The Peril of Privilege

I am just exhausted from a wonderful weekend of service in the inner city with over 50 students from around the state of Tennessee. My church was gracious to host us, although some students sleep was cut a bit short by an overly zealous chipsanim* opening the sanctuary for early Morning Prayer on Saturday. Lesson: 6 AM prayer really means 5:30 AM.

In any event, I and the students had a great time and we learned quite a bit about God’s passionate concern for our “neighbors”, and I had the privilege of mounting the pulpit Sunday to preach to both the normal English Ministry crowd, and the InterVarsity students who were gathered. It was great to stand at the “Intersection” (note subtle but shameless insertion of my blog name!!) of at least two parts of my world.

I preached from Exodus on the call of Moses by God, and emphasized our need to get beyond our reasons and excuses for not being involved in God’s purposes. God had placed in our hands the very instruments we need to achieve, by his grace and power, the things he calls us to.

As I reflect on this sermon and the weekend, I am reminded about how much of my preaching focuses on our responsibility, on our stewardship, on our need to get involved actively in what God is doing. These sermons are so different than the ones I preach to my father’s congregation, which is much poorer, and ironically needs much less motivation to serve either in church or in the community. It seems that more privilege people enjoy in terms of wealth and education, the more effort it takes to goad them into service.

It is a well attested fact that poor people are more generous in their charitable giving than wealthy people (as a percentage of income), and that poorer people tend to be more religious, and more committed in their religious observance. In fact, Christianity was initially and currently is globally, a religion of the poor and disenfranchised. It seems that privilege carries with it the increased perils of loss of generosity and even of faith.

A recent article in the New York Times citing a Pew Research poll indicates that an increase in wealth is correlated with a decrease in religiosity. How prescient are the words of the apostle that “those who desire to get rich fall into a snare and find themselves pierced through with many sorrows.” Unfortunately we don’t hear much preached about this.

Could it be that part of the reason for the so called “silent exodus” of Asian Americans from the church (which is paralleled in the Black community as well) is partially caused by the wealth experienced in these communities? Although the average household wealth and income of Asian American families is higher than even that of Whites, what is often obscured is that it is the wealth of families, many of whom work very hard and sacrifice greatly in order to send their children off to the best schools.

In the process of securing the future for their children financially, are they perhaps selling them out spiritually in the same way that Israel’s decision to move to Egypt to avoid famine eventually led to the enslavement of his descendants to the Egyptian pharaoh? The irony of their enslavement is that they were so busy working at the behest of Pharaoh, they did not even have time for a three day spiritual retreat. Even more ironic for us is the ways in which this pursuit of wealth has routinely been spiritualized and made to seem itself as an exercise in discipleship.

If Asian American and Black Christians are to have a future as people of vibrant faith, we need to take a serious look at the our wholesale swallowing of the pursuit of economic security (really wealth) and what such pursuit does not only to our souls, but to the faith of those who will come after us.

*chipsanim = deacon

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