I happen to be a white heterosexual Christian American male. I say happen because most of my identity was not of my choosing. One could even argue that my Christianity was pre-determined, given my fierce evangelical upbringing. These cosmic happenstances, clearly beyond my control, have provided distinct privilege throughout my 38 years.
For the majority of my life, I have been ignorant of this privilege. And in many cases developed an inflated ego around these markers of identity. Or simply chose to believe that diversity was just an expression of God’s creative genius, without acknowledging the rampant discrimination that surrounded me on a daily basis. I have misunderstood (if not avoided) the doors opened by my male-ness. I have underappreciated the perspective of any minority group. I have categorized oppression as other-worldly, or just some phenomenon that only takes place in concentrated bursts. I have mistakenly believed that all religious groups have the freedom to express faith, noting that law says so. I have grossly misconstrued the plight of peoples in other nations, blindly assuming that my American life is commonplace. These demons are an ongoing struggle. Daily acknowledgement of my identity (what it affords), along with deep confession of sin (exploitation of this identity) are only a starting place.
Over the past few years at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and School, I have had the tremendous opportunity to be surrounded by faithful pilgrims with different identities. And the effects of their impact are transformational and beyond measure. I have been under the authority of a female Rector. I have served with and for a gay Head of School. I have worked alongside a Muslim Middle and Lower School Principal. I have ministered with an African-American Youth Missioner and Director of Admissions, along with a Korean-American Music Director and a Mexican-American Director of Communications. Both our church and school boast a variety of races, nationalities, religious affiliations, immigration statuses, sexual orientations and identities, along with lived experiences. This environment has undoubtedly enriched my soul. And invited a deep dive into my own reality as a white heterosexual Christian American male.
It is from this lens that I am offended and outraged by the recent Executive Order on temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. I am unbound and whimsically free to make travel plans with my family. A daily email solicitation comes my way from EscapeHouston.com, a subtle and now stark reminder that the world is open to my particular identity. All the while, documented students from other soils are strongly encouraged by colleges and universities to not leave this country. And many others are detained, trapped, or terrified of a return trip to these United States. Many others flee war, terror, and brazen persecution, only to be denied sanctuary and a life devoid of abuse. This divisive reality is a potent combination of extreme nationalism and isolationism. And must not be mistaken for anything else but a violation of human rights. This Executive Order reeks of me over you – and I am grief-stricken that this sort of odor was clearly intended. With the burning of two Texas mosques in the last three weeks, the consequences of this orientation are already clear.
Along with a broad coalition of Christian leaders and evangelical groups, I am particularly dismayed that Christian refugees are given preference. As if religious expression should have any correlation with asylum, access, or freedom. As if Christians are less susceptible to extremism, the noted justification of this ban. A short second of thinking will recall our history of reprehensible violence (even against fellow believers). This preference jars my Christian privilege in America, a land where church and state are lawfully separate, and leaves me severely self-conscious. This white heterosexual American male has enough privilege to say grace over. My particular confession of faith need not fuel my identity crisis.
To all who enrich my life on this campus and belong – I give you my deepest gratitude. I am living fuller into a common humanity with your influence. And am learning to check my privilege and how it impacts the world around me.
To other white heterosexual American Christian males, along with any who are afforded privilege - I pray that faithful pilgrims with different identities enter your life.
Join us on Sunday evenings, February 12, 19, and 26 at 5 p.m. in Pecore Hall for prayer, Eucharist and a rich discussion on how to be a Christian in America. This discussion will take place in the context of a shared meal provided by the church and is open to all members, friends, and neighbors. Childcare will be provided. During these three weeks, we will discuss our Christian identity in light of the current political climate, our relationship to powers of this world, and our call to live and serve in the public square.
- The Reverend Brandon Peete | Associate Rector + Director of Spiritual Life