The abused need grace too (recognizing the privilege of privilege)
Warning: Stream of consciousness.
I’ve always struggled with the messages of apostle Paul and Moses… I never knew quite why. This week, I mulled the story* of the white woman who took part in a seditious mob at our nation’s capitol being granted permission for a vacation to Mexico contrasted with the story of a 16 year old black boy who was sent to Rikers Island prison without a trial for 3 years, then committed suicide – all for for stealing a backpack. It displayed in stark contrast how white people and black people are treated so differently in our country. White people have a default belief that the justice system will work for them. Black people have a default belief that they may not make it through the next traffic stop alive. They have PTSD from being subjected to institutional racism for as long as they have been in this country. White people accuse them of being overly dramatic and say that if they would just comply with orders, all will be peachy keen. “Stand for that flag. Don’t sell loose cigarettes. Get down on your stomach and put your hands behind your back. Stop struggling against my knee on your neck.”
Many white people just don’t get it, because their skin color grants them the privilege of never having to fear for their lives simply because of their skin color. They can’t conceive of the associated PTSD that has programmed people of color to not trust the system or the privileged people running the system.
I think of the MAGA ‘Christians’ who cry that they are being muzzled by ‘cancel culture’ because an American election didn’t go their way. They demand to get their way, even go so far as to try to overthrow the government (as a side note, more police officers died as a result of the Blue Lives Matter MAGA crowd storming the Capitol than in all the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests). They claim parity with the Black Lives Matter protests, saying their own whitewashed, privileged ‘libtards gonna take my guns’ delusional tantrum is on equal ground with the movement that brought attention to police brutality against people of color and the unequal treatment of people of color throughout American society. They claim that they are abused and treated unfairly because of their Christianity, when their concept of ‘unfair’ simply equates to someone who looks or believes differently than they do having equal rights with them. They do this all in the name of God… whose name they objectively take in vain.
Okay, switching gears for a minute.
I found out this week that my estranged brother has cancer. I was not sure how to feel when I found this out through back channels. This brother has been a terribly abusive person throughout his life. His mother, his sisters, his brothers, his wife, and his daughters all suffered at his hand. I have been praying for him, but at the same time, I struggle. I struggle because I feel like I should feel devastated at the news, but I don’t, I just feel empty and emotionless after so much loss. I pray that I can be more loving and engaged, rather than feeling like an empty husk. I struggle to decide whether or not to reach out to him when he’s made it clear he has no interest in any kind of a healthy relationship. I happened to look at his Facebook feed, and he has lots of MAGA Christian posts… Posts that celebrate whiteness, Trumpism, heterosexuality, gun ownership, and castigates anything that does not fit this narrow and twisted definition of Christian or American. He has had so much privilege, yet always portrays his existence as victimized. As an abuser, he has lorded his power over others, yet he believes he and those like him are unfairly traumatized.
I pray for him, because I fear he will die without truly knowing what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I fear that he has accepted the white-washed tomb excrement that much of American Evangelical Christianity has become. I thought, “this is a man in desperate need of God’s grace.” Then, I begin to think… What about me? Surely, I need an extra helping of grace, because as someone who consistently suffered abuse growing up, I became very untrusting. The concept of God as a father figure was offensive to me, because my own father was so abusive. My estranged brother followed in his footsteps. Both were guilty of using religion as a blunt object in their toolbox of abuse. So it has been a struggle throughout my life to trust God. Sometimes – I have to admit rarely – I catch a glimpse of what that trust should look and feel like, but it is always a struggle to hold on to.
Abuse is a horrible evil. It deeply scars. It creates an untrusting, battered soul that struggles for a lifetime trying to exist despite the ingrained trauma. Generational and tacitly-approved societal abuse wounds even deeper.
So this brings me back to my thoughts on the apostle Paul and Moses. Here were two guys who were raised in a privileged environment. They had the best education. They thought they had the world by the tail and God’s sanction to boot. Both were guilty of heinous crimes against other human beings. Moses killed an Egyptian in what he thought was righteous anger, Paul took part in the murder of early Christians, again in what he thought was righteous anger. God was able to turn both of these men from their messed up paths. God gave them grace, saved them, spoke to them directly, and allowed them to be leaders in His mission to save the rest of the world. But here is where I struggle. Moses was instituting the ceremonial laws, which included draconian punishments for not following them, on a people who had suffered generational/societal/personal abuse, and very likely suffered PTSD. Again, Moses had a privileged upbringing… as a PRINCE OF EGYPT. As survivors of abuse, the Hebrews were very likely struggling to trust God, despite all of the signs He’d given… sometimes, they might catch a glimpse of what that trust should look and feel like, but it may have been a struggle to hold on to.
Same thing with Paul. He was a guy educated by Gamaliel, the best of the best. He was an honored Pharisee AND a Roman citizen. He dripped privilege. When Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, Paul finally realized that he was on the wrong path. However, his past was still one of privilege that few in the land had enjoyed. He had the expectation that early Christians accept his authority and understanding of scripture, despite the fact that most people would not have had the same privileges that he did. Many were dealing with the PTSD from trauma they suffered at the hands of both Romans and Pharisees. It would be hard to learn to trust a man who is now spouting doctrine, when he was the head of the murderous MIGA (Make Israel Great Again) mob previously. Paul certainly was a need of God’s grace, but what of the people who struggled to trust God because of how they’d been traumatized? Don’t they deserve a generous portion of grace?
Following his road to Damascus conversion, Paul said that he struggled with a thorn in his flesh that he begged God to take away, but God refused. Perhaps this was the equivalent to not allowing Moses to pass into the promised land. Perhaps this was to temper a certain amount of arrogance that came from being privileged…?**
I feel like the abused are in need of an extra portion of grace, simply because learning to trust after having your soul battered is a lifelong process. Learning to trust God who’s been portrayed as a father figure is exceedingly difficult when your earthly father embraced misogyny, selfishness, and lived a life abusing and using those around him, all while calling himself a Christian. It sickens me that he passed it on to one of his own in another generation of men. My paternal grandfather was also a brutal man. Here are generations of the men who have crushed scores of human beings under their heels while claiming the name of Christianity. Is it any wonder that trust comes to some of us fitfully? The downtrodden are not quick to take to heart the words of the privileged who ignore (and sometimes cause) their trauma yet make the rules, telling them how to live.
I pray for God’s grace… because it is so hard to trust. In the words of the man begging for Jesus’ help for his son, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
Postscript: Eventually, Paul and Moses had become soft hearted enough to be willing to lose everything to save others.
**Moses: “Then I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying: ‘O Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand, for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do anything like Your works and Your mighty deeds? I pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.’ But the Lord was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me. So the Lord said to me: ‘Enough of that! Speak no more to Me of this matter.’ (Found in Deuteronomy 3).
Paul: And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Found in 2 Corinthians 12