This is the first of three consecutive blog posts by Roger Warr,a member of Common Ground Church Rondebosch. It forms part of a series that reflects on comments made by students during recent protest action at South African university campuses.
Question: Which issue raised over the past year do you think was most pressing/important, and why?
Student Answer: “Privilege is a topic that has been debated extensively over the past year. It’s a multi-faceted issue which encompasses race, gender, nationality, religion and others, which all intersect and have caused incredible conflict. Privilege is the core of social inequality as it’s founded on the assumption that particular members of society are more important than others, based on a superficial set of criteria. Apartheid was built on this premise and, as a result, skin colour is still the foundation upon which many people make value judgements about other individuals. Black is synonymous with poverty and stupidity. White is synonymous with intelligence, prosperity and superiority. Tackling the issue of privilege is vital to the fight for equity, where people are entitled to fair opportunities. Granting people fair opportunities requires those who are privileged to acknowledge their privilege and to realise that not everyone has an equal start in life. The playing field is not level; some need a little more help than others. However this does not mean they are less capable or less valuable, it merely means they are less privileged.” – Yogi
Jesus was raised in the humble home of a small-town carpenter. Many around him would have been more privileged, particularly the Pharisees, who occupied the ‘best seats’ in the community. They had a higher level of education than the average Jew, and the societal standing to match. This in turn allowed them to access positions of power and influence, and legal authority. Furthermore, Jesus’ people were ruled by Roman oppressors.
But, despite the repressive regimes of the day, Jesus’ sense of self-worth was unaffected. His identity gave him meaning and purpose. He called those who were arrogant and prideful in their privilege to undergo a regeneration of the heart. He made no demands on them for his own sake.
It is when we embrace this regeneration of the heart that we have a new lens to review our own lives – those things that give us privilege, those things that cause our hearts to feel superior, those things that draw us to feeling inferior.
As Christians, privileged or not, it is important that our identity is firmly established in Christ and that His spirit enables us to respond to all people in love. The non-privileged should not consider themselves victims of the privileged; and the privileged should not consider themselves superior. In letters to the early church, Paul and James exhort believers to humble themselves and be rich in good deeds. Believers with privilege are encouraged to share generously, and all are called to boast in nothing but the Lord. It is a renewed view of oneself that allows a purposeful letting go of privilege and journey towards being part of levelling the playing field.
We all need a renewed spirit in us. Without it, we cannot fully acknowledge and put into perspective our privilege, or lack thereof. We need God’s Spirit in us to change our hearts and shape our identity. Only then will we be able to influence our society for the better and begin the slow work of impacting our country’s future.