Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Christian Privilege

I've been hearing a lot lately about privilege. About how certain groups have more power than others purely as a result of their sex, race, sexuality etc. And this often goes un-noticed by, for example, white people, because we're used to this privilege, its only when we start to look closely that we see that things are often easier for us than they are for black people, because society is geared towards us. And I am very willing to accept that as a middle class white person I have an amount of privilege that means I have to fight my own tendancies to racicism and classism, and to confront other people when they exhibit such behaviour.

So far, so clear, but I read something on a blog the other day that was talking about christian privilege, and I had to stop and think about this one a bit more. I've very much in two minds over whether or not such a thing exists. Obviously I'm talking about the UK here not the whole world, it wouldn't take much searching to find out that being a christian doesn't bring much privilege in North Korea or Iran or Pakistan (at least not in this world).

On a societal level, I can see the privilege to some degree. Christianity is the dominant religion in our culture, so our holidays are celebrated both by government and the commercial sector much more than Eid or Diwali are. In England the Church of England has bishops automatically in the House of Lords, and all across the UK the church has a relatively powerful voice in politics (although given that every major denomination in Scotland oppposes Trident, perhaps not so powerful as some believe!)

Its on an indvidual level that I most struggle with this idea of privilege. I have put up with very little bullying in my life compared to many people I know, but pretty much all the bullying I have experienced has been about my faith. Many, perhaps even most of my christians friends would say the same. Certianly in high school, christians are an easy and often an obvious target. Surely the abuse most of us went through is not a privilege?

Perhaps it is the institution of the church which gets the privilege not the individuals. Certainly the ideas of the bible are not privileged in our society, in a capitalist society a God who called his disciples to give up everything they owned so they could follow him more effectively does not go down well. In a culture based on hierachy, Jesus' tendancy to treat everyone equally would be ridiculed. In a culture based on 'getting what you deserve', grace is a foreign concept.

So Jesus is not privileged and christians have not in my experience been privileged, but the Church in many ways has been. Maybe this is a lesson for us, we have let the Church (with a capital C) become something more than just the body of Christ, made up of individuals who form a community. Perhaps in order to really live out the terrifying message of Jesus, the institution has to be slowly pulled to pieces. Because real change doesn't come from institution power, it comes from radicals on the edges of society. Exactly where the church should be.


Abi said...

I would agree with you on this - the Church has a lot of privilege and position, but this is for the most part not something that the individual Christians benefit from, nor wish to have.
In the US I get the impression there is more of a Christian privilege, but here we are still more likely to be teased than respected for our faith.

Have you come across Ekklesia? They are a Christian think tank, who I find I agree with on many (although not all) issues.

Christian Feminist said...

Thanks for your thoughts, I agree that this is more of an issue in the US than here. I have come across Ekklesia and I like them, I don't read them that often so thanks for reminding me, they often have really interesting things to say.

philomela said...

I saw you are in Edinburh. Do you know any UK organisations for christian feminists? beacuse I'm kind of isolated.

Christian Feminist said...

Hmmm, I'd love to be able to think of lots of groups, but I can't off the top of my head. Theres an email bulletin sent around every month called the 'Re-turn bulletin' written by a group who are interested in gender and christianity, which is often, though not exclusively feminist. Email Ellen at to get on that, it always cheers up to see what they have to say.

Other than that, I can't think of a big group, though there may be one. I've found the Edinburgh Feminist Network to be very supportive of me and what I believe though, so maybe if theres a general feminist group near you it could still be a form of support? Also, I do have one or two christian feminist friends and meeting up with them occassionaly is a very good way to break the isolation. I'm guessting you aren't in that possition though.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering whether you equate the hardships (for want of a better word) you experience for being a Christian with those of being a woman? That is to say you chose to be a Christian and believe what you believe, whereas you didn't choose to be a woman (and people don't choose to be white, or black, or gay, or whatever). You must surely accept that, however emotionally involved you are with your faith, and however core you believe it to be to your being, it is ultimately an intellectual position which you have chosen to adopt, much in the same way that political opinion is? So whilst I obviously don't condone "bullying" of anybody, I'm not sure that when it comes to arguments about discrimination and the like, it can really be said that 'Christian' comes under the same heading as 'black', or 'female', or 'homosexual'. Just wondered what you thought?

Christian Feminist said...

Thats a fair comment, obviously I agree that faith is a choice whereas being a woman etc isn't. Faith (of any type) doesn't necessarily come together with sex/race/sexuality/age etc in discrimination, for example if there is a job where you cannot perform some the tasks (for example performing an examination on a man) which you feel you can't do because of your faith, its not discrimination if you don't get the job. However, if you were to be fired from a job because of your faith for no reason, this would be clear discrimination, just as it would be if you were fired for having a particular political position. And obviously, bullying and abuse is never acceptable.

twirlingmycni said...

Hey sorry I have not been following your blog nearly enough,yay adressing christian privalage. just wrote a thing on christian privalage - basically I think it does exist BUT I think athiests agnostics etc in the uk ( particularly if they are white) also receive this privalage, I think that's why you might experience teasing etc. I think we receive it because we can veiw faith as individual choice -which is specific to protestant christianity. This choice allows us to chose to be athiests or whatever.