Christian Privilege

This post is a contribution to the June Synchroblog: What’s In Your Invisible Knapsack?  The “Invisible Knapsack” is a term coined by Peggy McIntosh in her 1988 essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Her short essay reflected on the unearned privileges that whites could count on each day, but about which they remained oblivious. This month’s synchroblog asks us to peek inside our own invisible knapsacks and discover what’s inside.  I will add a list of other posts to the end of this as they come available.

I come from a conservative, evangelical, Christian background and for many years I spent the majority of my time actively involved in a conservative, evangelical, Christian church.  In all the many times I attended a bible study, heard a sermon, participated in a small group discussion, went to a retreat, attended a conference I don’t remember much (other than the occasional remark about being grateful that we could practice our religion freely without fear) ever being said about the many privileges that Christians in the U.S. enjoy, or the powerful position that Christians in America hold, or how Christian privileges affect those who are not Christians.  In fact, it was not uncommon to hear someone say that Christians in the U.S. are victims and are persecuted and oppressed.

As a Christian, that perspective upsets me tremendously because Christians are one of the most privileged and powerful groups in America and yet the majority of Christians in America seem oblivious to how silly and self centered they appear when they complain about the “war on Christmas” or “not being allowed to pray in public schools” or “the ten commandments not being allowed to be posted in a government office”.  Not only is it insensitive to Christian’s in other parts of the world who are actually dealing with persecution and oppression but it is insensitive to those in the U.S. who are not Christians.  It’s as if anything short of total hegemony constitutes oppression.  And on top of that I am really appalled at the ways Christians go out of their way to find and use “loopholes” in laws in order for them to go on enjoying their privileges and ignoring the way their privileges infringe on others.

My youngest son graduated from high school this year and because he performed so well academically we attended quite a few ceremonies where he was recognized for his achievements.  At every single ceremony we attended, including the actual graduation ceremony, Christianity was front and center.  Whether in an opening or closing prayer, a song sung by a choir, words about God and faith in a speech – the insinuation was that Christianity was the normal thing, the accepted thing, the best thing, the right thing.  Most of the time no laws were being broken because the loopholes were being strategically implemented.  But even if a law was being broken who would push back?  Everyone there was aware that the Christians were in charge.

What bothered me the most was the self centered attitude which allowed these Christians to openly ignore the fact that there were people among them who were present who were not Christians.  These people were there either to be honored or to honor someone they knew and cared about.  It was a special evening for them too.  Yet, they were being treated as if they didn’t matter, as if they were not important, as if they were less than, second class, invisible. 

Is that how Christians should manage their privileges?  What happened to the idea of putting others interests above our own?  Shouldn’t we yield our own rights in order to be considerate of someone else’s feelings?  Do we really think that lording our rights over others is a positive demonstration of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ?

In January of this year Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina said “The greatest minority under assault today are Christians.  No doubt about it.”

Where does that come from?  Do Christians really believe that?

No matter how you slice it, Christianity is not a minority.  It remains the world’s largest religion and more than 36% of Christians live in the U.S.

Wiccans, Pagans, Jews, Atheists, Muslims are all victims of persecution and oppression in America and yet any right or protection for any of these groups are often used by Christians to claim persecution of themselves.

As a Christian in the U.S.I am determined to become more aware of the unearned privileges that I enjoy in hopes that I will be more aware of how my privileges affect those who are not Christian so that I might act more justly in the days to come by being considerate and respectful of those who are not of the Christian faith.

Would you like to join me?

If so, here are 40 Christian privileges to get us started:

1. It is likely that state and federal holidays coincide with my religious practices, thereby having little to no impact on my job and/or education.

2. I can talk openly about my religious practices without concern for how it will be received by others.

3. I can be sure to hear music on the radio and watch specials on television that celebrate the holidays of my religion.

4. When told about the history of civilization, I can be sure that I am shown people of my religion.

5. I can worry about religious privilege without being perceived as “self-interested” or “self-seeking.”

6. I can have a “Jesus is Lord” bumper sticker or Ictus (Christian Fish) on my car and not worry about someone vandalizing my car because of it.

7. I can share my holiday greetings without being fully conscious of how it may impact those who do not celebrate the same holidays. Also, I can be sure that people are knowledgeable about the holidays of my religion and will greet me with the appropriate holiday greeting (e.g., Merry Christmas, Happy Easter, etc.).

8. I can probably assume that there is a universality of religious experience.

9. I can deny Christian Privilege by asserting that all religions are essentially the same.

10. I probably do not need to learn the religious or spiritual customs of others, and I am likely not penalized for not knowing them.

11. I am probably unencumbered by having to explain why I am or am not doing things related to my religious norms on a daily basis.

12. I am likely not judged by the improper actions of others in my religious group.

13. If I wish, I can usually or exclusively be among those from my religious group most of the time (in work, school, or at home).

14. I can assume that my safety, or the safety of my family, will not be put in jeopardy by disclosing my religion to others at work or at school.

15. It is likely that mass media represents my religion widely AND positively.

16. It is likely that I can find items to buy that represent my religious norms and holidays with relative ease (e.g., food, decorations, greeting cards, etc.).

17. I can speak or write about my religion, and even critique other religions, and have these perspectives listened to and published with relative ease and without much fear of reprisal.

18. I could write an article on Christian Privilege without putting my own religion on trial.

19. I can travel without others assuming that I put them at risk because of my religion; nor will my religion put me at risk from others when I travel.

20. I can be financially successful without the assumption from others that this success is connected to my religion.

21. I can protect myself (and my children) from people who may not like me (or them) based on my religion.

22. Law enforcement officials will likely assume I am a non-threatening person if my religion is disclosed to them. In fact, disclosure may actually help law enforcement officials perceive me as being “in the right” or “unbiased.”

23. I can safely assume that any authority figure will generally be someone of my religion.

24. I can talk about my religion, even proselytize, and be characterized as “sharing the word,” instead of imposing my ideas on others.

25. I can be gentle and affirming to people without being characterized as an exception to my religion.

26. I am never asked to speak on behalf of all Christians.

27. My citizenship and immigration status will likely not be questioned, and my background will likely not be investigated, because of my religion.

28. My place of worship is probably not targeted for violence because of sentiment against my religion.

29. I can be sure that my religion will not work against me when seeking medical or legal help.

30. My religion will not cause teachers to pigeonhole me into certain professions based of the assumed “prowess” of my religious group.

31. I will not have my children taken from me from governmental authorities who are aware of my religious affiliation.

32. Disclosure of my religion to an adoption agency will likely not prevent me from being able to adopt children.

33. If I wish to give my children a parochial religious education, I probably have a variety of options nearby.

34. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence and importance of my religion.

35. I can be sure that when someone in the media is referring to God, they are referring to my (Christian) God.

36. I can easily find academic courses and institutions that give attention only to people of my religion.

37. My religious holidays are so completely “normal” that, in many ways, they may appear to no longer have any religious significance at all.

38. The elected and unelected officials of my government probably are members of my religious group.

39. When swearing an oath, I am probably making this oath by placing my hand on the scripture of my religion.

40. I can openly display my religious symbol(s) on my person or property without fear of disapproval, violence, and/or vandalism.

Christian Privileges from Schlosser, L. Z. (2003). Christian privilege: Breaking a sacred taboo.

Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 31(1), 44-51

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Here are the other contributions for this month’s synchroblog:

Rebecca Trotter at The Upside Down World – The Real Reason the Term “White Privilege” Needs to Die

Carol Kuniholm at Words Half Heard – What Do You Have That You Didn’t Receive

Glenn Hager at Glenn Hager – Unjust Justice

K.W. Leslie at More Christ – Sharing From The Invisible Knapsack

Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes – My Black Privilege

Alan Knox at The Assembling Of the Church – Knowing Who You Are and How Others Identify You

Leah Sophia at desert spirit’s fire – backpack cargo

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Christian Privilege

Kathy Escobar at Kathy Escobar – privilege.


68 thoughts on “Christian Privilege

  1. Pingback: WHAT’S in your SMILE? « carie's garden

  2. Shelby

    Wow, thank you for this article! I am so touched that you have succintly captured many very real situations from an outside perspective. I think, in this one act alone, that you are the most christlike Christian I have ever encountered. You can see your church for what it is; Jesus did this too. He is obviously speaking through you.

    If you don’t mind, I am going to share this article to my friends on Facebook. I found this link through a friend on Facebook and I would hope that others can see the value in your perspective.

    Blessed be!!

    Reply
  3. Raven

    Liz, I want to thank you for this blog. I grew up Christian, but converted to Wicca at 16. The world looks very different from a minority perspective…

    Being a Witch out of the broom closet in high school was challenging. What many people did not realize when they came to talk to me about religion was that I had the exact same conversation about 150 times- first I had to explain that I was not interested in being “saved,” that I had left Christianity for many reasons. Then I had to explain what Wicca was and was not. I had to listen to many people explain Christianity as though I had never heard of it before. It was very tiring for me, but I understood that for each person it was the first time they had this conversation, and that I shouldn’t get irritated with them for how many times this was brought up. During the prayer at graduation, which featured Jesus though it wasn’t supposed to (they allowed a student from an evangelical church give the prayer so it would seem like a student’s speech rather than an official endorsement of religion), I made a silent protest of not standing during this prayer. I was the only one out of more than 500 students that didn’t stand, though I know I wasn’t the only non-Christian there.

    A couple of years later, I was working at a bakery and decorated a large display cookie with gingerbread men, candy canes, and the words “Happy Holidays.” It wasn’t the only cookie decorated for the season, but definitely the most secular. The boss’s son came in while I was decorating it and asked why it didn’t say “Merry Christmas,” and spoke of how people were mad that no one was saying, “Merry Christmas,” at businesses anymore. I pointed out that I had already made a “Merry Christmas” display piece and I was trying to be inclusive. It was well known that I was a Witch, and not like I was making display cookies for the Sabbats or anything, so I was surprised that the boy had made a big deal about this. Ironically, it was the best selling design of the season.

    Now that I’m older and live in Las Vegas, I’m able to surround myself with those who are like-minded, and I realized something else that Christians tend to take for granted: the value of a support system. When a Christian has a spiritual or existential crisis, they need look no further than their community for reassurance. Most Wiccans and Pagans are solitary, so it’s impossible to know how many of us are out there, but we know it’s the fastest growing religion in the Western world, and yet, many of us are still alone. I have been to events locally with over 300 people in attendance, yet there is no public temple, and nowhere in my town that is one of the wedding capitals of the world that a couple can get handfasted as Pagans. I’m currently trying to change that, but it’s difficult to start from the ground up. I want to remind Christians of their roots, because Christianity was once like my religion: a scattered minority. Be grateful that you have the support you do- it’s far more difficult without.

    Love and Light,
    Raven

    Reply
    1. Liz Post author

      Raven – thank you for sharing your story. Your civil and courteous manner of speaking about your experience is admirable. I look forward to the day when our country is a much more inclusive place for people who are not christians.

      Reply
      1. Raven

        Thank you. Ironically, the more I study esotericism, the more respect I have for the teachings of Jesus. It saddens me that so often the religion is more focused on dogma, converting followers, and politics than on the things Jesus himself said were important. Ultimately, it all comes down to love. It’s the core of all religions, and if we can remember that rather than focusing on the semantics, maybe we can make the world a little better. 🙂

        Reply
    2. Shelby

      Raven,

      I can certainly speak on the awful experience of religious isolation. I have been overseas with my husband on military orders since 2007. Each base we are at has -maybe- a handful of people of my religion and I have never “gelled” with any of them enough to have meaningful religious fellowship. I live with this heartache every day. I have built a special space in my home for spiritual time and keep thinking to myself that, “If I build this, they will come.” But, they never do. I have recently felt so alone that I have honestly considered hanging in the back of the local Catholic services just to be near to people sharing their religion’s experiences. It is very disheartening. This is a very real situation for almost everyone in my religion who doesn’t live in a large city.

      Reply
      1. Raven

        Hi Shelby,
        If you click on my name it should take you to my Facebook page. I work in Pagan outreach and would love to help you find/create your community.

        Reply
  4. Susan Morris

    I am so deeply grateful and relieved that people of Christian faith are talking about this. Each item on this list describes something that I have either experienced personally, was experienced by a person I know, or has been a possible reality that caused me to curtail my own behavior and feel less “free.” Being on the other side of this is difficult. I was born here and I love my country, and yet people have publicly stated that all non-Christians should simply leave. I am glad to live in a nation that protects freedom of religion according to law, I only wish the spirit of these laws were truly reflected in the attitudes and customs of the majority in our society.

    Reply
  5. jkr

    Liz, thank you for the thoughtful discussion (and I’ve just discovered your blog, so please pardon any errors–such as omitting your name in my comment above). It’s an interesting list, some of which I (not of Christian background) had not considered before.

    Might I gently point out that #35 contains a privileged assumption within itself? People of Jewish faith and/or background are quite adequately represented in the media. And most Jews I know feel that their God is not the same as the Christian God; that the God of the “Old Testament” has been subsumed, within much of Christian thought, and assimilated as “the Biblical God” or “the Judeo-Christian God,” in a way that represents Christian hegemonic thinking rather than a mutual experience.

    In other words: a Jewish person speaking/writing in the mass media may refer to God, and Christians will often assume that “their” God is being spoken of, while the Jew has a different conception (and some would say a different God) in mind.

    On a different note: I’m having some trouble phrasing this adequately, but would like to add to your list a couple from my professional experience.

    – A Christian can go to a mental-health provider and (definitely with some exceptions among traditionally oriented psychoanalysts and such) have his or her faith regarded as a valid expression rather than a symptom.

    – A Christian can attend AA or other 12-Step meetings and feel comfortable with the language and assumptions embodied in the program. Also, he or she can be fairly confident that talking about his or her beliefs and how they support recovery will not lead to being shunned, proselytized, or (as happened to one pagan of my acquaintance) accused of “devil-worship.”

    Reply
  6. apallyon

    This whole list of “Christian privileges” is almost comical. The overwhelming majority, if not all, are far from uniquely Christian, they are almost all based on Constitutionally protected rights, namely the first amendment.

    2, 3, 6, 9, 17, 18, etc, are all freedom of speech.

    15, is a flat out joke, mainstream media portraying Christianity positively ? Really? I can be sure of that?

    39, Muslims can swear on the Koran.

    I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. These are privileges that Christians do enjoy, but they don’t enjoy them just because they are Christian; they enjoy them, as do people of other faiths, because they are American.

    Reply
    1. Liz Post author

      apallyon – just because 2,3,6 etc etc are freedom of speech does not mean that it is safe for people of different belief systems to do so – it may be a legal right but that does not make it socially acceptable. Muslims can swear on the Quran when being sworn in at court? When did that change? Is it the same in all states? I know there was a case in 2011 when a Muslim man refused to swear on a bible and I think that he was allowed to swear without it being on the bible but I didn’t think they used a Quran? I don’t think it is a law that people have to swear on the bible but just that they have to swear to tell the truth. However it is a common practice, if not a law, and the idea here is to help people who are interested to recognize any silent privileges that they enjoy. Since you think the list is comical then I assume that you are interested and so nothing on this list would be helpful to you so you should just disregard the whole thing.

      Reply
  7. Jo

    I just want to say, *thank you* for posting this. As someone on the outside of this (raised very, very loosely Jewish, now personally agnostic with a leaning to neo-pagan flavors), every single one of your points is DEAD ON.

    Reply
  8. Rabbit (@caudelac)

    I think that there are some things on this list which are no longer privileges that Christians enjoy. Specifically:

    “12. I am likely not judged by the improper actions of others in my religious group.”

    People on the whole _are_ likely, these days, to judge a given Christian based on the crudeness of other Christians, or to assume that Christian equals, specifically, homophobic. Link: http://rachelheldevans.com/win-culture-war-lose-generation-amendment-one-north-carolina

    As a result, a single Christian is likely, indeed, to be asked to speak for all Christians. Other than these, I am in agreement with this list.

    Reply
    1. Liz Post author

      Rabbit – I see your point and think that more and more people are judging Christians based on some broad stereotypes like the ones you mention.

      Reply
  9. Ayla

    I am a former Pagan, who is now a Mormon. My husband is an Atheist and my mother is still a Pagan. I was raised an Episcopal and I have a Master’s degree in Women’s Spirituality so I think I have a unique perspective on this topic and I must say in all love, I think you are really off base. Christianity is the most popular religion in our country and therefore enjoys certain benefits of popularity but it suffers the drawbacks as well.

    In many cases, in many circles, it is perfectly fine to debase a Christian simply because it is assumed they have privilege, much in the same way it is “OK” to make fun of white people but the reverse could never be said about another racial or ethnic group.

    I also must point out that your number one Christian privilege is the most inaccurate. Federal holidays are overwhelmingly secular. New Years, MLK Day, Inaugural Day, Washington’s birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    1 out of 11 federal holidays are based on Christianity, and considering that Bodhi day, Yule, Modraniht, Diwali, Pancha Ganapati, Hanukkah, Yalda, Saturnalia, Day of the birth of the Unconquered Sun, Guru Gobind Singh Gurpurab, Malanka, among other holidays, all fall within weeks or mere days of Christmas, having a federal holiday near the end of December simply makes sense for everyone.

    Your list seems to be based on regional bias. Here in Northern California Christians are not well tolerated. I live near San Francisco and in many, many cases we are downright hated and we are attacked, vandalized and discriminated against very often.

    Views and blog posts like these are not in the spirit of love, kindness or unity. It singles Christians out as though we have done something wrong simply by being part of the most popular faith in our country.

    Reply
    1. Liz Post author

      Ayla – the point wasn’t that all holidays are religious. The point was that the religious holidays that a Christian would be interested in celebrating are recognized by the state and federal which means that more companies give their employees off on those holidays and therefore Christian holidays are not as likely to conflict with work schedules.

      The idea here is not that it is wrong to be a Christian – the idea is that it is wrong for Christians to be inconsiderate of those outside of their belief system – to exercise rights at the expense of others – to use their power and privilege to promote their own agenda without taking into account how others are affected etc. etc.

      Reply

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