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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The White Privilege Conference

Today marks the end of the 11th White Privilege Conference (WPC – link).  It has been a great opportunity (my second – I attended the conference last year in Memphis) to learn about and discuss white privilege/oppression, diversity, multiculturalism, and social justice.

Javier Ogaz and I are currently in our hotel room at the Radisson Hotel in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I enjoy the opportunity to spend good amounts of time having quality conversations with good friends.  Javi is certainly at the top of that list.  This is the second year in a row that the WPC has been good for this.

Earlier today, we facilitated two workshops on Addressing Microaggressions – A Focus on the Little Things.  Each was an hour and half.  The first had 38 participants and the second had 36 participants.  Our topic, workshop and presentation styles/methods were well received.  For our first major national presentation, I’d say that we were successful.  In our sessions, we had high school students, undergraduate students, graduate students, PhD students, high school teachers, college professors, government employees, non-profit workers, activists, community organizers, and business consultants.  Click here for a copy of our workshop handout.  Of course, we are available to facilitate trainings and workshops for you too!

The keynotes and sessions we went to included:

  • Redressing Health Inequities in Native America: The Role of India Self-Determination
  • Creating Social Justice in Organizations: Sharing Best Practices and Lessons Learned – a two part workshop led by the Social Justice Training Institute
  • Ethics and Leadership: Making Choices for Social Justice
  • What I Said and What I Meant: Cross Cultural Communication
  • Free Land: A Hip Hop Theater Experience
  • Shabbat Ce-Liberation Dinner
  • A Celebration of Youth

The White Privilege Conference has definitely been a great experience – it has helped me realize where I am in my personal development.  Last year, I was afraid that I would only be able to attend Beginner-level workshops and would find them all challenging.  In fact, the beginner-level workshops were usually easy/very understandable and I wanted more of a challenge.  I was further along in my understanding of these topics than I had thought.  This year, I found that the keynotes were more specific than I would have preferred – but the ones we attended were still good.  Further, I was less interested in as many workshop topics.  The ones we attended were Intermediate and/or Advanced levels.  It seems as though my experiences and involvement this past year have really helped me grow in my identity and my understanding.