George Washington University has come under fire for a workshop they publicized on their website entitled “Christian Privilege: But Our Founding Fathers Were All Christian, Right?!” The description on the website, since taken down, said the workshop would ask “How do Christians in the USA experience life in an easier way than non-Christians?” and “Even with the separation of Church and State, are there places where Christians have built-in advantages over non-Christians?”
On Twitter, where #christianprivilege is trending, the overwhelming response has been outrage at GWU, with many people pointing out the staggering rate of Christian persecution around the globe. One response came from Thomas O’Neil who posted “While Christians are beheaded, crucified, killed for their faith, ridiculed, mocked, beaten, and shamed for worshiping God, people claim that we are somehow “Privileged”. Someone explain to me how the most persecuted people in the world are “privileged” #christianprivilege”
While Christians are beheaded, crucified, killed for their faith, ridiculed, mocked, beaten, and shamed for worshiping God, people claim that we are somehow “Privileged”. Someone explain to me how the most persecuted people in the world are “privileged” #christianprivilege
— Thomas O’Neill (@toneillministry) April 3, 2018
In response, some on Twitter have claimed that Christian privilege is very real, with user Phil Blaze posting simply “An atheist can’t be president.”
An atheist can’t be president #ChristianPrivilege
— Phill Blaze (@whynotgo4th) April 3, 2018
The Bible warns Christians they will be persecuted by the world, so we know that Christian persecution is a very real thing. And it is also true that Christian persecution around the globe has never been higher than it is now. That being said, GWU’s class is claiming that American Christians are in a position of social privilege and it’s worth considering whether that’s true.
It’s easy to point to examples of what could be labeled as Christian persecution, specifically in the arena of gay marriage, where people like Betty and Richard Odgaard shut down their wedding venue after being fined for not making it available for LGBT weddings. Senator Ted Cruz affirmed them as martyrs for a cause when he ran for President, saying their livelihood had been taken away by “liberal fascism.”
In 2014, the California college system banned Intervarsity, a Christian organization, from having an on-campus presence at any of their schools as they didn’t allow LGBT students to be in leadership. The decision was ultimately reversed, but for some Christians verified their belief that the Christian faith is being shoved out of higher education.
Yet some voices, like Kevin de Young writing for The Gospel Coalition, encourages Christians to take a more moderate approach. While he believes there are very real obstacles to complete religious freedom for Christians in America, he also reminds us that “There are more than 300,000 churches in this country. The overwhelming majority of Americans still call themselves Christians. It’s legal to be a Christian. It’s legal to proclaim Christ. It’s legal to convert to Christianity. We don’t want to miss all the things we have to be thankful for or pretend that everyone is out to get us.”
It’s also worth remembering that Christianity is exponentially the largest religion in the United States, that 91 percent of our national elected representatives identify as Christian, and that other religions in the United States face very real persecution that is equal to or greater than anything Christianity in the States faces.
But it’s worth asking whether this whole conversation is problematic in the first place. As Christians, we have been given very clear instructions on what to do with whatever privilege we may have: to willingly give it up. As Paul reminds us in Philippians 2, we are to copy the example of Jesus, who had the ultimate position of privilege but gave it all up to become a servant.
It’s easy to feel threatened by what—rightly or wrongly—feels like persecution in this “Christian privilege” conversation, but maybe the most Christ-centric response is to respond by humbling ourselves and becoming a servant to all.