Christian Hegemony

Today I ran five short workshops on Christian Hegemony at the University of Denver’s first student-led Privilege Conference.  They went quite well and I am thrilled with the feedback I got from students who said they had never thought of religion/religious privilege and its prevalence in society before.

The event was organized by my friend Javier Ogaz and the Latino Student Alliance.  The event description is as follows:

The University of Denver Latino Student Alliance, in conjunction with the Center for Multicultural Excellence, will be hosting the first annual DU Privilege Conference. The event will seek to educate members of the greater DU community on topics of Privilege as they relate to contemporary American society. These topics will include critical discussions of privilege as they relate to gender, sexual orientation, ableism, race, social class, and American christian hegemony. The conference will also provide members of the DU community with the opportunity to present media presentations on the topic of privilege and oppression.

The sessions I ran were based on the experiences Javi and I had at the White Privilege Conference last year when we attended a session on this topic by Paul Kivel.  I want to thank Paul Kivel for his assistance with materials for the session I ran.  He describes Christian Hegemony on his blog, a copy of which follows below –

I define Christian hegemony as the everyday, pervasive, and systematic set of Christian values and beliefs, individuals and institutions that dominate all aspects of our society through the social, political, economic, and cultural power they wield. Nothing is unaffected by Christian hegemony (whether we are Christian or not) including our personal beliefs and values, our relationships to other people and to the natural environment, and our economic, political, education, health care, criminal/legal, housing, and other social systems.

Christian hegemony as a system of domination is complex, shifting, and operates through the agency of individuals, families, church communities, denominations, parachurch organizations, civil institutions, and through decisions made by members of the ruling class and power elite.

Christian hegemony benefits all Christians, all those raised Christian, and those passing as Christian. However the concentration of power, wealth, and privilege under Christian hegemony accumulates to the ruling class and the predominantly white male Christian power elite that serve its interests. All people who are not Christian, as well as most people who are, experience social, political, and economic exploitation, violence, cultural appropriation, marginalization, alienation and constant vulnerability from the dominance of Christian power and values in our society.

Christian hegemony operates on several levels. At one level is the internalization of dominant western Christian beliefs and values by individuals in our society. Another level is the power that individual preachers, ministers and priests have on people’s lives. Particular churches and some Christian denominations wield very significant political and economic power in our country. There is a vast network of parachurch organizations, general tax-supported non-profits such as hospitals, broadcasting networks, publishing houses, lobbying groups, and organizations like Focus on the Family, Prison Fellowship, The Family, World Mission, and thousands of others which wield influence in particular spheres of U.S. society and throughout the world. Another level of Christian dominance is within the power elite, the network of 7-10,000 predominantly white Christian men who control the largest and most powerful social, political, economic, and cultural institutions in the country. And finally there is the level which provides the foundation for all the others–the long and deep legacy of Christian ideas, values, practices, policies, icons, and texts that have been produced within dominant western Christianity over the centuries. That legacy continues to shape our language, culture, beliefs, and values and to frame public and foreign policy decisions.

Christian dominance has become so invisible that its manifestations appear to be secular, i.e. not religious. In this context, the phrase “secular Christian dominance” might be most appropriate, Christian hegemony under the guise of secularism. Of course, there are many forms of Christian fundamentalism which are anything but secular. Often fundamentalists want to create some kind of theocratic state. But the more mainstream, everyday way that dominant Christian values and institutions influence our lives and communities is less evident, although no less significant and certainly not limited to fundamentalists.

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About Joel Portman
Network Builder. Diversity and Inclusion Advocate. Social Media Enthusiast. Lover of family, friends, the outdoors, travel, and learning. I have experience working in the healthcare, education, diversity/inclusion, retail, and non-profit industries with organizations ranging in size from five people to Fortune 500. I am an MBA graduate of the University of Denver.

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