I should hope I would not do so.
A controversy has been brewing in the blogosphere, especially within emergent Christian circles, about the phenomenon of White Dude Defensiveness regarding issues of inclusivity and diversity. Some dudes, who might want to be identified as "liberal" or "progressive" have been facing tough questions about their own complicity in racism, sexism, heterosexism and class privilege and the ways in which such complicity shapes their writing, speaking and practice. (For an excellent entree into this controversy, with many of the relevant links, read the intrepid Brandy Daniels' fine post on the "Women in Theology" blog.)
I don't identify myself as an "emergent Christian": I'm just too traditional, conventional and boring for that. But I have friends who are involved in emergent Christianity, and because I care about them and about the future of the church, I try to listen in to their conversations as best I can.
Now, I'm not going to name names or weigh in on the acrimonious (though not unhealthy) debates that center on particular individuals and their posts, articles and talks. But I would offer this general advice to any white dude out there who ever gets caught up in such a crossfire and feels the urge to rush to his own self defense:
For the record, I've rarely faced such accusations personally, and my first impulse no doubt would be self defense if I did. This post is my attempt to lay out, rather, what I hope I would do and say. Although I'm not nearly important enough to ever be flattered with an attack on something I've written or said, I have thought about how I hope I would respond if someone ever did charge me with cashing in on my white, male, heterosexual privileges to the disadvantage of others. I've come up, so far, with three basic steps:
1.) I listen. I don't argue. I don't rehash my credentials as a solid progressive ally to the oppressed. I don't, above all, rush to defend myself. I shut up and really try to listen. Stephen Covey advised: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
2.) I acknowledge that I'm a sinner saved by grace alone. Not only am I guilty of personal sins, but I'm a beneficiary of systematic structures of oppression that are beyond my personal control. If I take advantage of such privileges -- and who doesn't? -- is there not at least some sense in which I must acknowledge: "Yes, I am guilty of racism. Yes, I am guilty of sexism. Yes, I am guilty of classism. Yes, God help me and try as might might not to be, I am guilty of homophobia." Because of that time I didn't stand up to hate when I should have done so, because of that time I laughed at that joke that I knew was beyond cruel, the blood of all the innocent victims is on my hands as well.
And what should I do? Should I complain about the "unfairness" of this situation? Should I bemoan this body of death in which I'm trapped? Why, indeed, would I have any basis for complaining when Jesus himself, who was guilty of none of these things, not only bore all my sin -- all our sin -- but became our sin itself (2 Cor. 5:21). I'm in no position to justify myself, for I stand condemned too, in sinful solidarity with all human beings throughout history.
That's all well and good, but it's not enough. The gospel has more to say to me on this issue and so, finally:
3.) I repent. Not necessarily in sackcloth and ashes, lest I risk making a show of my contrition. Rather, this means I commit myself to renouncing, as best I can though usually haltingly, the web of privileges from which I've benefited. I enter the painful path toward solidarity with the oppressed. Such repentance and effort at change does not justify me. It doesn't make everything okay. It is, simply, my due response in gratitude for what I've been given and for what I've been forgiven.
None of this will be easy for me. Am I a hypocrite? Yes, indeed. And I have an ego too. At some level I probably care more about impressing you with this blog than I do about really tackling the difficult personal decisions that such a divestment of privilege would entail. Still, it is how I feel called to respond.