by Gregory Stark, Dioceses of Idaho and Ohio
Considérez, frères, qui vous êtes, vous que Dieu a appelés : il y a parmi vous, du point de vue humain, peu de sages, peu de puissants, peu de gens de noble origine. Au contraire, Dieu a choisi ce qui est folie aux yeux du monde pour couvrir de honte les sages ; il a choisi ce qui est faiblesse aux yeux du monde pour couvrir de honte les forts ; il a choisi ce qui est bas, méprisable ou ne vaut rien aux yeux du monde, pour détruire ce que celui-ci estime important. Ainsi, aucun être humain ne peut se vanter devant Dieu. Mais Dieu vous a unis à Jésus-Christ et il a fait du Christ notre sagesse : c'est le Christ qui nous rend justes devant Dieu, qui nous permet de vivre pour Dieu et qui nous délivre du péché. Par conséquent, comme le déclare l'Écriture : « Si quelqu'un veut se vanter, qu'il se vante de ce que le Seigneur a fait . »
"They think they are the ones who have power, but we know that we are the ones who really have the power," said Marta Benavides to the gathered group of Ecumenical Women. I started off this reflection with a passage of scripture in French to articulate the issues of access, privilege and power. My reflection focuses on the first two days of this delegation to the UN-CSW, two days of orientation. The above verse is I Corinthians 1:26-31 (le Français Courant), and if you look up the English version, you will find Paul arguing against the wisdom of the world. This verse came up recently in my New Testament class at Kenyon College, and this Pauline theme has been particularly relevant in sermons at Harcourt Parish Episcopal Church. How does it relate to advocacy? It's not only about the knowledge of Jesus, but about the power that comes with our relationship with Christ. Our living into the gospel means that we will find ourselves, even in our advocacy, being the fools according to the powers that be. The verse says that God will choose those who are not, those who are contemptible in the eyes of the world, to destroy that which the world views as most important, oppressive social paradigms. The foolishness of the Gospel is that God can be a child, the foolishness of the Gospel is that Christ suffered and suffers for and with us, the foolishness of the gospel in the eyes of the world.
But we know, and beyond that knowledge, we are called to act, to do justice. On Monday, I had the opportunity to use my position of privilege as an educated, (almost) bilingual college student to help a woman from the Central African Republic tell her story in a break out session on violence against the girl child. I emphasize that I was not being a voice for the voiceless. She had a voice (a strong and very helpful one, at that), but her voice could not be heard. Often when we speak of advocacy we use that phrase, "voice for the voiceless", but that begs the question: why are they voiceless? It ignores the fact that everyone has a voice, and that if someone is "voiceless" it is that they have had their voice taken from them. In my case, the woman had her voice taken mostly out of convenience (how do you communicate a broad message in english, while providing for a few in other languages?), but it was still taken from her. I relate this to privilege because the first step in dismantling the patriarchal paradigm is recognizing, or naming, our own positions of privilege. I didn't speak "for" her. She very much spoke for herself. I poured out my "privilege", using it to empower her.
Finally, I want to talk about privilege as a concept in its own right. Unfortunately, this is one of those areas where language has forced us to discuss global issues with a single word. Privilege carries many meanings in english, from a position of honor to the systems of oppression and abuse. My title was "l'apanage et le privilège", "privilege and privilege". However, the two have different meanings in the french. The first refers to those systems of oppression, abuse, and power struggles. It captures exactly what we speak of when discussing privilege and power in patriarchal paradigms. The latter is the positive, the positions of honor and advantage, positions that should be open to all regardless of who they are or where they come from. It can be discouraging to constantly have to check ourselves as we speak. It is a challenge to be aware of how our language creates barriers between us and the ways in which it strengthens dominant paradigms. However, I am given hope in my faith, that God will use whomever God wills to speak truth to power, to be the holy fools for justice. I know that my hope is not fruitless, but that the Kingdom of God will come, and that every tongue will confess. Access is not limited to any group of people, but is available to all humanity, through Christ our Liberator (see Romans 5:1-5). I end with a prayer for social justice from the Book of Common Prayer:
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 823)