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Using Your Privilege to Aid Those Hurt by the Privileged

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I have worshipped the last several Sundays with the shadow of the attack on the synagogue in Poway, California, on my heart.

When one adds up the cumulative carnage of this attack, the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburg, the attack on the mosque in New Zealand, the driver in California charged with eight counts of attempted murder for intentionally targeting Muslims, the hundreds of Christians killed in Sri Lanka and the bombing of three African-American churches in Louisiana, it can feel as if resurrection hasn’t really taken hold in the rest of the creation.

Although we all carry grief for these outrages spawned by prejudice and white supremacy, many of us – being European-Americans participating in the majority faith of our nation – perhaps do not feel directly threatened.

This struck me as I sat in one of our churches this past Sunday, a church of fellow American Baptist Churches of New York State brothers and sisters from the Burmese Diaspora.

These new Americans are the type of people who become the target of animus born of nationalism and racism.

Nationalism and patriotism are not the same thing. These words grew to carry different baggage in the 20th century.

To sit in that church on the last Sunday in April was more dangerous than it used to be.

We have a variety of ABC/NYS churches where the majority of worshippers are people of color.

Sunday morning, the threat felt among them was not abstract or hypothetical; they were sitting in places that are more dangerous than they used to be.

Power-intoxicated white supremacy, self-centered nationalism and fearful racism are a threat to many of our ABC/NYS brothers and sisters.

So what about those of us who live with the privilege granted to white Christians in America?

We often hear the timely admonition “if you see something, say something.” Maybe it is time to start practicing “if you hear something, say something.”

We cannot shed our privilege like a coat. We can, however, use it.

When we hear something ugly and dangerous, we can speak up on behalf of people who do not move through life with our unearned privilege.

We can listen to what is going on around us and intervene. We can demand that the dignity due those who bear within them the image of the Creator of the universe be acknowledged and honored.

I do not think it a stretch to see this as a Christian duty. The author of 2 Timothy 4:1b-2 writes, “I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”

We can be mindful of the time in which we live and our opportunities to teach about what it means to honor the one who created us all.

I was waiting in line at a Rite Aid recently, in a hurry to get home to dinner. I stood behind two Hispanic men whose English was not yet fluent.

They wore dusty work clothes and dirt-encrusted boots; they obviously had spent the day working hard.

One of them was buying leftover Easter candy, all of it 50% off but without the prices clearly marked. The clerk was trying to explain the various prices.

One of the men kept putting back one item after another; apparently, he had a spending limit.

It was quite a process to complete this transaction. The clerk was incredibly patient and kind and warm, smiling through the whole encounter.

He even tried speaking some Italian to them, thinking that it might be easier for them to understand than English.

I was proud of this man using his position and privilege to make these men feel comfortable and of value.

It was a small thing to do, but it was a powerful expression of kindness and character.

None of us can compel the creation to embrace resurrection, but we can speak out when those around us treat people as if they do not carry within them the image of the Creator of all things who raised Jesus from the dead.

We, who were undeniably privileged by our culture at birth, can use that privilege for the benefit of those who do not move through the world as easily as we do.

We can at least be kind and loving and affirming to those among us who are not so treated all the time, and in that moment, resurrection breaks out.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Kelsey’s blog, I’m Just Saying. It is used with permission.

Jim Kelsey

Jim Kelsey is executive minister of the American Baptist Churches-New York State.