White Picket Fences
Turning Toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege
WHO: Amy Julia Becker, author of A Good and Perfect Gift.
SHE SAYS: “I have come to believe that privilege harms everyone, those who are excluded from it and those who benefit from it.”
THE BIG IDEA: The notion that some people have it inherently better than others—and for arbitrary reasons—seems insurmountable. We need to have a conversation about privilege before we can move forward.
In a style that reads like Christian Living, the author shares personal stories, Scripture and more to remind readers that the white picket fences we may want can also function as walls—and even prisons. We need to break down the fences of privilege and truly know and love our neighbors.
“I now understand two things about privilege that I didn’t understand before. One, that privilege in and of itself is not a sign of God’s blessing, but rather a fact of my life that can be used for good or for ill. Two, that what our culture calls privilege is a mirage, a false understanding of what it means to live a good life.”
A CONVERSATION WITH AMY JULIA BECKER
What do leaders of ministries and churches need to understand about “privilege” and how it impacts their congregations?
The first thing ministries and churches need to understand is that many white people don’t feel particularly privileged. They don’t feel as though the social systems of our nation work in their favor. They feel as though they have worked hard for what they own and earn, that they face the same struggles as far as family and disease and other problems as anyone else, and that all this talk about “privilege” only raises defenses rather than inspiring positive conversation.
And yet many white people in particular do have privilege, by which I mean unearned social advantages. These social advantages contribute to the significant disparities in household wealth, college completion rates, income, and even health measures that can be found between people of color and white communities. Acknowledging that social privilege is real and that it operates in a way that harms people—and whole communities—who do not have access to the same opportunities is one step towards healing.
What inspired you to write this book?
As a white woman with the support of a stable family, good education and strong faith community, I’ve always been aware of social disparities that gave me a “leg up.” Even though I knew I worked hard, I also knew that a lot of my advantages had been given to me without hard work. Still, when our oldest child, Penny, was born with Down syndrome, the differences between the social advantages I had been given and the ones she would be given became even more pronounced.
But I didn’t decide to write this book until many years later, when white people in America began to pay more attention to the discrepancies in how the criminal justice system treats different groups of people, to police brutality against people of color, and to ongoing gaps in the quality of a public education based on income level and race. I recognized a need for white people, and white Christians, to engage these topics, but also to do so in a way that acknowledged and honored our faith.
I want White Picket Fences to provide a place that offers a gentle invitation into the conversation about social divisions. I want to offer a hopeful response. There’s a lot of fear and guilt and shame around the topic of privilege, but I believe Jesus offers a loving, humble, and generous way forward. I hope I have written a book that acknowledges the very real problems and divisions we face while still insisting that God’s love is more powerful than any of our fears.
What is the No. 1 change you’d like to see made in the church in regard to privilege?
The gospel of Jesus Christ cuts through dividing lines. From the very beginning of the church, Paul preached a message of reconciliation that erased gender, socio-economic, and religious barriers. Not only that, but Paul and James and Jesus and other writers of the New Testament insisted that the people on the margins—the weak, the poor, the vulnerable—were actually the ones at the center of God’s heart and the center of God’s intentions to bless humanity. In other words, the people we call “privileged” desperately need the ones outside of that privilege, and privilege itself harms the very people it benefits because it cuts them off from a wider swath of God’s creation.
In our culture, some people ignore or dismiss the idea of privilege as simply a politically correct idea without much basis in reality. Others accept the concept of privilege but only feel guilt or shame in response. The church has the tools to provide a different answer to the problem of privilege. Instead of denial or shame, the church can offer the power of the love of God, at work through God’s people, who are willing to voluntarily lay down their privilege for the sake of love.
I would love to see the church redefine the conversation around privilege so that it moves away from denial and shame and instead becomes a way to participate in the kingdom of God through loving and hopeful care for all people.