but I continue to accept the advantages nonetheless. I’m aware of some of these advantages, growing in awareness of some others, and ignorant of still others. And it’s dangerously easy for me to forget about even the privileges that I am aware of. I have a tendency to think that all people experience the world the way I do, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Consider the scandals at places like Nike and Apple in the last decade. Most of us in America have no idea how our products are made. We allow many of our things to be manufactured overseas where we don’t apply the same standards of safety and opportunity we apply to ourselves. This keeps costs cheap so we can buy more, but we’re not loving our neighbor as ourselves and are instead taking advantage of them to “bless” ourselves. That’s not God at work; that’s sin on our part. And if God is on a side, it’s the side of the marginalized and all others who fall on the wrong side of the system. That is the recurring message of the Bible.
Likewise, I’m becoming more aware of the lack of privilege and outright discrimination my LGBTQ friends live with every day. In the last year, I’ve experienced some sharp criticism personally and communally, for advocating for my friends to be included in the full life of the church — a minority position among Baptist Christians in Texas. This may be the first time I have publicly held a minority position, and the experience is teaching me things that my privilege has shielded me from in the past. The pushback I have received from friends and family for my views is no comparison to the daily experiences of my LGBTQ friends. What I am experiencing is merely the unexplored borderlands of my vast privilege, and it’s leading me to be more compassionate toward all those whose lives don’t conform to the majority expectation.
What I’m learning is that when I see my privilege as a result of God’s blessing or the natural product of my hard work, then I spend all my energy anxiously fighting to protect and maintain what I have earned from God and what I have done for myself. Even though my privilege is largely out of my control, I am learning to be aware of it and to use it for the good of others and to bring as much equality to the system as I can. To do less might make me “blessed,” but it also makes me immoral.