Why Are You Afraid of Losing Your Privilege?

Why Are You Afraid of Losing Your Privilege?

Ask any church leader, pastor, seminary professor, or leading Christian about the importance of humility. I imagine you’ll find complete agreement. You may hear some confessions about the struggle to stay humble, but everyone will no doubt affirm that the humility of Jesus is a model for their walk as a leader.

But here’s what I don’t understand. Why are so many Christians afraid of losing their privilege? If the humility of Jesus is truly our model, why are positions of power so difficult to give up? Here are some examples:

  • Why do aging, white, male seminary professors hang on to their positions as long as possible instead of freeing up faculty space for women or minorities?

  • Why do elders often stay in their “lifetime appointments” well beyond their effectiveness as leaders?

  • Why do we as pastors sometimes get angry when we face criticism or difficult questions about our effectiveness?

  • Why do Western missionaries not want to give up their Western income and live like the people among whom they minister?

  • Why are North American Christians so worried about the church’s “loss of prestige” in society?

For people supposedly shaped by the humility of Jesus, it makes you wonder how folks have come to define humility.

In the blockbuster film Crazy Rich Asians, [1] Nick Young is the heir of Singapore’s wealthiest and most famous family. Having temporarily moved to New York City to “find himself,” he meets and falls in love with Rachel Chu, a second-generation Chinese-American and professor of economics at NYU. She is oblivious to who he is and to the pressure-packed, crazy-rich world of his family.

As their relationship progresses, Nick invites Rachel to travel to Singapore with him for his best friend’s wedding. Her journey of adventure begins when Singapore Airlines upgrades their tickets to first class. Stunned, she begins to discover her boyfriend’s true celebrity status. Nick’s secrecy about his wealth leaves her unprepared for what lies ahead, and she must cope with his family and friends viewing her as a “gold-digger.” The rest of the movie beautifully unpacks the complicated challenges of her predicament.

The storyline is a common one in fairy tales and romantic stories in general. A person of royalty hides his/her identity and falls in love with a commoner. Those in the world of wealth and prestige find out and try to either reject the interloper or force the person of power to give it all up. Then some kind of dramatic resolution or happy ending ensues.

Who in this plotline is the person of humility? Is it the Nick Young stereotype, the affable “nobleman” who temporarily hides his identity to find a down-to-earth woman? Or is it the Rachel Chu typecast, the brilliant “commoner” who as the daughter of a single parent must endure scorn, rejection and ridicule if she will see this relationship through?

Here’s where I’m going with this. I think most Western Christians tend to see Nick as the humble one. It’s he who “comes down” to Rachel’s level and then invites her to join his world of privilege and wealth. He temporarily gives up his power in order to invite her into his world.

Why? His actions probably fit your inherited definition of humility. You likely view humility as a partial, temporary self-denial in order to help those who are less fortunate.

Let’s be clear. This is NOT the model of humility laid out in Phil. 2:5-11. Jesus totally became as you are. Not partially. Not temporarily. Not because he felt a patronizing duty to do something nice for you. Jesus revoked his status and died a horrific death. It was only after death that God, who is rich in mercy, raised him back to the highest place.

Compare this with your church’s eagerness to do short-term missions. Do you practice partial, temporary self-denial in order to help needy people in impoverished countries? Or do you give up everything and permanently become like one of them?

Compare this with your church’s fear of decline and closure. Do you practice partial, temporary self-denial in order to help yourselves keep the doors open? Or do you selflessly look for what God is up to in your community and go join in with no conditions?

Compare this with your church leadership’s grasp on power. Do they practice partial, temporary self-denial by agonizing through difficult meetings and congregational discontent because they believe that only they are qualified to carry the baton? Or do they voluntarily relinquish their positions in order to empower those who may not be as “qualified” but who have previously been marginalized and excluded from leadership?

True humility demands a willingness to let go of prestige, to give up caring about your status.

What privilege and power are you holding onto? What are you really afraid of? Just imagine for a moment all the justified fears Jesus might have had about giving up his prestige. Yet he did it anyway. Might you want to reflect on your own definition of humility?

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Our model for humility isn’t a fairy tale or a blockbuster film, as great and entertaining as that might be. Instead, I merely wonder how our witness might intensify and improve if we took Paul’s words seriously: “but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.”

Lord, forgive us for being afraid of losing our privilege.

[1] Crazy Rich Asians. Directed by Jon M. Chu. USA: Warner Bros. Pictures, 2018.

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