thoughts on Stewardship and Privilege

Stewardship.  It’s a word that I have only ever heard used in churches– but it’s an important word, and a good one, so I’m sticking with it. I have a pretty good handle on what stewardship means– that the resources (church speak: “time, talents, and treasure”) I have are not my own, but rather that I must see them as God’s resources to be used not just for my benefit, but for the sake of the Gospel and the whole kingdom of God.

Churches have stewardship drives, where they talk about all the different ways good work is done in the congregation, community, and world because of the gifts of (you guessed it) “time, talents, and treasure” members share with the congregation.  At their worst, these efforts are thinly-veiled pleas to help make up the budget, to pay the bills, to keep the lights on. At their best, these efforts make the connection between money and ministry, between tithing and transformation. Stewardship is not about how much we have, but about how we use what we do have. We can be faithful or foolish with much or little. (See Mt. 25:14-30)

I know how to talk about time and talents and treasures in regard to stewardship, and so do many other leaders. That connection has been made.

I would like to suggest another connection: that privilege and power are related to stewardship, as well. There has been a lot of talk about privilege in American culture lately. There is white privilege, male privilege, educational privilege, able-bodied privilege– the list goes on. Most basically, we receive or are denied privilege based on whether or not the way we look and act fits in with the preferred majority ideal. This gets complicated, as, for instance, I experience privileges associated with being white and well-educated, but I am also denied privileges because I am female and have one arm.

People get touchy when we talk about privilege, in part because it can feel like an attack. It’s not my fault that I am white or female, so how can I be held accountable for the privilege that does or doesn’t come with those attributes?

What if, instead of judging ourselves based on whether or not we have a certain kind privilege or measuring how much we have, we looked at how we use whatever privilege and power we do have?

After all, someone could have one million dollars and use it more responsibly than someone with one hundred dollars. Or, perhaps the person with one hundred dollars might do more good than a dozen millionaires. It seems clear to me that privilege works in a similar way.

Rozella White, Program Director for Young Adult Ministries for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, today at #seiaftc defined power as “organized resources and organized people” to accomplish a desired goal. What else is that but stewardship? If I use my money well but waste my privilege on meaningless efforts, I have misused my own power.

Jesus said, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.” Being in a position of privilege is ultimately a position of responsibility, to use that privilege so that the kingdom of God might indeed draw near.

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