We hear constantly about ‘privilege,’ and the need to ‘repent’ of that privilege. So just what exactly is ‘privilege’? Does it even exist? And how should we respond to our privilege?
What is Privilege?
First, let me say clearly: yes, privilege exists (if you want to call it such). But what is it? It is nothing more or less than the advantages that a person has in life. In this sense, it is simply those gifts that God has given you.
The person who is born into a rich family naturally has more privilege than the one who is born into a poor family. The person who is born into a stable family with a father and mother naturally has more privilege than one who is grows up in a single parent household. And even that person has more privilege than the one who grows up as an orphan. If we want to use this word ‘privilege,’ then everyone has some.
You have more privilege if you went to a good school than the person who went to a bad school. You have more privilege if you had mentors in your life, than the person who had no mentors. Privilege is nothing more or less than the benefits and advantages that God has given you in life – the advantages that some people don’t have.
Should we Repent of Privilege?
Of course not – because they are blessings from God! There is nothing wrong with this ‘privilege.’ It is simply the result of human flourishing – it is what God intends for all humanity. If I grew up in a stable family with both father and mother, I shouldn’t ‘repent’ of that. Rather, I should be grateful for it, and I should regret that not everyone had that experience. In a perfect world, everyone would have that ‘privilege.’
Rather, the author of Psalm 103 tells us how we should respond to the ‘privileges’ that God gives to us – “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…”
What about White Privilege?
But what about ‘white privilege’ – the fact that white people are treated better than others, are given the benefit of the doubt, and seem to be more successful than others?
I won’t deny that it is a privilege to be a white person – but it is also a privilege to be any kind of person! As Doug Wilson eloquently says, “To be a black man or a black woman, created in the image of God, is a high privilege indeed. That is a true privilege. This privilege is tempered, as it also is with white men, with the shame and guilt that attend being a sinful member of a fallen race. The image of God is marred in every ethnicity, but it is still there, and it must be honored and respected there. Anyone who begrudges that privilege has a problem with God.”
But what about the fact that white people have unique advantages over other people? Insofar as this occurs, it is not an issue of privilege, but of partiality. To treat one group of people better because of their melanin count is wrong, just as it is wrong to treat people worse because they have a different melanin count. James counsels us well (especially if we replace ‘rich man’ with ‘white man’):
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4)
The sin, of course, is not that a rich man has come into the assembly; it is that individuals are showing partiality.
In other words, the fact that other people treat me better, because God made me a certain way, does not mean that I need to repent. It rather means that those who show partiality need to repent. Such partiality is a sin, and we should speak against it. But we do not need to feel remorse or sorrow that God has made us the way that He has.
This is incredibly countercultural stuff, but it is biblical. Beware of being swept away by those who say you need to renounce your privilege. Rather, give thanks that God has privileged you in unique ways – and then work to be a blessing to others.