Theology

“Christian privilege” is about culture, not discipleship

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Wikipedia defines “Christian privilege” as follows:

Christian privilege is any social advantage that is perceived to be bestowed upon Christians in few societies. This arises out of the presumption that Christian belief is a social norm, that leads to the marginalization of the nonreligious and members of other religions through institutional religious discrimination or religious persecution. Christian privilege can also lead to the neglect of outsiders’ cultural heritage and religious practices.[1]

Growing up, Christian privilege worked against me, making it difficult for my holidays, my traditions, and my own relationship with God to be taken seriously. I went to school with classmates who had never heard of Hanukkah, or knew it only as the “Jewish Christmas.” I was asked by my 5th grade teacher to prepare a presentation about Hanukkah and Passover since there was no comprehensive curriculum about world religions, much less basic knowledge about either among the Christians in my class.

Christian children, in general, do not have the burden of educating their peers like this. So the idea that Christians in this country somehow have it worse than anybody else was downright laughable to me.

Fast forward a decade, and now I’m a Christian myself (more on that here). My view of the world, the source of my hope in the midst of depression, the core of my identity, even my most basic reason for getting up in the morning — that all changed.

Contrary to what my Jewish friends and family thought, I didn’t choose Christianity because it made me happy. On the contrary, if I were looking for happiness or an easier life, Christianity would be the last religion I’d choose.

Let me explain.

I still believe that Christians have it relatively easy in this country — at least, easier than Jews, atheists, Muslims, and other minority groups. This isn’t just because Christianity is the most popular religion, but because Christianity has so saturated the culture. I would wager — though I can’t prove it, because I’m not God — that most people who call themselves Christians are active participants in Christian culture than serious disciples of Christ.

This distinction may be confusing to those on the outside, but it’s real, and it matters. I didn’t understand it until I started seriously studying my Bible and learned what “picking up your cross” actually meant (and I’m still learning it today).

See, anyone can call themselves a Christian, go to church, observe Christmas and Easter, or wear a cross around their necks. All that is pretty easy, which is largely what it means to benefit from Christian privilege. No one bats an eye at these things; they’re all normal and expected.

But saying no to sexual activity before marriage;

refusing to watch or listen to popular entertainment that offends your core values;

insisting on Absolute Truth, and that no, all religions do not lead to the same place;

wearing an uncomfortable face mask to protect your neighbor from contracting a deadly virus;

refusing to meet petty insults and other slights with insults or revenge;

choosing forgiveness when hatred or holding a grudge is easier…

Do you see where I’m going with this? These are a few of the values that define the Christian life, but they sure aren’t popular with the surrounding culture — not even with other self-identified Christians. You’ll earn more than a few eye rolls by saying or doing these things. People will think you’re “weird.” They may avoid you or make fun of you.

This isn’t “persecution” in any legitimate sense, but it does show that the Christian life as intended by Christ is more than just checking off a label. “Christian privilege” is real, but “disciple privilege” it is not.

Photo by Diana Vargas on Unsplash

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