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You’ve Been Warned: White Privilege and the Southern Baptist Convention

Get ready. You’re going to see it soon. Enraged bloggers will write stories with headlines like, The SBC Believes In White Privilege or I Want My SBC Back From The Social Justice Warriors or J.D. Greear Is A Lizard. And the readers of said blogs will share them with spite, most likely not having taken the time to actually think for themselves.

You’ve been warned.

J.D. Greear is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. As with any person in such a position, there are people who love him and people who hate him. But one thing that can’t be said about Greear is that he’s afraid to address difficult issues.

In a recent episode of his Ask Me Anything podcast, Greear tackled the issue of white privilege. The specific question given to him was, “Does it exist?”

A lot of people already have their minds made up on this one. Many on the right would answer this question with a resounding NO! and without any further thought. Many on the left are such strong believers in the concept that they ascribe every injustice in our culture to white privilege. It is this kind of groupthink that leads us to two primary problems.

The first problem is denial. A white man, such as myself, who denies that he has ever once benefited from his ethnicity is simply blinded to reality. Consider something as simple as your name. There are some employers who, when looking over a stack of resumes, will fly right by Jamelle Smith or José Hernandez and land on a much more “common” name. You know, something like Jay Sanders. Have you never benefited from this? Are you sure? Some will be quick to point out how many times the opposite occurs. Due to affirmative action, capable white candidates will be overlooked for non-white candidates. Maybe. But that doesn’t erase the benefits I and others like me have enjoyed.

Or consider shopping. Have you ever walked into a store and had a worker follow you in a not so subtle way because she was convinced that you were there to steal something? I haven’t. But I have non-white friends who have routinely had this happen to them. Again, some whites will counter with stories of when they were treated unfairly because of their ethnicity. I do not deny such instances but again, those occurrences do not erase the benefits our ethnicity has brought us. In the eyes of many, when I walk into a building in ratty clothes, it’s because I’ve been busy working. When my black brother does the same thing, it’s because he’s sorry. When I wear a hoodie, I’m cold. When he wears his, he’s a criminal.

It would help us to borrow the phrase majority privilege from Jordan Peterson in order to understand this phenomenon. In the circles that I travel in, my ethnicity tends to be the majority. I have benefited from that. Yes, others might have benefited at my expense at times but that does not cancel the privileges I have enjoyed.

The second problem we encounter when considering white privilege is weaponizing. Some on the left use the phrase white privilege like Thor’s hammer. They wipe out everything in sight when a scalpel was all that was needed. This approach often tends to be a cover for greed and covetousness. Their tweets and rants leave successful whites who rose from extremely bleak circumstances through hard work scratching their heads, wondering where their white privilege was while they raised themselves in the hills of West Virginia with both parents strung out on meth. When everything boils down to white privilege, leftists end up just preaching to the choir rather than engaging in meaningful conversations that help people to gain a better understanding. Interestingly enough, this weaponizing technique seems to be most prominent among rich, privileged, white liberals.

The bottom line is that such a complicated issue requires us to step outside of our camp and think critically rather than how our group would have us to think. That’s the kind of approach that J.D. Greear took and he should be commended for it.

Unlike others, Greear isn’t interested in taking rights or privileges away from anyone. Rather, he prefers extending those benefits. He says that any Christian who enjoys any form of privilege should then use that privilege to lift others up.

“Whatever privilege you have, it is your responsibility to leverage it to help others who are not as privileged.”

But how is that done? Rather than calling for some new government program to make this right, Greear takes a simpler approach. He says that we will only be able to navigate our way through these complexities through relationships.

“More than just podcasts and articles…You need to have friends that are not like you because they’ll help you see things from a different angle than you’re used to.”

Discernment bloggers will spin Greear’s words to make him look as if he’s turned full Marxist. He hasn’t. Not even close. Rather than Karl Marx, J.D. Greear is simply mirroring the teachings of Paul of Tarsus.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Philippians 2:3 (ESV)

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15 (ESV)

If Paul were writing today he would no doubt be called a Marxist by many on the right. Sadly, their groupthink has clouded their judgement. Marxism, regardless of the glowing reviews it gets from some on the left, can only be carried out at the point of a gun. That’s hardly a way to promote empathy and equality. It’s a fantastic way to create starvation and mass casualties. Christianity is much different. The selflessness that Paul describes is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the human heart and it promotes God’s glory and human flourishing. Don’t believe the lie from either side that authentic Christianity and Marxism are one and the same.

It’s really hard to fulfill the law of Christ, count others more significant that yourself, and weep with those who weep in the way that the Bible commands us to when we live in a bubble where everyone looks, acts, thinks, and votes just like us. An honest assessment of such a complex issue is nearly impossible in the context where everyone is just like us. It’s akin to asking the boys in a middle school locker room if they stink. Of course they do! They don’t know it but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Yes, legitimate Marxists have hijacked ideas like white privilege and are using it for their own sinister means. But we should not allow that to keep us from honest reflection. The evil presence of Marx is no reason to keep us from the honest, Christlike love that Paul calls us to. Regardless of what headlines you read in coming days, that’s all that J.D. Greear is telling us.

So go beyond the headlines and step out of your group. Accept the fact that, for whatever reason, you have been privileged. Don’t feel guilty about that and don’t make others feel guilty about whatever privilege they enjoy. Instead, find those who are lacking and use what God has blessed you with for their good.

This might mean speaking up in a difficult context.

It might involve personal sacrifices.

It will most certainly involve stepping away from your keyboard, taking a break from your favorite social influencer, and developing a relationship with an actual person who is not like you. This is the context where Christ’s Great Commandment to love God and neighbor is best carried out.

And it is our adherence to that Great Commandment, not our political views, party loyalty, or ethnic pride that will matter in eternity.

You’ve been warned.

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