|Commentary: An invitation to evangelical white males|
A UMNS Commentary
By Bill Mefford*
April 9, 2008
A few months ago, I attended a conference in Memphis, Tenn., where a
Texas judge, who identified himself as a white, evangelical male, made a
remarkable statement. He called himself "the most discriminated-against
person on the face of this earth!"
I was astounded by the comment.
After all, he is in such a unique position of power. How could he
possibly feel discriminated against? As a well-paid employee of the U.S.
criminal justice system, he sits in judgment of others. He serves in a
nation with less than 6 percent of the world’s population, yet that
houses more than 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated. There is an
enormously high African-American population among those incarcerated,
but this white judge believes he is "the most discriminated against."
I was a rapt listener as he explained his plight. Apparently, he feels
threatened by the changing culture in which we live. He is uncomfortable
with "changing sexual standards," "alternative lifestyles" and an
"influx of cultures" into the United States.
The judge never cited specific actions that constituted discrimination
against him personally. Nonetheless, he conveyed his frustration that he
no longer can control things he previously took for granted.
I left that conference with conflicting thoughts. I almost felt sorry
for that evangelical, white Texas judge because the world is indeed
As a fellow white, evangelical male from Texas myself, I agree that
change threatens my ability to control events that have an impact on me
and my family. In an increasingly globalized world where white men are a
minority on the decrease, there is a palpable uneasiness, especially
because we have occupied positions of power for so long.
On the other hand, when I reflect on Scripture, I realize that nowhere
does Jesus instruct his disciples to hold on to the status quo. Quite
the opposite is true.
“In an increasingly globalized world where
white men are a minority on the decrease, there is a palpable
uneasiness, especially because we have occupied positions of power for
When arguing broke out among the disciples as to who was the greatest
among them, Jesus admonished them. He insisted that the new society he
was building would be distinctively different from the society they had
Jesus said: "You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and
their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.
Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
and whoever wants to be first must be your slave––just as the Son of Man
did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a
ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28)
Reordering of society
This overturning of the status quo represents a transvaluation that
occurs when Christ’s reign is realized. As Christians calling the world
to recognize Christ’s reign, this is a transvaluation we should not only
be aware of, but one we should model.
Overturning of the status quo represents a transvaluation that occurs when Christ’s reign is realized.
Reordering society is threatening to those of us who benefitted from the
old order. Christ offers a wonderful promise of a new world in which
those who have been marginalized will be brought in, those demonized
will be honored, and those crushed down will be lifted up.
This promise carries with it what Stephen Charles Mott calls "the principle of redress." In his book Biblical Ethics and Social Change,
Mott states that "the goal of redress is to return people to a normal
level of advantage and satisfaction in the community, particularly with
respect to the capacity to earn a living and to have a reasonably happy
life." He says redress is a necessary aspect of justice that "implies
each member of the community will in fact be strong enough to maintain
his or her position in relation to the other members."
According to Mott, redress requires that as the marginal are brought in,
those who dominated access to resources must give way and share that
access. He says redress requires that those unfairly demonized for their
place in society must be honored. And, he adds that those who have
received all of the honor and accolades must assume a new seat in
humility, and perhaps obscurity.
“Christ offers a wonderful promise of a new
world in which those who have been marginalized will be brought in,
those demonized will be honored, and those crushed down will be lifted
Mott says redress requires that those crushed down will be healed and
lifted up. He says the powers and mechanisms used to crush them will be
transformed into structures that ensure equal and just redistribution
of resources. He emphasizes that redress ultimately holds that those
with access to resources should advocate and work to gain that same
access for those who have been restricted or denied.
Redress thus holds promise for the poor and oppressed, according to
Mott, and places demands on the affluent and powerful. Redress is indeed
threatening for white, evangelical males—and non-evangelical males for
that matter—who have benefitted from the current social, economic and
In the current order, I too often miss opportunities to work with and
for women in power, for example. As a white male, I too often miss the
discovery of learning about my brothers and sisters of other ethnicities
and races. As a white male of privilege, I too often miss the amazement
of the creativity and strength of the poor to survive in a society in
which so much is stacked against them.
Repentance is difficult
As that white, evangelical Texas judge knows well because of his
work, repentance is difficult. Outside of the grace of Jesus and
regenerative power of the Holy Spirit, it is nigh on to impossible.
Let’s not, however, mistake holding on to power and excluding others we
deem different or threatening as a way of bringing reform and renewal to
the church. I grow exceedingly suspicious of hearing about a call to
reform and renew the church from fellow white, evangelical males who do
not also carry the message of personal repentance of racism,
ethnocentrism, sexism, radical individualism, materialism and other
forms of exclusion.
Reform and renewal cannot be taken seriously until those openly calling
for such actions first repent of our own forms of sin. For white,
evangelical males, reform and renewal must begin with our recognition
that the values we have been raised with and even taught––values of
power, dominance, attaining great wealth and honor––are to be
intentionally transformed. If the Kingdom of God calls for a
transvaluation of all that we hold dear––and it does––then the values we
adopt must include humility, serving others, working for justice for
others ahead of ourselves, intentional inclusion of others and
I pray for reform and renewal of the church. But unless that renewal
carries a transvaluation of all of our allegiances related to wealth and
power, then it is at best, merely empty rhetoric. At worst, it is a
means to protect the current status quo of divisiveness, exclusion and
Jesus extends a glorious invitation to that Texas judge, me and to all
other white males, evangelical or not, who are struggling with changing
cultures and a globalizing world. His glorious invitation is to repent
and become a participant in his Kingdom dream of seeing the first become
last, and the last first. That may not sound like all we wanted or
heard previously, but being last in the Kingdom of God surely beats not
being there at all.
*Mefford is the program director, civil and human rights, United
Methodist Board of Church and Society, the denomination's social justice
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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