If we take folks at their word, it would appear that almost everyone already believes in it. We wouldn’t dream of being racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, or otherwise discriminatory. We know better. We’re good, welcoming people with the best intentions, but if Wisdom is truly proved right by her deeds, something is deeply amiss.
The Declaration of Independence asserted “all men are created equal,” but history proved white, Protestant, propertied men to be considerably more “equal” in practice, and not nearly enough has changed. “Separate but equal” Jim Crow segregation couldn’t demonstrate anything remotely resembling racial equality, and its shameful legacy persists to this day in our neighborhoods, schools, prisons, and halls of power.
Although certainly not analogous in degree or kind, plenty of Christians profess to believe in gender equality right alongside female submission and a hierarchy of roles in church and home. But more inclusive theologies and progressive politics aren’t a reliable indicator of functional equality either. If they were, certain denominations and communities would be that great Promised Land where none were limited by gender, skin color, ethnicity, status, sexuality, or any other difference, but we’re not there yet by a long shot. We’re not post-racial or post-feminist, yet we’re so eager for progress (and distance from those sorts of people) that we’re ever tempted to claim victories prematurely. Belief in equality of worth slowly morphs into the misconception that structural equality has already been functionally achieved. Mission Accomplished. We did it!
But a presence overlooked and ignored is not an absence. Those benefiting from the continued marginalization of others are in no place to proclaim how far we’ve come or what counts as harm, and despite all our believing in equality, white / male / heterosexual / cisgender / educated / Christian / conventionally attractive / upwardly mobile / neurotypical / able-bodied perspectives and people are still honored as more “equal”. More authoritative. More respectable and civil. More rational, more trustworthy, more gracious, and more deserving. Gendered and racialized micro-aggressions exist perniciously (alongside other types), even if those in power fail to recognize them.
If a noble concept such as “equality” can be so consistently twisted to include or overlook subordination, propped up hierarchies, and a host of harmful and exclusionary practices and beliefs, perhaps it’s time to change the conversation.
I believe in inequality. I’m seeking confirmation that you believe in it, too – that you believe me – that together we may work to subvert hierarchies and birth another Way.
Can you acknowledge people as experts on their own lives and experience? If people of color, women, and/or LGBTQ voices speak up about discrimination, will you write us off as bitter, toxic, or humorless? Do you assume we’re overreacting, uneducated, or being emotional? Are we “playing the victim”?
If you hear talk of oppression or marginalization, do your eyes glaze? Are your lips quick with a sigh and rebuttal about the un-Christlike perils of “ideology” or “identity politics”? Do you really believe that your own perspective is somehow neutral and above the fray, unmarred by social location, assumption, or worldview? Is it possible that the benefits granted you by systems actively privileging your voice and value over others have compromised your ability to be objective or to assume the moral high ground?
Each of us is biased, formed by our own histories, identities, and experiences. I cannot leave my middle class whiteness at the door when I do theology or anything else, and each situation and perspective I encounter I experience as a woman.
But we can work to cultivate lenses oriented toward the margins and liberation. We can refuse to spiritualize Jesus’ declaration that he brings good news to the poor, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for prisoners and all who are oppressed. We can remember that Christ was executed by the state only to rise from the dead, making spectacle of its powers and principalities of violence and domination. We can listen to perspectives unlike our own, allowing ourselves to be softened and shaped by them. We can exercise compassion and humility, honoring Wisdom from the margins where Jesus pitched his tent and dwells.
WISDOM FROM THE MARGINS
Does not Wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
To you, O people, I cry:
set your hearts on me and listen
for my lips will speak the truth
Sophia is not voiceless.
Have we not listened? We are distracted.
Have we not heard? A gift not ours to give.
Incline your ear and understand:
amplify her voice. Her story is her own
but our salvation is entwined.
For those who find me find life
together and to the full.
Suzannah Paul lives the life bucolic with her family at a Pennsylvania summer camp. She writes love letters to the broken, beautiful Church at The Smitten Word.