White Privilege and Retirement

The first weekend in November I attended a workshop led by Brian McLaren who wrote the book, The Great Spiritual Migration, noted in an earlier blog.  He first addressed the question, “Should I stay in the church or should I leave?”  It was ground-breaking and foundation shattering to me. I have never thought about leaving the church.   His assessment is that many people cannot stay in the church because it does not support their integrity and does not offer them a future that has hope.  His reasoning went a lot deeper than the fact that some people get hurt by the church or the church is not keeping up with the times for young people.  He offered us a history of oppression that began very early by establishing a male domination system, and then cited a 1452 Papal bull (https://doctrineofdiscovery.org/dum-diversas) that gave the kings of Europe a mandate to go into the world and kill or capture (as slaves) anyone who is a Muslim or a pagan (all non-Christians) and seize all their goods (wealth) for their own profit.  This was the ”Age of Discovery”, the beginning of the era of colonialism that continues to today.  The control of the interpretation of Christian scripture by the educated elite allowed a misinterpretation and a misuse of scripture to undermine the gospel message of what loving one another means.

The Christian Identity should be one who stands against violence and stands for the building of community (the Kingdom of God) where all people have a place.  McLaren cites white privilege as the most insidious power to plunder the earth because we have the most guns and money to do it – and it was sanctioned as a divine right by Christianity.  We are waking up to this truth today, but this belief has become the operative way of life in the western world.

Coincidentally I was reading Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity, by Rev. Elizabeth M. Edman.  This book deals with coming to know, accept and live out who you are as a LBGBT person and as a Christian.  Chapter titles are: Identity, Risk, Touch (love), Scandal, Adoption, Pride, Authenticity and Hospitality.  This book helped me understand that people are not leaving the church because they don’t believe in God; they are leaving the church because it does not support their spiritual growth and their ability to live in and help shape our world that is rapidly changing (evolving?)

How do we stay Christian?  First, we must own our history of oppression and repent of this misinterpretation of the Gospel.  McLaren says: “Christianity is not an evacuation plan (escaping to heaven); it is a transformation plan for human development” (living together in love).  And second, we have to get back to God’s plan, the evolutionary plan for human development.

Leaving the church has its own consequences and legitimizes those who stay and perpetuate a false gospel and the fracturing of relationships in our world.  Where would we go? Who would do this work of reconciliation and community building?  Christian problems are human problems that all of us around the world are experiencing.  Staying can be an act of revolutionary love if we are willing to take the risk of speaking truth to oppressive structures within the church and community.  We need to reject violence as a way to solve our problems and protect our wealth. If we left, we would be abandoning a powerful unrealized potential to be God’s way of transforming the world. It is still possible to imagine the Christian faith as a movement and a way of life that has a future for all of us together.

In my own life I’ve known the blessing of people who have money and share it.  As a child, my neighbours took me on trips around the United States and taught me how to live in a bigger world than my own family.  My parents were not rich, but they did pay my way through college and seminary.  A man in my congregation set up a foundation which provided the finances to do community ministry for 12 years beginning in the year 2000.  And because I didn’t have to worry about raising money, I was able to do work I loved and save enough money to fund my retirement by investing in the stock market during its most lucrative time in history.

In my unawareness, I invested in companies who believed in the profit motive (making money any way they could) and in eternal economic growth that would make life better and better.  But they did not promote conservation of resources, environmental protection, or paying a fair price for wages in foreign countries.  Today it is hard to turn that engine of greed around because we (western world) have all become comfortable and unaware (perhaps “blind” is a better word) in our greed.  We feel good when we share some crumbs from the Master’s table when we could give those in need a good meal. It has only been in the last 10 to 20 years that we have come to see the devastating effects of this economic policy, in the obscene divide between the rich and the poor in our world.  We are world citizens and we are still ignoring our responsibility.  What I am learning is that people like me need to use their white privilege, wealth and power, to help those who are poor, homeless and without access to opportunities to enjoy the riches of this world.

McLaren reminds us that if we are going to ask the top 1% to give more to help the world, and we make more than $35,000 a year, we are also in that category – taking worldwide income into account.  I found where his statistic came from but there are many ways to figure out where people are on the income scale. The point is that most of us do not see ourselves as part of the richer segment of the world and we are much closer to the 1 % than we think we are.

Evolutionary Christianity recognizes evolution as the way the Universe, including us, moves forward, grows and expands.  Richard Rohr in his Blog on 9/2/19 said, “Evolution invites us to expand our consciousness of the divine mystery beyond the realm of human history and to see humankind [and all of creation] within the process of an evolving cosmic history. We come from the whole and belong to the whole. As church, as theologians, as citizens of the universe, therefore, we need an “option for whole,” and by this, I mean we need a new consciousness that includes our Big Bang expanding universe and biological evolution as part of our intellectual search for truth. Theology must begin with evolution if it is to talk of a living God, and hence it must include physical, spiritual, and psychological change as fundamental to reality.”

Brian McLaren says the reason young people are not attracted to the church is because it is still holding on to creeds that address world problems of the 1, 2, 3rd centuries.  It is not a leader in challenging a culture that, as Gretta Thunberg says, “is only interested in money and the fantasy of unlimited economic growth”.   The church is so fractured that the gospel is seen as a belief system, not a way of life.  And until we show people, not just tell people, what transformation looks like (radical hospitality, social justice, spirituality rooted in love, and taking the risks to make change) we will not be attractive because we are not relevant to current world problems.

My mind jumped to a present day, practical illustration of this truth: Andrew Sheer is facing a leadership review in April (though it is happening in public right now).  Why didn’t his promises not to touch abortion or gay marriage rights satisfy both conservative and liberal people? I believe it is because these positions are indications that he lives in an outdated worldview and religious perspective.  It is not enough that he says he will not challenge the gay marriage laws; his beliefs and views tell a story about how he views the world which is not in touch with the needs and beliefs of young and progressive citizens.  Andrew Coyne, a Conservative columnist, commented that Andrew Sheer is not the problem.  The problem is a party that has not updated its policies to address today’s problems.  The Conservative Party may remain a staple for those who are trying to cling on to the past, but the country has moved on and this is the decision that the federal Conservatives have to face if they want to remain relevant.  Conservatives play an important part in the balance of power, but they will only be able to play this role if they can change with the times. 

When I came to Canada it was a world leader, brokering peace and welcoming people from all over the world.  Now we are slipping into a morass of fear.  Being “Christian” is about being in the world as a leader of transformation.  The church could be a community of love and support for those heeding this call, because at heart it is all about transformation. We need to keep the faith that doing the right thing will prevail and we want to be in that future that is going to prevail.

https://brianmclaren.net/what-i-shared-in-calgary   Slides from Brian McLaren’s presentations in Calgary, Nov 1 and 2, 2019

 

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7 Responses to White Privilege and Retirement

  1. NOEL REA says:

    John,

    Thank you for this very thoughtful piece.

    Much to talk about.

    Go well.

    Noel

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Dave Myers says:

    Rarely have I read one of your blogs and felt so beaten up at the end of it! As I was reading it, at one moment I felt like jumping out of my chair exclaiming you are so right only in the next instance to be smashed on the jaw with an uppercut of a statement that totally floored me. The church has been established by Christ as his means of spreading the gospel. To leave it means you are alone crying in the wilderness. It is less than perfect but it has produced our current morality we live by and which has served us well. It has strayed from the message often but it was the work of the church that produced something so needed yet now taken for granted as the weekend. If we need to look to nature for proof we will see it emphasises the natural 7 day rhythm of the human body as created by God.
    I am currently studying Matthew 5 which includes Christ’s assertion that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. Immediately He then launches into the Antitheses where he explains how the Law has been perverted and how each of His ‘modifications’ keeps the Law but goes to the heart of the Law by going to the heart of every human being – the inside out idea of living a true Christian life. Yes, the church has made mistakes and continues to do so because it is a human institution and by definition imperfect. However, to reform it is not done by leaving but by staying. Only through a fully co-ordinated effort can Christ’s message persist in the world.
    The specific example you use of rejection – the LGBTQ community – is, in fact, being embraced in the church. Even the Episcopalian church has opened wide its arms to this community, even to the point of the National Cathedral being the final resting place and funeral for a young gay man who was murdered by fellow students (I can’t remember his name). My own denomination is wrestling not with the fact of homosexuality but how it applies to ordination and the sacraments. We are late in the game but at least we are trying.
    Leaving the church is not an answer. Also in Matthew 5 is the beatitude concerning those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Righteousness includes justice which is what I think you seek. Their blessing is they shall be filled. God’s time line is never ours and whatever path you take His kingdom will only come when He deems the time is fulfilled. Meanwhile we are charged with living our lives promoting Christ’s gospel of overwhelming love to others and we most efficiently do that when we do it as a single body – His church.

    • John Griffith says:

      David, as I read your response over and over, I think you had the same response I had when I first received this information. It first took the wind out of me and then the Spirit filled me up again. I was fortunate to be in a community of people who could share reactions, ask questions and process what we were hearing. I appreciated that Brian was informing, not blaming us. He told us we should not hold shame or guilt about our white privilege; we should use it appropriately to open the door for those who are left out. We need to practice hospitality and seek justice, welcoming in those who do not have a voice (power) in our society. And as you point out, there are many places where the Christian church is doing that. And then there is the Alberta government with Bill 207, introduced Nov. 7, that wants to take that voice away for many of us who seek medical procedures that social conservatives do not agree with. For me that means an institution or practitioner does not have to give me any information to obtain medical assisted dying as it is outlined in my personal directive if they do not believe in this practice. This is definitely a Catholic and religious right agenda. We have a lot of work to do in our own Christian house. The model of Jesus cited in Philippians 2:5-11 is the way to use our power.
      I think we agree that leaving the church is not the answer and would be a serious mistake for us who believe in the mission of the church to provide a way for human transformation. I see many ways this is happening today and remain hopeful. We need to speak up where and when we can until they kick us out. I think of Matthew Fox. When he was forced out of his Catholic Dominican Order he joined the Episcopal communion.
      I think we are all late to the game and yet we must embrace our calling to be disciples (to walk the talk). I also believe we need to see the cross in front of us, the risks of taking action to the point of sacrifice. Easy to say, hard to do.
      One more comment: I referenced Rev. Edman’s book because she says we all need to embrace our identity as a Christians. Living that identity is the way God frees us to be our true self. Calling us out, frees us to be in the community and allows the community to support us and use our gifts to transform world/culture. The last statement of my blog should have said, “I realize now, that I retired from a job, not from life and meaningful engagement with others”.
      Thanks for your heartfelt response.

      • Trish Polay says:

        This is an interesting topic and touches on a question that I have. Speaking of current issues, I have found myself wondering what God would think about how the non-human life on our planet is treated in today’s world (things like factory farming, deforestation, pollution of the oceans, etc)? From what I have heard, the idea is that He created the earth and the animals for us to use, and it basically doesn’t make any difference to Him… Do you know of anything in Christianity that would say that we should have respect for all life, and take care of our earth, or is it really only human life that matters?

      • John Griffith says:

        Hi Trish, you ask big questions. There really is no short answer to this question. But let me begin with this quote from Richard Rohr, a Catholic priest who has a daily blog that I follow and learn from.

        Richard Rohr daily blog Dec. 31, 2018 “Within each of us is a deep desire for union and intimacy with God, with our truest self, and with all of Creation. Because life is hard, and we’re wired for survival, we develop coping mechanisms that separate us from each other and God. Thankfully, God is patient and has many ways to reach us. Jesus is one of the clearest, most visible images of God’s love. His teaching and example model for us what it means to be both human and divine—at the same time. He dismantles our preconceived ideas about who and where God is and is not.”

        Also, I want to reference Brian McLaren’s book, The Great Spiritual Migration. What I say here is supported by his explanation of where Christian teaching began and where it is going. We are an evolving species that is migrating to a new way of understanding God and our place in creation.

        People interpret scripture according to their understanding of reality at the time. Spirituality and religion have evolved over time as our understanding of how we have come to be here has changed. With each new step in our evolution we understand our place in creation in a new way. Not only do we have new abilities we also have new responsibilities. At one time human life was all about personal physical survival but now it is about our responsibility for building a worldwide community for the survival of our species. It is not about God choosing a group of people to be better than everyone else. Rather it is about love being the basis of our relationships, and this love is inclusive and welcomes in everyone. This love requires us to embrace all forms of life as necessary for the fullness of life. That includes rocks and trees, animals, etc. And at this point in time, only this perspective will allow for life to continue to exist at all. Your question is, “Is this a Christian position?” Christian mystics for at least 600 years have understood there is a “oneness” to creation, a sacredness and an internal structure or design that is guiding our growth. Humans have always wondered why we are here, what is our purpose. They created stories to explain our place in the world. Christian origin stories in Genesis tell us that we are created in the image of God and we are to “have dominion” over the earth and all things. What we want to believe is that we have been created by God and given the whole universe to use for our benefit. However, we could also interpret this to mean that our purpose and place in the world is: we are chosen and given the power to take care of everything and everything will take care of us.

        Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry have been helpful to me in bringing the discipline of science into my understanding of the answer to how we got here and why we are here. Science does not contradict Biblical teaching in my way of thinking, it expands my ability to understand my faith.
        Brian Swimme says the character of the universe is revealed in three laws/characteristics. First of all, the universe is a subject not an object. This means that the universe is not just inert stuff to be used for our benefit without limits. The universe has an inner life of its own and we are part of that life. This is a controversial statement because it implies that the universe itself has a consciousness. The second law is that we are in communion with everything and do not live in isolation. This law says we are not separate from everything else. All life plays a part in the evolution/growth of the universe. Our existence depends on how we treat the world (rocks, trees, animals, resources, etc.). We are connected. The third law is differentiation. This is essential to our survival. The universe (God) loves diversity. The universe is growing into an expanded consciousness and there is constant change. God/the universe does not want us all to be the same but to be “one in the spirit”, to be open to loving God, loving our neighbour, loving our self, and loving the whole world of nature in a way that brings us together into a more compassionate community. We need all three laws. If any one of them were not true, the universe could not exist as we know it. We are coming to realize that love is the all-important energy at work in evolution. This is what Brian McLaren’s book is about. Love is the key to a Christian understanding of life.

        It is all about interpretation. One of the most important truths of Christianity is found in the celebration of the birth of Jesus. It is a statement of incarnation. The union of God and human life. If we go to the Bible to find backing for a position you mention, I could quote scripture passages that promote welcoming the stranger, loving the enemy and respect for creation, but my opponents can quote scripture to justify the opposite: slavery or white privilege or the oppression of women or anything that justifies what we want to believe. Usually it is the belief that we are the most important people or group that God loves more than any other. It is the triumph of the ego, not faith, that proclaims God loves me more then you. As for me I believe God is breaking down barriers and challenging us to welcome new ways of being faithful and welcoming new life into our life.

        Here are a few websites that talk about the use of the word “dominion’ in the Bible and more about the three laws of the universe.

        Click to access MTM%20-%203%20Principles%20of%20the%20Universe.pdf


        https://www.gospelproject.com/how-should-we-exercise-dominion
        https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2015/06/hebrew-word-study-dominion
        https://www.coursera.org/lecture/thomas-berry/differentiation-subjectivity-and-communion-PLIq
        Let me know if this makes any sense to you. It is such a big topic and so essential to the way our faith relates to current life issues.

  3. To say this is eye-opening is an understatement! There is so much food for thought here, John… It would require an essay to address your many powerful points properly. Thank you for taking the time to share this. I’ll be posting it on Facebook – this really needs to be seen.

    • John Griffith says:

      Yes, liberty that essay continues in my thinking and allows me to see instances where I can practice speaking up and sharing my life with others. It is also a balance of taking care of me and being there for others It all has to come from a good place or it “drive” us and that is not healthy. I keep coming back to love being the motivation and a daily practice of being aware. I know you know this in your own life and work.

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