OPINION | Stephen McAlpine
Friday 6 May 2016
There’s a loud and shrill call from many quarters, particularly the Humanities Department of just about every university in the Western world, that if you are middle class, male, white and privileged, it’s time to shut up and let other voices be heard.
It’s not a particularly new perspective, as it was around when I was a youngster at uni (so much less middle class or privileged, but certainly just as white and male as I am now).
But with the cultural wars in full swing, the voices calling for the silence of this group now inhabit the mainstream. And, unfortunately, many within theological faculties who should know better are buying into it, with all the enthusiasm of a liberal who has just discovered The West Wing eight years too late.
Now this is not the time to get whiney about how out of vogue we now are: Let’s leave that to Ben Folds from his song, Rockin’ the Suburbs, the bridge of which states in the most erudite manner:
“Y’all don’t know what it’s like being male, middle-class and white” (ad infinitum).
Well, actually I do. And it ain’t half bad. It ain’t bad at all, especially that middle class bit.
Compared to many working class white males who I see driving or cycling, wearing high-viz, to smelly, dangerous jobs in factories at 5:30am, day after inexorable day, I have it easy.
I watch them at the lights, bearded, yawning, slurping coffee, whilst there I am, on my way to run training before breakfast and a meeting in my comfy studio. All of which demonstrates that the privilege bit is increasingly attached to education more so than to gender or race in the late modern West.
But I digress. This is a call for those Christian men who inhabit such privilege to use that privilege well. As gospel men, those whose primary identity is in Christ, no matter what other identity markers our increasingly toxic culture wishes to put upon us, there is incredible responsibility coming with the gifts you have been given. So don’t shy away when the label is slapped on you. Don’t allow it to silence or shut you down.
“What gifts?”, you ask. Well, how about these three for starters: The gift associated with being a man in what is, sadly, still a man’s world. The gift of being a white person in a world in which white people have punched, kicked and trammelled themselves to the top over a period of time. The gift of being middle class in a world that trips over itself to suck up to you with just about every piece of technology and every exciting experience it can sell (the sum of which could be a curse by the way, depending on how you use it).
Of course, some of you are now saying, “I got here by my own strength, under my own steam!” To which Paul would echo to you the words he penned to the Corinthian Christians (proud of their privileges as they were),
“What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1Cor4:7)
So how should Christian men, in the knowledge that their position is a gift, use this gift to serve others rather than themselves? How about these for a start?
1. Serve as Humble Leaders
I’m tired of opening up a blog feed or Christianity Today story in which yet another evangelical church has been torn asunder by a proud, self-serving, privileged, white male leader. Hasn’t this infected the church just as much as it has the world?
The litany of bully-boy Christian leaders is becoming a tiresome procession. So too is the “we are sorry we didn’t say anything sooner” mea culpas, from other middle class, theologically educated, white men, whose self-interest allowed many others – women and men – to be downtrodden by a male, middle-class white bully. Not to mention the frantic efforts then made to photoshop the culprit from the church’s history, affording those aforementioned blokes the opportunity to wheel out another version of the same model, wind him up, set him loose, and start the whole thing again.
A generation of privileged men who, like Jesus, give up their privilege to serve others could be an astonishing life, church and culture transformation. A generation of men who give up their rights in their service of God and others rather than big-note themselves and their congregational growth. A generation of men who didn’t constantly feel the need to protect one of their own kind, but saw all of God’s people as equal before the Lord.
2. Serve as Generous Givers
The money and talent available to middle-class churches from those men who sit at the top of the corporate trees in the city can be, and often is, used to serve others generously. And not just others in the immediate church in which they serve, but in the wider community and overseas. Giving until it hurts is, in my view, a prerequisite for this cohort.
That’s not necessarily easy, when those with whom you rub bespoke-suited shoulders give no such thought to the fruits of their privilege. But to spend less on holidays, on children’s education, on houses, on cars, on whatever, is pretty much a non-negotiable. The bracket creep of wealth, in which we compare ourselves unfavourably to those around us, must be flushed out and exposed.
Imagine what it would say to the world (and to one’s own privileged family) if we took a visible hip pocket hit for the gospel.
3. Serve as Wise Fathers
Being a sober-minded wise man is so 1955. The exhortations to older men and fathers in the New Testament documents (e.g Ephesians 6, Colossians 3, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus 2) pretty much go in the opposite direction to the pop cultural take on men who are either clueless about their families, or too distracted maintaining their youthful edge via Playstation or adventure weekends. The commonplace picture is of a man doling out cash to an eye-rolling teen.
But there’s a huge responsibility associated with bringing up one’s children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, especially in a culture gathering steam against the gospel.
I would have given my right arm (I’m a leftie) to have had a father who both had the education, and the emotional wherewithal, to navigate me through the post-modern literature degree I took, replete as it was with the sneer towards all things Christian, dead-white males, etc etc.
The lack of any such guidance took its toll on my worldview and my world-practice, a view and a practice that was only corrected by a fantastic theological training experience (from white, middle aged men who had taken point one above seriously) which allowed me to trust a text again and discover the point of Scripture was Jesus!
And now? With my female, non-white 15 year old daughter thinking of heading down the same academic line as I, I get to fortify her faith, and to do so with a good two year run up at it. And it’s an opportunity I am taking with relish.
Fathers (physical and spiritual), use your extensive technical and popular reading; your lifetime of work experiences, your social opportunities, your tertiary education, your gospel framework, to build into your impressionable sons and daughters the richness of intellect, joyful experience and fulfilling desire found in the Jesus and the identity available in him.
Use that car-ride to school; that inconvenient request to help with textual interpretation of The Hunger Games for an English essay; that anti-gospel slander on Q and A or The Project, to shape and form your young people away from the world and towards Jesus. If you’re the male, middle class and white bloke in the house with a good education, it’s a formidable arsenal against the barbs and venom of a godless culture, so use it!
Reject the voices in the culture that say your privilege ought to be silenced, because as sure as hell (and I mean hell), they will fill the void for you. Speak up!
And if that all sounds too hard, too much at the end of a busy week, or busy month, or busy year, then consider the Privileged One who gave it all up to serve you. Who gave you every gift you have so that you cannot boast in anything.
Use your privilege well, for one day you will be answerable for it, not to the Humanities Department, but to the King of the Universe.