The oppressions we permit

I recently read a Vanity Fair article on the many, many issues in Hillsong Church. It’s horrifying. I have many thoughts about churches and church communities and the abuse or manipulation that is often excused as “tough, biblical love”, but today I am mostly pissed at one thing:

So many of these harms against women, minors, children, LGBTQ members, and attendees of color would not have happened had there not been a staunch group of white men supporting and protecting their fellow white men at all costs, even at the cost of truth and integrity and the well-being of the congregants they proclaimed to want to uplift. And THAT group would not exist without their own support system, comprised of each other and the people in their lives permitting and encouraging their harmful philosophy of church leadership.

Of course, we saw this play out in the GOP’s response to the second (!) impeachment trial of Donald Trump, as well. But I’m too tired to talk much about that nonsense.

Sometimes it feels like the evils of our nation’s racist policies and history are so big that we can feel helpless to do anything to fix it, but I think this idea of “support systems” is where we can each more easily identify our role and the way we can advance justice or advance injustice. It’s not enough that we dismantle other support systems, like those in the GOP and those in so many evangelical church leadership boards. We each have a moral obligation to look at our own lives, our own relationships, and see where we might be perpetuating the enabling of people around us who protect the powerful while giving hypocritical lip service to other concerns (economics, church unity, etc.).

Because the reality is that these big harms start as small harms. Big injustices start with small injustices, a small testing of the waters. If someone attempts to and gets away with oppressing a certain demographic in one way, and it benefits him in a clear way, he will do it in others. When those who identify with him allow him to do it and even help him do it — in the hopes that they, too, will benefit — then systemic oppression is born.

This is certainly not groundbreaking thinking, but for some reason the Vanity Fair article brought me greater clarity in some of my current struggles with what to do in the face of such evil. I have had a difficult time figuring out what to do in my relationships with certain people who espouse Trumpism and false theories that harm the most vulnerable, and the Vanity Fair article somehow made my current tentative decision firm. I will do whatever I need to to make clear to those around me that their abuse, their bullying, their harms, their lies, their manipulations will not be tolerated. I will not support it, I will not overlook it, I will not pretend it isn’t there, I will not condone it in any way. This system is currently threatening to destroy our democracy (after having done a solid job destroying the lives of millions through white supremacy and misogyny) and I’m tired of white Christian men preaching love and goodness and leading into hate and evil.

This leads me to think about other kinds of oppression I may inadvertently or more consciously support based on the support systems I support. Buying anything from Amazon. Being on Instagram or Twitter. Reading primarily white and/or male authors rather than conscientiously examining the lack of diversity in my reading (in philosophy and in other areas). Eating meat. The way I engage with folks at work. Like all of us, I am embedded in a lot of systems, large and small, and what systems I engage in uncritically are the systemic oppressions I permit. I permit more evils than I perform. I can’t rest on any sort of laurels for not doing the harm if I turn away when others do the harm, or support the systems that prop up those doing the evil.

I have more to write on the “unity” problem as regards Christianity, but I’ll save it for another post. For now, I’m just sick of the White Men Support System that operates with one aim in mind: protect white men’s power. Especially when that power is currently being used to and will certainly be used again to harm and abuse others, while claiming it is helping and loving those it oppresses. I grew up with that structure and I no longer need to live in it, and I need to do what I can to undermine, weaken, and ultimately eradicate it. Now to think more about what that means.

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