Sunday, June 26, 2011
Adventures in White Heterosexual Male Privilege
Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.
In our last post, we promised, as we kiss SoCal June Gloom goodbye, to hit up what we believe to be the most important and sensitive issues in our world: race, sex, money and food (we promise to address these in reverse order). As noted, these topics quite often produce awkward debates, predictably when white heterosexual males are participating. As a sidebar, we would like to give one example of this white heterosexual male privilege: Franklin Graham.
The 58-year-old son of famous preacher Billy was in the news yesterday because he is bringing his Festival de Esperanza to Los Angeles in a mission to get thousands of his brown brothers and sisters saved. No doubt this is more than a little ironic since a supermajority of Latinos are already Christians, albeit Catholic & Pentecostal as opposed to Graham's American Protestantant Evangelicalism. Here's how the LA Times ended their article on Graham yesterday:
[Graham] has repeatedly spoken out against Islam, once calling it "a religion of hatred." He has raised questions about the sincerity of President Obama's Christianity, and heaped praise on several of the Republicans seeking to challenge Obama in 2012.
Asked Friday about his position on immigration reform, he said only that the current system is broken and needs to be fixed to allow people to "travel freely back and forth" across borders. He didn't say how that might be accomplished. He said he had no position on the federal Dream Act, legislation that died in the U.S. Senate last year but would have given legal status to many young undocumented immigrants who now attend college or serve in the military. "I'm not a politician," he said. "I'm for law, and I believe that our laws need to be obeyed, whatever they are."
This has to be one of the most absurd quotes of the year. It is amazing what white heterosexual males in power say to get out of a jam. Graham, quite frequently, speaks freely about his political convictions, even recently telling CBS News that he thought Donald Trump might be his pick for 2012. He has even ambivalently questioned Obama's own religious convictions:
The seed is passed through the father. He was born a Muslim. His father was a Muslim; the seed of Muslim is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim; his father gave him an Islamic name. He has renounced Islam, and he has accepted Jesus. That's what he has said he has done. I cannot say that he hasn't, so I just have to believe the president is what he has said.
Graham strategically blows the dogwhistle, calling out to his fellow white (mostly Southern) heterosexual (or closeted) Evangelical followers (a vital aspect of what psychologists like Edwin Friedman call "the herd instinct"). He makes it clear that he's Republican and what issues are important. But when he comes into our backyard in SoCal, Graham tapdances around the real political issues, refusing to take sides on immigration reform and the Dream Act, which would allow millions of young Latinos (who did not choose to come to the States) to step out of the shadows and provide a pathway to citizenship.
We don't mean to use Graham (or his father) as our whipping boy, but understanding his mentality is vital because it highlights how white heterosexual male privilege works. It overwhemingly advocates for the status quo because anything else might threaten their own power. This is the real reason why Graham's political platform is to criminalize abortion, reject marriage equality, promote tax-cuts for the wealthy and trust our political leaders in the War on Terror.
Yet when we actually engage critically and constructively with the biblical text, it turns out that these political stances do not fare so well, especially when we contrast the half-dozen (or so) generalized passages about fetuses (not a woman's legal choice to abort) and promiscuous gay sex (not same-sex marriage) with the thousand (or so) specific passages about the immorality of poverty and the clear portrait of Jesus as the enemy-loving Prince of Peace in the Gospels (not to mention the unanimous pacifism of the first 300 years of Christianity).
Indeed, Graham actually does much to alleviate pain in the world through his organization Samaritan's Purse. But, like most white heterosexual Evangelical males, Graham is obsessed with charity and a disembodied heaven while refusing to engage with real time systems of injustice. This amounts to a paternalistic form of politics that keeps marginalized people (like Socal Latinos) in their place. Heaven forbid that Graham would work to create a world that does not need his handouts.
Too many of my own students are undocumented (a serious obstacle to college and career) and more than a few have lost their parents to deportation. This turns out to be the exact opposite of "family values." The system is screaming for a major overhaul and we desperately need faith leaders to stop dodging questions and advocate for real salvation. White heterosexual males should use their power and privilege for Something besides their own self-interest. The least of these need lobbyists who search for Christ where he said we would find him (Matthew 25).