Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Worship and Education Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
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Last week I was part of a panel discussion on theology and theological education at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s National MultiCultural Conference in Fort Worth, TX. At such a diverse conference, where being white was an exception and not a rule, I spent some time thinking about my own background and my ability to speak with meaning in such a context.
As you can tell from my picture to the right, I’m a white male. I am grateful to have grown up in an upper-middle-class home. I have taken advantage of some really amazing educational opportunities at top-notch business schools and seminaries/divinity schools. My three years at Bain and Company as a consultant had me rubbing shoulders with the elite and I have been financially stable since that stint in my late twenties.
That’s my turf, if you will.
All of us have turf—that place where we feel most comfortable. It’s usually based on our background—whatever culture or subculture we happen to find ourselves a part of. It often involves variables like race, socioeconomics, educational background, geography, religious commitments, etc.
When we are in a diverse context, we often retreat to our own turf—that safe place where we feel at home and protected. That’s why presbytery meetings often find people who are likeminded theologically sitting with each other, and various subgroups often seek themselves out at conferences. To see a laughable version of a number of different turfs, click here for a clip from the movie Mean Girls which chronicles a high school student’s transition from being home schooled in Africa to an American high school.
As I think about my own turf I have to admit that it is one which comes with a great deal of power, that gives me a great deal of privilege—privilege that I have not had to earn. I often joke that having a name like “Charles Bryant Hardwick” speeds me through security lines at airports pretty quickly—but it is not as funny to someone with an Arab name. Society (and the church) gives me advantages which do not accrue to other people in other categories.
These advantages are often summed up as white privilege, which Wikipedia defines as “a term for societal privileges…that benefit white people beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people in the same social, political, or economic circumstances.” Benefiting from white privilege or acknowledging that it exists does not mean that an individual him- or herself is racist; it means that society is structured in a way that is racist.
So, back to the many turfs which are present in society and the church. Many Presbyterians enjoy the advantages of my turf. Many people at the Multi-Cultural Conference live on turfs with much less power and prestige. It is rare for an individual to change their own turf, because it is so ingrained in us. I will always be a white man, and it is unlikely my education and other resources will go away.
When we turn to scripture, however, we read this (Philippians 2:3-5): "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus."
Jesus Christ, as this passage goes on to say, had all of the advantages of heaven, and yet he gave them up in order to serve humanity—going all the way to the cross by giving up everything.
We who enjoy the benefits of white privilege need to pray that the Holy Spirit would give us the mind of Christ. In fact, it is very odd that everyone’s turf does not convey some kind of privilege, so we Christians need to consider this privilege as a means to support others. When we are at our best we give up the advantages of our turf in order to serve those on other turfs—not so that they will become more like us, but so that they can live out their faith fully and enjoy the abundant life which societal structures all too often deny them.
How can you use whatever advantage society has given you to strengthen those from less powerful turfs, rather than using your turf as a way to build up yourself and those like you?