So Much of the Privileged Life Is About Transcendence

The day after the 2016 presidential election, I happened to be speaking at a conference in New Orleans, one of the bluest cities in the South. While wandering the working art studios in the Bourbon Street area, I encountered a local sculptor who, upon hearing that I teach peace and justice studies at Duke Divinity School, burst into zealous tears. Her collar soggy with snot and runny mascara, she articulated the disillusionment that many New Orleanians felt in the aftermath of the President Trump’s election.

“This is so devastating,” she lamented.

“Is there any hope? Where is God in the midst of this?”

Her sorrow didn’t surprise me; after all, over 80 percent of New Orleans’ voters chose Hillary Clinton. However, her difficulty in finding hope and God in the midst of such devastation is one that struck me as both distinctly human and distinctly privileged.

Indeed, as I’ve traveled the U.S. since the election, I’ve witnessed similar sentiments among privileged people (e.g., white and/or middle-class people). I honor the humanity in their vulnerable and sincere questioning. I also believe it is worth pointing out that privileged people’s immediate and enduring theological responses to the election have been decidedly less hopeful than those of people who identify with oppressed groups. This suggests to me that the difficulty in finding hope and God in the midst of devastation has deep roots in many privileged people’s theology.

[I'm contributing to On Being's Public Theology Reimagined project. Head on over there to read the rest of this post...]