Are you “Blessed” or “Privileged”?

There’s an important sense in which the two words are actually opposites.

The way the term privileged is used it can seem like a close synonym to blessed. One person says, “I’m blessed to have always had a roof over my head” and another says, “I was privileged to never have to worry about being homeless.” Just a matter of tomato/tomatoh, right? Two terms for the same idea.

They Might Seem Close Synonyms but the Devil Is in the Details

A couple of years back a viral video showed a large group of older teens getting ready to race for a $100 bill. It was men and women, blacks and whites, athletic sorts and not so, and all things being equal, we’d expect one of the long lean guys to run away with the money.

But the point of the video was to explain that things are not equal. The leader of the group, Adam Donyes, had a series of eight statements to tell the students before the race got started. The teens were supposed to take two steps forward for each one that applied to them:

  • “Your parents are still married.”
  • “You grew up with a father figure in your home.”
  • “You had access to a private education.”
  • “You had access to a free tutor growing up.”
  • “You never had to worry about your cellphone being shut off.”
  • “You never had to help mom or dad with the bills.”
  • “It wasn’t because of your athletic ability that you don’t have to pay for college.”
  • “You never wondered where your next meal was going to come from.”

Doynes was trying to make a very specific point. He told the group that each of his statements had “nothing to do with decisions you’ve made.” The students up front were there not because of anything they had done, but because of the position they had been born into, or their parents had put them in. He told those students:

“…if this was a fair race, and everybody was back on that line I guarantee you some of these black dudes would smoke all of you. And it is only because you have this big of a head start that you’re possibly going to win this race called life. That is a picture of life, ladies and gentlemen. Nothing you’ve done has put you in the lead that you’re in right now.”

Then he shouted “go!” and the race was on.

Drawing Out Biblical Truths

There are some clear biblical truths that could be drawn out of this video. Luke 12:48b might come to mind:

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”

Or we might think of how the three servants were given different amounts of money in the Parable of the Talents in Matt. 25. It’s important for us to understand that for those who have been blessed with more, God has raised expectations for us.

The video also lines up well with 1 Cor. 12 where Paul notes our different gifts, comparing them to parts of the body. One person might be a hand, another a foot, and another an eye. And just like the “eye cannot say to the hand ‘I have no need of you’” so too we shouldn’t look down on those with different gifts than our own. That’s an important lesson, and Doynes tries to make that specifically to those out in the front.

But in this same chapter Paul also makes another point that would have been an important one for all those farther back. We are all part of the body, and we shouldn’t overlook what God gifts has given us:

“…the body does not consist of one member but many. If the foot should say, ‘because I am a hand I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body….there are many parts, yet one body.”

Guilt vs. Gratitude

So there was a lot to love in this video. But what made it go viral was how it seemed the perfect illustration of “privilege,” and specifically “white privilege,” since blacks were clustered in the back, and the very front was populated with whites.

The way the term privileged is used it can seem like a close synonym to blessed. One person says, “I’m blessed to have always had a roof over my head” and another says, “I was privileged to never have to worry about being homeless.” Just a matter of tomato/tomatoh, right? Two terms for the same idea.

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