A stewardship of privilege

November 2nd, 2018

Many churches are into their fall stewardship campaign with a focus on getting members to pledge of their time, talent, and treasure for the upcoming year in order to develop a budget. Unfortunately, the way that a lot of churches talk about stewardship tends to equate it with one several-week period of emphasis in the fall (“stewardship season”) and our monetary giving to the church. Of course, there are the obligatory mentions of other ways of giving by donating time or skills to the church, but most people will still hear stewardship sermons as being about money.

The theological concept of stewardship should underpin almost everything we talk about — yes, our finances, but also our time, our impact on the natural world, and the ways our church buildings and land are used. Our natural tendency is to be like the seagulls in Finding Nemo, chirping “Mine, mine, mine,” at everything around us. Or we proudly declare that all that we have is because we “earned” it, that our success is “self-made,” neglecting the roles that community, privilege, grace, and sheer luck often play in our lives.

The truth is that our lives are an undeserved gift from God. Everything we have and everything we are is by the grace of God. In return, God asks us to be good stewards, to use our resources rightly and for God’s Kingdom. This includes supporting the church, the local community of faith, with our resources, but it also includes our relationship to our broader community and our environment. As we close in on our national midterm elections, Christians might understand our freedom and our privilege of voting as an act of stewardship. For me, the knowledge that women did not always have the right to vote in this country and are forbidden from voting in other countries makes it particularly important that I am a good steward of this privilege.

As we continue to emphasize stewardship in our congregations, I wonder if we could talk about a stewardship of privilege. Despite the forward strides we’ve made on issues of gender, sexuality, and race, our society continues to privilege the cis-straight, white male voice and person. Obviously, no one can help the circumstances into which they are born, but they can use the privilege granted by society to lift up others and ensure that their voices are heard. In my own career, many of my successes have been due to men deliberately making space for and amplifying my voice. In turn, I have many privileges as a straight, college-educated white woman that I can use to advocate for those without the same privileges. There is no reason to feel bad about the privileges we have if we are good stewards of them, using them to further the justice and equality that are hallmarks of the Kingdom of God.

This time of the year when we preach and teach about stewardship, we should encourage those in our pews to consider the variety of privileges and freedoms that we enjoy, that they are gifts given to us both by happy accident and the grace of God, and that we are called to use them in service to God and our communities.

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