To begin with, it is necessary to identify myself as a fourth year undergraduate student studying Global Studies and English Literature. My day to day community during the school year is therefore predominantly 18-22 year olds. I am the only one in my group of friends who would consider themselves to be religious, though many claim a Christian heritage, and I am the only person I know in my University community who shares he progressive Christian views of my predominantly-middle-aged-and-older Lutheran community. This doesn’t stop me from having many wonderful friendships, but it does at times restrict the feeling of belonging. Before this year, however, I never felt excluded from the academic discourse I was engaging in; I never felt isolated as a progressive Christian. However, this year I am in a class on Global Perspectives in Religion and Public Policy. A recent lecture given by my professor stated these facts about Christian Privilege that I hold to be true:
• It is likely that state and federal holidays coincide with my religious practices, thereby having little or no impact on my job and/or education.
• It is likely that mass media represents my religion widely and positively.
• I can be sure to hear music on the radio and watch television specials that celebrate the holidays of my religion
• I can be financially successful without the assumption from others that this success is connected to my religion.
• Law enforcement officials will likely assume I am a non-threatening person if my religion is disclosed to them; in fact, disclosure of my religion may actually encourage or incline law enforcement officials to perceive me as being in the right or unbiased.
• The elected and appointed officials of my government are probably members of my religious group.
• When swearing an oath in court or for employment, I am probably making this oath by placing my hand on the scripture of my religion.
• The central figure of my religion is used as the major point of reference for my calendaring system
• When a major political or popular figure dies, it is likely I will see their death memorialized in language and buildings and by religious leaders that belong to my religion.
• When major or popular figures get married, it is likely they will get married in institutions belonging to my religion
However, there remain two points on my professor’s list that do not line up with my life experiences:
• I am not judged by the improper actions of others in my religious group.
On the contrary, though “improper actions” is a subjective term, when I am identified as a Christian I am commonly assumed to be socially conservative, homophobic, anti-abortion, and potentially ‘extra’-ethnocentric. To me many of the actions that stem from these world views are “improper actions”.
• When told about the positive aspects of the history of civilization, I can be sure that I am shown people of my religion made it what it is.
Though this may have been exclusively true thirty years ago, the emphasis today in the university classroom, in my experience, is on modernist and post modernist criticism. Christianity was the imperial colonial force that led to the crusades and the horrors of Canadian colonialism that oppressed (and still oppresses) Canadian Aboriginal populations, the Protestant Reformation made it possible for the rise of capitalism, the oppression of women is biblically based… I am not denying that there is truth in these statements. However, Christianity commonly appears as the ‘bad guy’ in academic discourse. What concerns me is that it is never acknowledged in academic discourse that the theology which led to the historical actions we are condemning is one theology and in many cases an out of date theology. In university today most of the negative aspects of the history of civilization I am shown people of my religion made it what it is.
These two difficulties are in no way equal to the difficulties, restrictions, and stereotypes faced by a person of a religion other than Christianity in Canada. However, the “shadow structure” of Christianity that still permeates Canadian government and policy does not mean that a practicing Christian is free of limitations. At least in academia, these two assumptions of Christian privilege can lead to an ignorance of progressive Christianity, perpetuating the idea that Christianity is incompatible with socially progressive movements. For me this means that asserting my Christian identity means aligning myself with conservative social norms which I consider to be the opposite of Christ’s call. So I ask: How can our actions speak louder than the stereotypes? How can we publically reclaim the good in our history and theology for the healing of the world?