Christian Theology and White Privilege in America

All races were born into sin; whites are not more sinful than those of any other color since we all wallow in the same mud.

Success and whiteness are not inherently co-joined. Neither are whiteness and intelligence nor whiteness and creativity.  White privilege should not be traced to inherent characteristics in the white person. Out of the heart flow the issues of life. All races were born into sin, and all nations have the same depravity rooted deep in their hearts. Whites are not more sinful than those of any other color.  We all wallow in the same mud.

 

White privilege can be defined as the inherent advantages possessed by a white person, especially those advantages that exist in western nations such as the United States.  A few radical dictionaries extend this definition to include the cause for these advantages as being rooted in injustice.

It would seem rather obvious that white privilege has existed in the United States from its beginnings.  White people as a whole have dominated the demographics of America and the history of America.  White people have controlled most of America’s wealth, and have occupied elevated positions in education, civil government, and business.  Historically, this was mostly true of white males.

In our national conversation on white privilege we must admit that whiteness does give a person an added benefit in the pursuit of prosperity.  In seeking any solution to the animosity that exists in a divided America today, white people need to begin by at least admitting that these differences do exist.

However, we must guard against two extremes in this conversation.  First, we must guard against the idea that white privilege comes from inherent whiteness: This is racism.  Secondly, we must guard against the idea that white privilege comes from a unique inherent sinfulness that exist in whites more than it does in other races: This is also racism.

First, we must realize that whiteness is not inherently superior in itself. This must be adamantly stated at the beginning of any conversation on white privilege.  Any benefits enjoyed by being white do not originate from the characteristic of whiteness as a color.  Success and whiteness are not inherently co-joined. Neither are whiteness and intelligence nor whiteness and creativity.  White privilege should not be traced to inherent characteristics in the white person. Out of the heart flow the issues of life.

Secondly, all races were born into sin, and all nations have the same depravity rooted deep in their hearts. Whites are not more sinful than those of any other color.  We all wallow in the same mud.

A popular tendency today is to blame white privilege on the evils of the past including the appalling slavery in the South, the western expansion of white men at the expense of the Indian nations, and the malevolence of the white business tycoons. Many other malicious causes could be added to the list. There is some basis for culpability in these accusations.  However, whites are not more sinful than any other color. If the tables had been turned, and blacks had owned the plantations and whites had been subjected as slaves, the outcome would have been no different.  We would be talking about black privilege today. To expect anything else is also a form of racism.

Where then does white privilege find its origin? If we admit that slavery was a contributor to white privilege, we must also consider that American history began long before the Civil War or even before Colonial America.  Looking from a broad historical perspective, we must reach back into pre-American history.

One thing that strikes me as missing in this conversation on white privilege is the fact that mostly white men settled the original thirteen colonies, creating a culture from which came such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. These white men were greatly influenced by the Christian Faith of Great Britain.  Actually, American history began long before the Pilgrims. It goes back to a Christianized Europe.

This leads to a follow-up question.  Why did the influence of Christianity move through Europe rather than through Africa or the Far East?  The answer is the same as the response given to those who object to the doctrine of predestination: Salvation is totally by the grace of God.  There is nothing in man that contributes to that salvation. Salvation depends totally on the decrees of God as they are manifested in the individual in time and space.  Likewise, the same rationale can be applied to national white privilege in both Europe and America. God himself chose to spread his gospel mainly through Europe. Whiteness had nothing to do with it. This prosperity was rooted in God’s sovereign grace.

Also, whites must not forget that God can reject a privileged people if they squander his blessings.  We find this example among the Old Testament Jews who were a privileged people.

The majority of whites are beginning to recognize some guilt in the actions of their forefathers.  Some progress has been made here.  However, the white-guilt narrative has its limits.  Left-wing politics is pushing the white-guilt narrative too far.  In their boldness to promulgate their views, they are unaware of the potential consequences.  Like the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency, I am afraid that they will have a fearful awakening someday.  Living in fly-over America, I have a feel for the pulse of those who elected Trump as President.  What I fear in the future is wide-spread upheaval in the streets of America!

In summary, Christianity tends to make wicked men better men. Whites were no more or less wicked than any other color. Christianity captured Europe and was transferred to the shores of the thirteen colonies. Since Europe tended to be white, Christianity created white privilege in Europe and consequently in America.  This is the real origin of white privilege.  No doubt, slavery has contributed to the existence of white privilege.  However, the origin of white privilege is not in Southern slavery nor in the harsh treatment of the Indian nations.  These may be contributing factors, but the origin of white privilege is found in the sovereignty of God acting in world history.

America is trying to create an egalitarian culture through politics and raw power.  It will not work. We will only duplicate the outcome of the French Revolution.  However, there is good news.  The privileges of other races can indeed be raised to the level of whites, but it can only be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirt through the preaching of the gospel.

Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.

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