Christian Privilege: Its in the Blueprints
system accords straight, white, male Christians power, prestige, political and
economic representation, respect, protection, and credibility. -Paul Kivel
That mouthful of knowledge just means that a lot of white Christian men wind up in positions of power. And it explains why the less someone fits the mold of Audre Lorde's "mythical norm" (which is only mythical because nobody actually fits completely if you look close enough), the less likely they are to occupy a position of power and accumulated wealth.
It's easy to spot. Watch, I'll show you.
Every President we have every elected has claimed to believe that Jesus is the son of God. Whenever one of them is accused of being anything but a Christian, our cultural anger rises up because, in the USA, that's just the way its supposed to be, Two-Corinthians and all. Presidents don't get elected if they don't claim to be Christians (at least not yet).
And it is more than just Presidents. It is CEOs, millionaires, authors, politicians, board members, philanthropists (a word that shouldn't exist)—all of these groups are majority Christian in the USA (and majority white, male, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, etc).
Life remains comfortable for people in the majority so long as they retain most of the power and are able to build a system that favors their goals. But colonization and South Africa's apartheid make clear that domination does not require majority. Those in the minority can do some tricky shit and oppress those in the majority. Power requires maintenance, or else it will be stolen, snatched away by the other side.
It is only natural that those in positions of power use them to shore up defenses and maintain their hold. That is where our laws come from, along with our norms, rituals, religions, and habits...in a word, our culture. If you are a Christian and you don't notice all of the symbols and statues that surround you and reinforce the acceptability of your faith, you should look closer. They are so common that they often blend in.
We have spent hundreds of years erecting crosses, statues of Jesus, wedges of the Ten-Commandments, church steeples, fish bumper stickers, gold crosses for necklaces and earrings, and a million other public symbols meant to spread the word: Christians are here to stay. And to be fair, along with the kitsch has come a lot of good: food banks, homeless shelters, hospitals and community outreach. The system wouldn't work without the window dressing.
No living Christian created the system of Christian hegemony that we live within.
That's the good news.
The bad news is the baggage, and there is a lot of it in the church's closet: things done in God's name and then conveniently forgotten once our culture decided to classify them as evil. The KKK, racial segregation, manifest destiny, slavery and anti-suffrage were supported by the church. And it hasn't somehow made up for a thousand years of crusades against "evil," terrorism, and Islam, or defending decades of US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention multinational corporate capitalism, colonialism, slavery, and various forms of genocide, all perpetrated in God's name. The mistakes of our parents have fallen squarely in our laps, and we have chosen to ignore them.
Sure, you and I didn't do most of that obviously awful stuff, but our people did, and they used their positions of power to build a system which ensured they—we—could do so indefinitely.
Just because most Christians do not actively participate in hate groups (at least not consciously) doesn't mean that Christian privilege doesn't provide benefits to all Christians, and even some non-Christians (like me) who can still pass by talking the talk. It does, even if you stop practicing Christianity. I can still answer a job interview question with a shout-out to Jesus and be pretty sure it will count in my favor even though I am no longer a Christian. Since the system was built by the church, it shouldn't surprise anyone that they designed laws and norms to benefit their, and maybe your way of life.
This isn't a big deal so long as we recognize it and responsibly update areas of oppression when we encounter them. But first we have to acknowledge that “there seems to be a dominant Christian worldview which has shaped western culture so profoundly that it is difficult to delineate fully.” Christianity has provided frameworks for languages, art, music, literature, philosophy, architecture, politics and ritual. Admittedly, Christianity is not the same thing as Christian dominance, and not all Christians actively (and equally) contribute to the maintenance and sustainment of Christian Privilege and domination.
But again, all Christians benefit from it, and all the more when it remains invisible and undiscussed. We can't do anything about our past, which means we can't do anything about the world we learned to see as normal. But we can recognize the forces that built those norms, and we can actively work to update Christian values to reflect an ethos of love.
Make sure to check out all of Paul Kivel's latest work at PaulKivel.com.
And check out my interview with Paul on The Dr. Junkie Show (wherever you stream).