DURHAM, N.C. (BP) – Anglos receive "privilege" in American culture because of their ethnicity, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear said in a podcast. But rather than debate the political ramifications of that privilege, Greear urged believers to "extend" it to people of all races.
The views Greear expressed in his "Ask Me Anything" podcast are similar to opinions he has voiced publicly since at least 2014, following a racial crisis in Ferguson, Mo. Yet he told Baptist Press his perspective of white privilege has become more acute over the past five years from "being in relationship with brothers and sisters of color."
"Is white privilege real?" was the topic of a Jan. 28 episode of Greear's podcast. He told podcast host Todd Unzicker he has "struggled with" the question and concluded there is an "invisible set of assets that I get from being part of the majority culture."
"When I get pulled over by the police," said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., "... I've never one time questioned whether or not it was because of my race. Every person of color I know has some story" about being pulled over "where it just appeared that there was a line of questioning that was being given to them because they were a certain race."
Greear noted other examples of white privilege, informed by his relationships with people of other races including Emory University philosopher George Yancy, who has spoken at The Summit. Among them:
– Anglos often shop freely in stores while people of color report being followed because clerks seem to "assume [they're] going to steal something."
– Anglos may receive preferential treatment when seeking housing. An African American pastor at The Summit once applied for housing at an apartment complex and was told, "Sorry, we don't accept subsidized housing." The apartment worker, Greear said, incorrectly "assumed" the pastor needed government assistance.
– Employers "may give a closer look" to a job applicant with "a white-sounding name."
– "Some evidence seems to indicate" that "being a person of color increases the likelihood that the death penalty is given" to convicted murderers.
The proper response to white privilege is not to take privileges away from Anglos, Greear said, but to help all people experience them.
"As a Christian, I know that I'm responsible to bear the burdens of others around me," Greear said. "And I want to see privilege extend to them. So if I've been given any privilege in whatever situation, I'm going to leverage that not for self, but leverage it to lift others up."
Political debates about affirmative action, Greear said, are "beyond the scope of what I, as a pastor, would want to get into."
Greear has written and spoken about the cultural privileges Anglos enjoy at least since August 2014, when he wrote on the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission website of "unwarranted prejudice" African American males experience. In 2018, Greear blogged about cultural "blind spots" that "result from positions of privilege and power."
Greear's treatment of white privilege drew critique from some Southern Baptists leading up to the 2018 SBC presidential election and following his Jan. 28 podcast. Other Southern Baptists have commended Greear for his treatment of privilege.
Asked whether his perspective on ethnic privilege has shifted in response to feedback over the years, Greear told BP, "I have certainly become more acquainted with how some of our brothers and sisters of color experience societal dynamics differently. I've come to see that many benefits that I have taken for granted are not experienced equally by all. It's not that I have changed my view – but I have grown more aware of certain struggles by being in relationship with brothers and sisters of color."