To make it simple, when God says “Widows’ – or any other weaker persons’ – lives, liberty, property, etc. matters,” you don’t dare talk back at Him with “All lives, liberty, property, etc. matters.” Because you talk back at Him like that, you are in trouble.
– The Anti-Chinese Movement in California, Elmer Sandmeyer
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Welcome to Episode 38 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 20 minutes we will be talking about a topic I shouldn’t be talking about, if I had an ounce of practical common sense – or what passes for common sense in modern day America. I will be talking about white privilege.Yes, one of those buzzwords of the modern political and social debate, and the realities behind it – because, as we will see, there is a certain reality behind it. I know, I know, from the perspective of either side of the debate – liberals or conservatives – I shouldn’t be using that word and I shouldn’t be talking about white privilege to start with. For the liberals, I am a Christian, and I am “right-wing,” and I am against socialism and government intervention, therefore I can’t possibly be speaking of white privilege the way I should, in terms of their re-defined notion of “social justice,” that is, government-mandated and enforced redistribution. Therefore, if I am not advocating for more government action, I shouldn’t be speaking on white privilege to start with. For the conservatives, “white privilege” is a no-no term, there isn’t such a thing as “white privilege,” it’s a made up notion, the only good mention of the term is to deny its reality, you don’t need a whole podcast on it, and if you are not simply denying that white privilege exists, then your true colors are showing, you are a libtard, this is where you lost me, I can’t listen to the end, etc. In other words, this episode can get me stoned (not in the good sense of the word) by both sides. However, I don’t have that much common sense – in the modern, American political meaning of the word – to worry about these reactions from both sides. I will be talking about white privilege, and that from a covenantal, that is, ethical/judicial perspective. Conservatives to the contrary, white privilege exists in this country, it is real, and for us to deny it is immature and self-defeating. Liberals to the contrary, white privilege in itself is not a problem, and their so-called “social justice” concerns are not a problem, what is a problem is the perversion of real, judicial justice, which is partly related to white privilege but is an issue of its own, and to fight against a false problem while ignoring the real problem is immature and self-defeating. There’s a Biblical view of the relation between privilege and justice, and this is what I want to talk about in this episode.
Any talk about this relation, between privilege and justice, must start with an understanding of the difference between the pagan view of justice and the Biblical view of justice. It’s not that pagan religions and philosophies have no view of justice; they do. (After all, in a world thoroughly permeated with Christian ideas and worldview, no one can afford to not have a view of justice, or they wouldn’t be able to compete on the market of ideas.) Their view of justice, however, is perfectly described by the common depiction of the goddess of justice as a blind-folded lady with scales and a sword. We don’t have much time to go deeper into the details of this symbolism, but the whole meaning of it – and especially of the blindfold – is that justice is supposed to be impersonal, that is, there should be no mindfulness of the social status or privileges of the parties in a trial. Lady Justice doesn’t need to know to the identity of the parties, she needs to know fact from fiction (that’s what that sword is for) and weigh the facts (that’s what the scales are for). The pagan ideal is a goddess of justice blindfolded to all other factors involved, declaring justice as an abstract, impersonal principle, detached from the realities of life.
In stark contrast to it is the justice of God described in the Bible. It is not a blind or impersonal justice; God doesn’t put on a blindfold when watching the judgments of men. He is deeply involved not only in the abstract application of justice across the board. To the contrary, He has a very deep bias towards certain groups and classes of people. In the courtrooms of men – and not only in their courtrooms, but in their houses, offices, vehicles, in their marketplaces, border patrol points – He has His eyes wide open to see how judges – and everyone of us, in fact – treat His special people, those that He has as His favorite, specially protected classes. He specifically warns the earthly judges about these people, and promises specific judgments if these people are denied justice. He is not a respecter of persons, He judges every wickedness and injustice; but injustice to some people He judges more severely, and He warned us about it.
In so many places in the Old Testament Law God warns against mistreating the orphan, the widow, and the stranger that if I quote all of them in a row, this episode will get a bit too long. He warns against general mistreatment of them anywhere (Ex. 22:22). He also warns against injustice against them in the court room (Deut. 27:19). He warns against mistreating them in regards to economic dealings, and specifically debt transactions (Deut. 24:17). They should have a priority in terms of charity (Deut. 24:19-21; 26:12-13). Etc., etc. But they are not the only special categories. There are other special treats for some people. A young girl raped in the field by a man was the only type of victim who could send a criminal to death without the word of a second witness (Deut. 22:25-27). We already saw in the previous episode of Axe to the Root that a concubine who was not provided for could leave her husband without guilt and without restoring the bride price to him. A poor person in Israel had a special right to zero-interest loan, and the lender had to return him his cloak every night (Ex. 22:25-27), and God specifically warned that He would be getting involved if this was violated. In addition, the lender was warned against entering the house of his poor debtor to take his pledge (Deut. 24:10-13); he had to wait outside until the man brought it to him. The wages of a poor and needy hired laborer had to be paid every day, not wait until some later date (Deut. 24:14-15). A man who was engaged or newly wed, or built or bought a new house, or planted a vineyard and hadn’t tasted its fruit, was free of the draft for one year (Deut. 20:5-7; 24:5).
All these are valid in the New Covenant as well, of course, and there are more special treatments. Older widows were more protected than younger widows (1 Tim. 5:3-15). A wife and a husband were treated unequally: the husband was not allowed to leave his wife for no reason whatsoever, while the wife was allowed to leave, even if only on the condition that she remained alone (1 Cor. 7:11). Children had special protection against deceivers (Matt. 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2). Pure and undefiled religion is defined specifically as visiting orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27). And of course, the ultimate list of categories of people who were to be granted special protection and care and attention, so special that the salvation of a person depends on how he treated these special categories, in Matt. 25:31-46:
Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’
In His court, obviously, God is not blindfolded. He watches carefully how we apply His justice, and he wants to know to whom we apply it, and how. And He has special favorites. He rewards all justice, but He especially rewards justice shown to His favorites. He hates and punishes all injustice, but He especially hates and punishes injustice shown to His favorites. So special are they to Him that he has included them as special cases in His Law. And even in the Final Judgment, His salvation is conditioned upon showing justice and mercy towards these special favorites.
Why would God do such a thing? Why isn’t His justice even, equal to all men, like the justice of the Greeks? Is He really a respecter of persons, or categories of persons? Why isn’t God saying that all justice matters, instead of indicating that some justice matters more than others?
Because in a world beset by sin, equal justice is an abstraction. In God’s world, there is inequality of power – not because inequality is a bad thing, far from it. In fact, inequality is a good thing, it follows from God’s unique purpose for every individual man. But when inequality of power meets the corruption of sin, the two conspire to produce inequality of justice. In a world without sin, there is no need to restrain powerful men or to place special protection around weaker people. But when sin has affected everyone, including the powerful of the day, the temptation is too strong to use their power to deny justice to the weak – and also to pretend on the surface that they are being equitable, and that they are just defending “law and order,” nothing else. Abstract, impersonal justice in a world of sin only becomes a facade for oppression. That was true in the Old Israel, where the government under the Law of God was supposed to be limited, only judiciary. How much more it is today, when the government is executive and is constantly involved in controlling resources, absorbing revenue, and distributing government contracts to private cronies. Power doesn’t corrupt, but corrupt men abuse power when they have it; and their victims are always the weaker members of the society.
For this reason God placed special boundaries of protection around the weaker members of the society – so special that even the salvation of a powerful person depends on him studiously honoring these boundaries. Which means that under the law of God, those with more power and privilege are under obligation to actively identify those weaker than them and make sure they render justice to them. Not simply render equal, abstract, impersonal justice, but justice specifically concerned with those weaker than them. A judge, a field owner, a business owner, a lender of money, a strong muscular man, a soldier in an occupying army, a rich man taking a wife, were to be very careful to identify the kind of person they were working with, and specifically go to the Law to learn the specific commands about dealing with people weaker than them, whether physically, or financially, or legally, or relationally, or in any other way.
To make it simple, when God says “Widows’ – or any other weaker persons’ – lives, liberty, property, etc. matters,” you don’t dare talk back at Him with “All lives, liberty, property, etc. matters.” Because you talk back at Him like that, you are in trouble. When God placed special protections for weaker categories of people in His Law, He did it with a purpose. And we all know it very well when it is used against us. When Soros and other liberal billionaires influence politics using their money, we all say, “our votes matter.” And if Soros replies, “All votes matter,” we wouldn’t be very convinced, would we?
This is nothing more than just a repetition of the same principle that Jesus gave in Luke 12:48: “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.” Power and privilege are all given, they are all entrusted capital. Therefore, all those who have power and privilege should expect to have heavier burden of justice laid on them; this is the Biblical principle. (On a side note, it is because of the abandonment of this principle that the celebrity cult worship has emerged in the US, and why the church is in a free fall. When we as a church start applying Luke 12:48 to our pulpit celebrities, we will have some real revival.)
The question now is: Does white privilege exist at all? Is it a reality? The answers are: Yes, it certainly exists. Yes, it is a reality in America today.
Before we continue, we need to to take care of one of the numberless conservative schizophrenias in America today. When one talks about blacks, crime level in black communities, etc., conservatives have a neat source of information: “statistics shows.” That is, aggregate information matters. When the talk is about white privilege, however, suddenly the statistics means nothing and we are looking only at individuals: “Look at me, I am white. What privilege do I have?” And then, of course, the Holocaust is mentioned, or the Civil War is mentioned, or Ghengis Khan is mentioned, etc. That is, aggregate information doesn’t matter. Conservatives are just as schizophrenic as liberals, keep that in mind. Anyway, let’s move to white privilege.
In order to understand how white privilege is real, we need to return back our previous episode where we talked about the two different value systems that a man is always assessed by. One was judicial, and it had to do with his nature of being a bearer of the image of God. The other one was economic and it had to do with his gifts and calling in the fulfillment of the Dominion Mandate. His judicial status denotes his rights in relation to other people and to the society’s institutions. His economic status denotes his privileges in respect to control and management of God’s resources. The economic power of a man, therefore, is his privilege. There is nothing wrong with privileges; a number of faithful men in the Bible were fabulously rich, and therefore powerful, and their wealth and power did not lead to their demise. (Where there was a demise, as with Solomon, it was not related directly to wealth and power.) Thus, it is a mandate under the Law of God that we are all equal before the Law, that is, judicially: we all have the same right to justice. On the other hand, it is by God’s providence that we are all unequal before God’s resources, that is, economically.
Statistics shows – and one doesn’t really need statistics to know it – that if we really separate “white community” from “black community,” which people in America do without even noticing it, the “white community” really has better control over economic resources. It has more people in it, and these people are on the average wealthier than the average black American. Now, that is not to say that there is anything wrong with a group of people being wealthier than another group. Neither is this an assessment of the reasons why it is so: obviously, the white community has a longer history of capital and skill accumulation over generations, but also a higher level of work ethic. This is a good reason why there is a need for missions in the black communities – and I mean missions in the comprehensive sense, including the applications of the Gospel to personal work ethic. We must also acknowledge that there is a not so moral reason for the difference, and that is the cultural and economic leftovers from slavery; now, what share they have in the economic situation of the black community is another issue. (This is a good reason why we need to preach the applications of the Gospel to justice to the white community.) Our main thesis here, however, is that the economic status of the white community is certainly higher than the economic status of the black community; for different, mixed reasons, of course, but still higher. Some time ago I read some memoirs by a white teacher in an all-black public high school. The overall attitude was of hostility against whites (although the teacher herself was rather respected). Once she asked her students: What if all whites disappeared from America? Would y’all be better off. The students’ response was sincere, “We’d be all screwed.” In the current historical situation, there is still control of resources and productive knowledge that the white community has over the other communities. Its economic status is higher. And higher economic status means higher privilege. It’s just a fact.
Not that there is anything wrong with privilege in itself. If anything is wrong, it is in the very social perception of “communities” separated by skin color, ethnicity, or genetics. A godly society doesn’t produce such separate “communities.” Israel left Egypt, and with Israel, a mixed multitude (in Hebrew it is literally an “Arab multitude”) left Egypt, too (Ex. 12:38). We do not see the people of that mixed multitude forming their own ethnic communities. To the contrary, Israel became a homogenous nation. In fact, Caleb, the leader of Judah, the largest tribe, was himself a Kenezite, that is, from one of the tribes whose land God would later give to the descendants of Abraham (Gen. 15:19). We shouldn’t be talking about “white” and “black communities” in the first place. But because of generational sin, and the leftovers of that sin, such separation – or perception of separation – is still a reality, so the different economic status is still a reality, and therefore white privilege is still a reality. Again, nothing wrong with it, in itself. Work ethic can be acquired, economic status changes over time, eventually, this can be healed by a simple process of preaching and changing of practical ethics.
The issue comes when we understand that privilege and power, in a fallen world and in an ungodly society, can lead to abuse and denial of justice to the weaker and less-privileged groups. Or, in the more common case, silence in the face of injustice. Under the Law, when the only government agents were the judges, the temptation of favoring the rich and powerful and wronging the poor and weak members of the society was still very strong. Under the modern pagan, executive state, the temptation is even stronger: the state can choose to favor the groups that control more resources, or contribute more resources in the form of taxes, and oppress the groups who are less privileged. And in fact, this is exactly what is happening today, in almost every single policy of the modern executive state. The most obvious, of course, is the modern policy concerning abortions: The victims (the unborn children) can contribute no votes to political parties, and pay no taxes, nor do they pay lobbyist money. Thus, the legislative action of the executive state is in favor of the lobbyists who profit from abortions. As I have mentioned many times, we never see cops shutting down abortion mills; we always see them defending them. Modern “justice” is always in favor of those more powerful and privileged.
This applies to many more weaker groups. In different forms and under different kinds of disguise, oppression is practiced by the government against the poor and homeless, against poorer minorities, against strangers, against younger people, etc. This oppression, of course, is not done openly; no oppression is carried under the official title of “oppression.” It is always under some form of legitimately sounding government policy or regulation: reproductive rights, monetary policies, employment regulations, immigration control, environmental safety, “law and order in the inner cities,” drug abuse control, etc. And in the process of oppression, the state makes sure that certain groups – those with better privilege and therefore more social power – are left relatively unmolested, so that they don’t use their privilege and power to stop oppression. Thus, privilege, while not wicked in itself, can be abused – not in direct oppression, but in complacent silence about oppression.
And I have talked in a previous episode – on institutional racism and the prison-industrial complex – how that oppression is practiced by our government today. And also how we are complacently silent about it; after all, it mainly affects the blacks, not us.
Biblically, however, the groups of better privilege and more power in the culture have certain obligations under the principle of Luke 12:48: “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.” According to the Law of God, we are not allowed to deny the fact of the privilege: it is there, and it is clearly seen in the greater social and economic power of the white community. Our obligation is to acknowledge the reality of that privilege, and acknowledge that under Luke 12:48we are under a greater responsibility. Part of that responsibility is to actively identify the groups and categories of people in our society who, for one reason or another, in the inherited covenantal realities of our age, are socially underprivileged and powerless. And therefore, being underprivileged and powerless, are vulnerable to injustice – injustice not necessarily by us, but by the state, with our silent permission. We are not only obligated to actively identify such groups, but also to be vigilant and identify the different forms of oppression. If under the Law of God even such seemingly innocent action of entering the house of a poor debtor to take a pledge is defined as oppression, then the same ethical principle applies to many more things that to us may look innocent, but to the weaker members of the society are oppressive and humiliating. We have relative wealth and privilege entrusted to us. Our obligation is to take up our responsibility and use our privilege to guard the weaker against oppression. Not deny our privilege. Not feel guilty for it. Not try to transfer wealth to make others as privileged as we are. Not feel responsible to change the economic status of anyone, ours or that of others. But defend and protect the judicial status of full rights of those who can’t protect it for themselves.
And it is from there that our share in the work and the process of racial reconciliation must start. And not just racial reconciliation, but also justice and liberty for all. Denying the privilege is immature, and also dangerous before God: for he may decide to take it away from us if we continue denying it in ungratefulness to Him. The black community needs to do its part, no doubt about that. But then again, Luke 12:48 must be a guiding principle for justice: “To whom much is given, much shall be required of them.” And may God give us the grace to restore that principle among us.
The book I will assign for reading this week is The Anti-Chinese Movement in California by Elmer Sandmeyer. From the perspective of time, we can see the injustice done to a weaker minority, an injustice that at the time was not obvious even to the most conscientious of Christians. We need to understand, there’s such injustice done today, and we need to be ahead of our time and stand against it.
And remember in your prayers, and in your giving, Bulgarian Reformation Ministries, a mission in Eastern Europe which has proven successful by creating a foundation for a Christian civilization by translating books and preaching a comprehensive Gospel where none has been preached before. Visit BulgarianReformation.com. Subscribe to the newsletter. And Donate.