The term "white privilege" is generally used to describe what is seen to be unearned rights and benefits given to people with white skin simply due to the color of their skin. The idea is that those with white or lighter skin are, more often than not, viewed and treated more favorably than those with darker skin. Others describe "white privilege" as not having the color of your skin be a potential barrier or a reason for hardship in your life. Of course, people debate the meaning of the term and whether or to what extent "white privilege" exists within a given society. The purpose of this article is not to debate the issue of "white privilege," but to give a biblical perspective on God's view of humanity and how we should treat one another.
From the very beginning, the Bible says that all people were created equal because all people were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). Unfortunately, this does not mean that all people are treated equally. The Bible is quite clear about the reality of sin and the effects it has had on humanity (Genesis 3; Romans 3; Ephesians 2). Partiality has plagued humanity for millennia. People have been mistreated due to their gender, their ethnicity, their socio-economic status, their profession, and more. Whether or not people want to admit it, there have been marked mistreatments and prejudices toward people with darker skin in the United States and the Western world—both in modern times and throughout world history. Thus the issue of "white privilege" has come into public discussion. Again, debates about sociology and politics are not the intent of this article. However, the Bible does have much to say about issues often associated with discussions of "white privilege."
The Bible is clear that "God shows no partiality" (Romans 2:11). Jesus came for all people to be saved. The way of salvation is the same for all who receive it (John 14:6). All who are saved become part of the same family of God, without distinction. "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:27–28; see also Revelation 7:9–10).
The biblical charge has always been fair treatment for all—looking out not just for our own interests but for the interests of others (Deuteronomy 14:28–29; 16:11; 27:19; Ephesians 6:9; Philippians 2:3–4). The Old Testament law included a specific provision to ensure that justice was properly served: "You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:15). Justice is based on God's character and His unchanging truth.
Showing partiality toward others is a sin, because it is contrary to God's character. James 2:1–5 speaks against this type of favoritism: "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' while you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there,' or, 'Sit down at my feet,' have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?"
Treating people as more or less valuable, or more or less deserving of justice, based on their social status, color of their skin, wealth, or any other worldly-based value system is against God. James goes on to say: "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors" (James 2:8–9; see also Proverbs 22:2).
Consider that, freely we have received, so freely we must give (see Matthew 10:8). The Bible teaches that those who are blessed with great material possessions or privilege of any kind should not hesitate to use them to bless those who are in need (Galatians 6:7–10; Proverbs 22:16, 22–23; 31:8–9; Micah 6:8; Acts 2:42–47). Any power we may have, whether a result of our own efforts or perceived social status or family situation or possessions or anything else, should be used to serve others, not to make ourselves more powerful by taking advantage of others. Paul wrote: "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:17–19).
Jesus Himself was God incarnate and came for the sake of serving and giving His life for others (Matthew 20:25–28; Philippians 2:5–11). Philippians 2:3–4 exhorts us to check our own motives: "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." Believers should not just sit back and enjoy their blessings; they should use them to look to the interests of others whom they could help.
Those who have trusted in Christ as Savior are charged with loving others as God loves them (John 13:34–35). Romans 13:8–10 says, "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." The love of God is a self-sacrificial love that looks out for the best interest of others. When we are secure in who we are in Christ, we can freely pour out God's love on others.
Getting back to the issue of "white privilege" more specifically, let us affirm that white people are not inherently better than any other people, nor inherently worse. Every human being is born with a sin problem. Apart from Jesus Christ, all are separated from God and condemned. But Jesus has made the way of salvation open to all who will receive Him (John 3:16–18). In the New Testament, one of the biggest social divides between people was that between Jews and Gentiles. Ephesians 2:13–22 explains, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."
No matter our ethnicity or anything else we would use as humans to divide us, we are all free to come to Jesus Christ. When we do, we become children of God and part of the same family. We also become ambassadors of Christ—we are to share the good news of the gospel with our words and demonstrate God's character through our actions (2 Corinthians 5:17–21; Matthew 5:13–16). Any worldly privilege any of us has should be stewarded and used to make a positive difference for others however we can: "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48).
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