Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Paul's Privilege Smackdown

I just read the book of Galatians. Whoa! The apostle Paul is not messing around. He is pretty serious about the whole "you can't work your way to Heaven" mantra. He pounds away at this message over and over again.

One of the most important things he tackles in this letter is the idea that doing the right thing or things that are deemed in certain circles as right are not what matters. These things do not make you better than anyone else. It is merely an attempt to assert privileges.

He specifically addressed one of the most important cultural issues of the day for Jews - circumcision. This tradition dates back to their father Abraham. For them it was the identification of proper faith. It is not easy for 21st century Americans to relate to circumcision as some holy thing, but we might relate to "going to church," reading the Bible, or some other good thing that seems to mark purity of faith. Don't get me wrong - these are great things, but not things that make us great. Make sense? What Paul said was all of that meant nothing if there was a void in loving others. While the topic of circumcision is not very relatable, the process of bypassing true love of others by some privilege asserting behaviors is alive today.

Asserting some level of cultural privilege necessarily gets in the way of loving each other. In Paul's most revealing and striking statement on privilege, he unambiguously attacks privilege by saying that "There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male or female for all are one in Christ Jesus." One, two, three, Paul takes on three of the most significant categories of privilege and destroys them: ethnicity, gender, and power.

Finally, Paul is completely transparent about his motivation for being so strong with his words. He is dead to himself and alive in Jesus. He gave up all of his religious privilege to follow Jesus. He was on the fast track to leadership in the Jewish religious system. Proclaiming a faith in Jesus was a career killer for him. He gave up status and most likely wealth to side with the minority, to side with the Greeks, to side with the poor - the very thing he was eager to do.

Paul's rhetoric is so powerful and so relevant, even 2000 years later.

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