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October 30, 2020

Picking Up Your Cross Means Laying Down Your Privilege

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

The original version of this article was published by Power 2 Change on Nov 21, 2019, and republished by the author Jon Corbin on Jun 7, 2020. With the permission of the author, we share this piece as a guest column here on Faith Strong Today.

I could feel the words getting choked out. My throat closing. My face contorting in a fruitless effort to block the tears. The pain was evident in my quivering voice, my shaking body. I had moments to regain my composure, as preaching a sermon is decidedly an inopportune time to have an emotional breakdown. I breathed heavily and tried again.

“We are ARGUING with the widows and orphans…”

I remember emphasizing the word ‘arguing’—and it was that word that was giving me such trouble. My mind was flashing back to countless social media posts I had read over several years, pushing back against any suggestion that people of colour were being treated unfairly by police.

It didn’t matter what story was shared or what video was shown, there was always a clapback. There were always scores of people unwilling to listen.

And when I felt further bold, I would click on that protestor’s social media profile, and would surprisingly see… a cross, a Scripture verse, or a proud proclamation of Christianity.

Here was my brother or sister in Christ, a member of my spiritual family, arguing each and every case; arguing against each and every outcry of injustice. Unwilling to question any suspicious circumstance, treating public discourse like a battleground, and refusing to cede any territory.

In this constant battle to defend law enforcement, there was no effort to meet grieving people in their pain. I wondered how well they knew the Scriptures that spoke clearly about the God of Justice who requires us to tune our ears to the needy. I’m reminded of Psalm 82, James 1, Micah 6, and Matthew 25:

“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4)

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27)

“With what shall I come before the Lord…He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8)

Christ even mentions that the Lord in final judgement will separate us like a shepherd does the sheep and the goats based on how we treat the hungry, thirsty, foreigner, naked, sick, and imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46).

Despite how you might feel about a specific case, or even a specific people group, the deep outpouring of grief is no time to argue. Yet, hearing these vicious denials, my heart repeatedly breaks:

  • Well, he shouldn’t have reached for his wallet
  • I want to see the whole video before I make up my mind
  • That wasn’t me
  • I’m not racist
  • I never owned a slave
  • I am colourblind
  • Why do we spend so much time focusing on the past?
  • Let’s just focus on the gospel
  • Don’t all lives matter?

It’s cruel. And it’s heartless. Remember, Jesus wept with Mary and Martha in losing their brother Lazarus. He wept because he was their friend and he met them in their pain.

I don’t know if he knew at that moment that God would empower him to perform a resurrection miracle, but I also know that he didn’t stop himself from feeling deeply with his beloved friends. This is the kind of care people from marginalized communities need right now.

And yes, we should consider anger as a part of this grieving process. Other people’s anger is extremely unsettling, but our culture often moves to controlling anger before understanding it, primarily out of fear. And, it is a disservice to all of us to do so.

In some ways, I can understand the defensiveness. Because following Christ in this capacity will open us up to feeling pain ourselves. If we are obedient in “weeping with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), we will have to stop and engage; we will have to put aside our busy lives; we will have to really feel the loss that these groups are feeling.

This may lead us to wrestle with the fact that there is unequal treatment on this land, and that some people are in more physical, psychological, and emotional danger than others. We may then be sparked to do something about it, and that’s going to cost us.

Jesus did these sorts of things. And, Jesus asked us to pick up our cross and follow him. That will mean laying down our privilege.

Privilege is a special right or advantage available only to a particular person or group of people. Privilege means that you get something that other people don’t. You get something you didn’t earn and might not necessarily deserve.

Do those born in North America deserve freedom from religious persecution? Did they receive it because of their inherent goodness? Or is it just a function of where they were born? Is it simply something that they get that others don’t?

Privilege can also be seen like this: I don’t ever have to see or acknowledge your struggle. I can continue to live my life, without your burdens ever reaching my senses, and my life will be just fine.

Imagine that approach in a nuclear family: A husband never caring that his wife is being disrespected by the male colleagues in her office, or a brother refusing to acknowledge that his sister is receiving unwanted comments in high school halls. Imagine that the husband and brother still professed love for their family members, but never offered comfort or care. How hollow would that love seem?

So, what of Christ-followers and the command to love our neighbour? I’m reminded of the Molly Jenson song that asks, “Do you only love the ones who look like you?” The song has always sparked in me another question: Do you only pay attention to the ones who look like you?

To do justly, we must refocus our eyes. To love mercy, we must attune our ears. To walk humbly, we must close our mouths and open our hearts to the narratives, stories, testimonies, and experiences of people from minority groups. Then, we must be willing to respond with compassion.

Your learning journey begins with the decision to pay attention.

Your growth rests on your willingness to lay down your privilege and engage these narratives. THEN, you go. Read a book, find a podcast, or watch an interview. Look in those texts for the references to other texts, and then go investigate those. Add to your social media timeline. Watch who they share and retweet. Utilize the resourcefulness God has given you to add to your learning.

If you have an authentic friendship with someone from a minority group, make time to sit and listen to their perspective and their experiences. Even better, if you know people from the dominant group who have already started their learning journey, ask them for resources.

Ease the burden on your brother or sister of colour by refraining from asking them to teach you. You wouldn’t ask the grieving widow to fully describe the depth of her loss simply because you fail to understand it. You will understand the pain by living hers and helping her through each difficult step.

This is what our God asks of us. And assuredly, our God is big enough to provide you with the strength and courage to pick up your cross and try.

Jon Corbin

A speaker, writer, spoken word poet, and hip-hop artist, Jon Corbin is passionate about sparking the flame of creativity and connection discussing faith, love, family, social justice, and personal growth.

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