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Published Date: July 5, 2017

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An Advocate’s Parable: Platforms, Pennies, and Privilege

Jesus was sitting near the temple treasury one day, observing all who passed by. He witnessed many wealthy people give large sums of money to the treasury. He also saw a woman—a poor widow—give two small copper coins, worth just one penny. But Jesus declared, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44).

I didn’t fully understand the woman-who-gave-everything-she-had until recently. And in fact, I’ll probably never fully grasp the laying down of self that Jesus prized and practiced. But I’m learning.

I’ve become increasingly aware of systemic inequality in the last few years. I’ve seen how it operates—deliberately disempowering certain groups and privileging others. And the system doesn’t just target women. It also targets people of color, and marginalizes others based on health, disability, socioeconomic class, and ethnicity.

I work for an international Christian charity. A few months ago, I was invited to give a devotional talk at an HR staff meeting with people from around the world. They told me I could choose any topic, and I decided to talk about privilege.

Though I’ve sought to advocate for greater awareness of social injustice and positive change (especially for those who have less privilege than I do) in the church for years, I’ve only recently begun to grasp what it means to use my privilege to create space for others.

As I considered how I could listen more and allow others to make use of my circles of influence, I found I was unconsciously resisting the mandate to pass the microphone. I told myself that I couldn’t share the platform until I’d built a larger one for myself. 

I’m a woman, so I know what it means to be marginalized because of my gender. But I’m also afforded privilege as a white, Western, English-speaking person. As I prayed and prepared for my talk, I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to practice what I preached.

Instead of occupying the platform alone as a white, Western, English-speaking woman, I could invite others more marginalized than me to share their experiences with and understanding of privilege.

Like the woman in the story, I could give freely of what I had, small as my platform seemed.

The poor woman in Jesus’ story was many times marginalized. She had no husband, and likely no children. In a patriarchal society, she would have had no status and few rights. In addition to being marginalized for being unmarried as well as a woman, she was poor. Not the kind of poor where she couldn’t afford a morning latte. She was nothing-to-live-on, crisis-imminent poor.

She could have easily disregarded what she did have as too little to matter. Or she could have kept it to herself, thinking of her own health and survival. No one would have faulted her for that. Instead, she gave sacrificially and was blessed.

She didn’t wait until her position in life was secure and her resources were abundant. She gave, knowing it was a risk. This is the life Jesus calls us to.

Sometimes I feel like I only have two small copper coins in my hand. Whether that’s true or not, I have a choice. I can keep them to myself in greed and self-preservation, or I can release them to God.

I decided to ask a few people more marginalized than me to speak too. A Taiwanese woman shared her thoughts on male privilege. A young South Korean man spoke about race/culture privilege. My Singaporean friend discussed age privilege, and a single Dutch lady finished with her perspective on privilege based on marital status. The post-talk feedback was phenomenal.

I now realize that I don’t need to wait until I have a large platform to share it with other marginalized people. I’m marginalized because of my gender, but that doesn’t mean I should regard my platform as precarious and scarce, withholding it from other oppressed people.

I don’t need to hoard my privilege or my platform. I can use what I have—my privilege as a white, Western, English-speaking person—right now to support other women, people of color, people with disabilities, etc.

We could see the platforms we’re given as opportunities to lay down privilege, and as resources that ought to be shared widely and freely. We could be lavish with our privilege, laying it down and simultaneously leveraging it for others. We could, quite simply, choose to be generous with what’s in our hands. 

Three women smiling at the camera, each is holding a present.

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