King Benjamin for President: A King's Sermon on Privilege (Mosiah 1-3)

Monday, April 13, 2020

Resources mentioned in this episode:
  • Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. Read it here.
  • Michael Kimmel on "Why Gender Equality is Good for Everyone -- Men Included" Ted Talk. Listen here.
  • The Way of Love by Luce Irigaray. Read about it here.
  • "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal." C.S. Lewis
  • Rachel Elizabeth Cargle (@rachel.cargle on Instagram)
Scriptures mentioned in this episode:
  • Mosiah 2:10-11
  • Mosiah 2:14
  • Mosiah 2:17
  • Matthew 25:35

Transcribed by Maddie Daetwyler of @lightenprint

C: Hi, I'm Channing.

E: And I'm Elise.

C: And this is The Faithful Feminists podcast. We’ve saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Mosiah chapters 1 through 3 for the dates April 13th through the 19th. We're so glad you're here.

E: Welcome back everyone. We're glad that you're joining us this week. And we also wanted to give you a heads up that we record these episodes well in advance. It's Saturday, March 21st right now, and we're recording an episode for mid-April. And while we like to work ahead, that also means that we are speaking to you from the future. So we know that Easter has happened and General Conference has happened, and we're looking forward to having those discussions, but that won't be the things that we're talking about in this episode yet, because technically for us, they haven't happened yet. So today we're going to spend our time with the first few chapters of Mosiah, and we wanted to talk about what it means and looks like to be a good leader, and also what it means to serve and love others.

C: So, first up on the list is talking about what it means to be a good leader, or even a good person. And we see this theme show up in Mosiah chapter 2, verses 10 through 16. 

E: I love hearing from King Benjamin, because you can tell just from the way that he's speaking that he's not only so in love with his people, but he's also really, really proud of the environment and the setting and the camaraderie that has been created in this community of people, especially if we look back to the last few books that we've read through. There have been a lot of wars and times of, yes, peace, but also times of contention. But when King Benjamin calls the people together in a type of General Conference type way, you can tell that he's saying, look at how great we have it. Look at the ways that we've established peace amongst our people, look at the ways that we are building trust and that we're turning to God by keeping the commandments. And you can tell that there's a lot of love and he's really proud of this, but not in a prideful way. And I think one way that we can see this is if we do start by turning to verses 10 and 11.

C: So those verses say, “I have not commanded you to come up hither that you should fear me, or that you should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man. But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind, yet, I have been chosen by this people and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord, that I should be a ruler and a King over this people, and have been kept and preserved by his matchless power to serve you with all the might mind and strength with which the Lord hath granted unto me.”

E: And I love these verses because, to kind of paraphrase, King Benjamin is saying, “Hey, I'm just like you. Yes, I've been called to be a ruler or the person that helps keep people on track in this community. But I suffer from this same infirmities and weaknesses that you do. And yet I've still done my best to spend my entire life, or my entire time, ruling. I've spent this time trying to serve you and be in the trenches with you. I've given it my best go because I'm human too.” And I like thinking of a King this way. I like thinking that there's a ruler that’s approachable. That there is a ruler who is, it seems like, well-informed with the needs of people on all of the levels throughout the community. And especially the people who are kind of the least of these or the least among this community. He's caring and looking out for them too. 

C: And he's aware of his own shortcomings. In the time that he's giving this General Conference, he is an old man. Literally about to die. And the whole reason why he calls this conference is because the Lord prompted him to share with the people that he is now passing on the mantle of King to his son Mosiah. And so I think he's just acutely aware that he's a human, and he's just like everybody else. And I think he really deeply desires for his people to understand him and see him that way also. And I think King Benjamin has really tried to do his part and work really hard for his community, to show them that keeping commandments is worthwhile. But that is also requires some effort on our part. And I loved verse 14 in chapter 2. King Benjamin says, “And even I myself have labored with my own hands, that I might serve you, that you should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be born. And all of these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day.” So he's basically saying, “I don't have to say this. You guys already know.” I imagine him probably saying, “You see me working out in the fields. You've seen me herding the sheep. You've seen me helping other people.” I can just imagine him doing all of that. And I think that this is really important to talk about when we're thinking about good leaders and good rulers. Can we see, have we seen them, doing the work? Have we seen them participating in the work or are we watching them delegate and tell other people what to do? Not that that's a bad thing, but sometimes it's refreshing to know that the person in charge actually has their hands in the dirt and is trying to understand the people that they're leading, understand what the situations are, and what crises or what trials the people are facing, and that they're not just tucked away in their castle or office building or white house, or whatever it is you want to think about. But that they actually know, and they're right there on the ground, familiar and talking with and working alongside the people that they are leading.

E: And maybe King Benjamin is really in the trenches with the people because he knows and understands that as he works and labors alongside his people, not only is he creating a stronger community for them, but in turn, it's a strong community for himself, too. So you see him engaged in this laborous work alongside the people, but you don't see him sitting in his throne, profiting off the backs of other people's work. He's not like, I don't know, eating special, fancy grapes while everyone else is building his kingdom and doing all of this stuff. He sees himself as a crucial part side-by-side with his people. And it seem,s by the turnout of all of these people, it seems that they love him. And it seems that they value the type of leader he has been. Perhaps they feel understood and seen, and they feel like their cares and worries and concerns are heard by him, and are held by him. 

C: And I think this'll be an interesting case study as we read further along in the book of Mormon, when we get to the example of King Noah, with Abinadi later on. When I think of eating fancy grapes, that is who I think of. And he is the type of person who… he was the type of ruler who would raise taxes and allow the working class to just support him while he spent his days eating, drinking, and being merry. So  I think it'll just be a fascinating case study as we get further along, but King Benjamin just sounds like he is an amazing leader and yay, we need those.

E: And again, in verse 14, there was a line that we did want to focus on. It says “that there should nothing come upon you, which was grievous to be born.” And we wanted to talk a little bit about privilege here, because King Benjamin, even though he works alongside the people, he is also the King. So there are a lot of rights and benefits that come along with being the King. He has a lot of power, and especially decision-making power. And what he says goes.

C: So privilege is defined as a special right advantage or immunity granted, or available, only to a particular person or group. So what this means is, pretty simply, that under the same exact set of circumstances that you're in life would be harder without your privilege. So one of the examples that Elise found was that it is hard to be poor, but it's even harder to be disabled and poor. So when we talk about privilege, there are a ton of different types of privilege, just like there's a ton of different types of repression. And they kind of go hand in hand because privilege is the flip side of oppression. So a couple of different types of privileges that there can be -- if you are a male, then you have privilege because in our society, men are valued over women. If you are rich, then you have privilege over the poor. 

E: Once I was talking to someone about privilege and I think one of the big pushbacks that happens with privilege is that people say, what are you talking about? I don't have privilege. My life has been hard. I've had to work for everything. Nothing was handed to me. And while that might be true, that's not privilege. Privilege is something that, just like Channing said, without it, under the same circumstances, your life would be more difficult. And so one example that I use often in my classes is that there's heterosexual privilege, right? I can go out to a public place like the mall or the park, and I can sit on the park bench and I could probably make out with my partner that was a guy. And no one would make fun of us or point and stare, or call us names or tell us to break it up or something. So in that example, heterosexual couples do have privilege over homosexual couples.

C: So as we are discussing privilege, and the whole reason why we brought this up is because a question that came to us when we were reading through these verses, specifically verse 14, was this question: are we doing our own work so that others don't have to suffer? And so what this really means, what we're really asking is, are we capable and willing to identify our own privilege? The ways that our privilege serves us, and maybe gives us an advantage where others may not have it. And are we willing to do the work to identify those, and also use them not to our own advantage, but to benefit others. 

E: And we believe that King Benjamin is using his privilege to make sure, like in verse 14, that there's nothing grievous that is having to be borne by the people, that he's using his power and he's taking action and he's standing, not only standing in solidarity with the people who are oppressed or experience oppression in different intersecting ways than he does, but he's also trying to use his privilege to work against a system that might value certain groups of people over other groups of people. And it seems like he's using his privilege to balance out the scales. 

C: I think a good specific example that we can pull from the text here is when in verse 13 King Benjamin says, “There are no dungeons.” And typically in times past, a lot of people would go to jail or prison if they couldn't pay a debt. And I don't know if that's the case here, I'm not enough of a scholar to know why all of the reasons people might have gone to a dungeon here, but let's just imagine, because Christ uses debtors' prison examples pretty frequently, that a lot of people would go to jail because they couldn't pay their debt. And if you were wealthy enough to not have a debt, that would give you a privilege, or you would be privileged, in that situation. And I think this could be a specific example where we can say that King Benjamin used his privilege of power and maybe even privilege of wealth to help eliminate that class division between the wealthy and the poor so that no one had to “serve time” for their inability to pay their debt. So that's just one example from the texts that we could study about this, using privilege and helping others. 

E: And just to be really transparent here, Channing and I both recognize that we hold a lot of privileges, white privilege being able bodied, that's a privilege for us, but so we challenge you to think about what privileges you have and first identify them and how they show up for you. So in my case, as a white woman, I have white privilege, which means, especially where I live, if I wanted to, I could surround myself on any given day with people who are white. I can turn on a movie or read a book that pretty much reflects my family's story of being white.  I'm not asked to speak on behalf of my entire race, right? People aren't like, Elise, as a white woman, how do you experience this? Or how do white women experience this thing? So those are some privileges I have as a white woman. And if you want to read more about what type of white privilege you hold, there's an amazing article and it's titled Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, and we'll link to it. But when you start recognizing your privilege, at first you might feel guilty, right? Because you wouldn't have recognized all the ways that your privilege shows up for you because privilege is invisible. There's a scholar whose name is Michael Kimmel, and he gives a talk about male privilege and masculinity. And he says that he was never aware of his own male privilege until he was having a conversation with a book group. And there were some women there, both white and black women, and there was a white woman that said, well, you know, as women, we all face the same types of oppression, which isn't true. And so the black woman stepped up and she said, no, that's not true. You have different privileges that I don't have. Right? So this is the black woman speaking to the white woman, she says, “When you look in the mirror, what do you see?” And the white woman says, “Well, I see a woman.” And the black woman says, “That's right. But when I look in the mirror, I see a black woman.” And then Michael Kimmel steps back and he says, “Oh my gosh, I didn't even realize what was going on. Because when I look in the mirror, all I see is a human being.” Right? And so you can see this unfolding of privilege because it is invisible. So when you first start to recognize it, you might feel a bit of guilt, but challenging systems of privilege doesn't need your guilt. What we need is your action, is your ability to take that privilege and power that you have, and use it to push back against the systems that are oppressing other groups of people. We need you to show up, and just like King Benjamin, be in the trenches with other groups of people that are suffering.

C: Absolutely. And I was also thinking too, Elise, as you were talking about that, that even in the church, we have our own forms of privilege. One example that I can think of really clearly is families with children, couples with children and couples without children. Typically in the church, we see more experiences reflected back to us of couples who are married and who have children. So there's not a lot of place, or a lot of mention, anyway, for couples, without children, or single women or single men. And it's a lot easier when you move into a ward to find other friends. For me, moving into a new word was so easy because there was a ton of families and a ton of other women with children, and even women with young children, that I could make friends with. But if I didn't have that, I feel like transitioning to a new ward would be a different experience because it'd be harder to find people like me. And going back to what Elise said, identifying your privilege doesn't have to make you feel guilty. I shouldn't feel guilty about being born a white woman, and choosing to be married to a man, and having children. There's nothing, literally nothing, to feel guilt about, but identifying our privilege enables us to know what other needs there are in the community. If we just step outside of the box of what we know, or what is comfortable for us, then we could find different ways and different people to form relationships with and help.

E: Yeah, I agree with you to a point because sometimes that guilt is necessary and I think it is good for us to feel guilt, especially if we've used our privilege to harm other people, even unintentionally, we should hold and feel guilt about and for those things, but it's about moving past that guilt and moving to action. Because if we stay in the guilt, then it makes it about us. Right? Then we go to everyone and we say, “Oh my gosh, I can't believe I'm white. Oh, all of my ancestors have been doing these things, and this is what I'm doing.” But again, that makes everyone else around you have to turn and comfort you, as opposed to recognizing your privilege, experiencing your guilt, and transforming that guilt into action. I think that's what it's about.

C: I really appreciate that perspective, Elise, because it's so empowering because you're right. We can't just erase the emotion that we feel. And so it's just better to feel it and work through it and move forward so that we can do better. Just so that we can do better.

E: We wanted to bring up privilege because we actually think it transitions and ties really nicely to our next concept, which is all about service. Because as we recognize and use our privilege to work alongside people who need it, and use our privilege to challenge systems of oppression, what that looks like as service. And in verse 17 it says, “And behold, I tell you these things that you may learn wisdom, that ye may learn, that when you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the service of your God.” I'm obsessed with this idea. Recognizing that the way we show our love for God is by loving other people, and the way that we serve God is literally through serving our neighbor and our enemy and the stranger, that's the way that we serve and love God. So I think it's just kind of this endless continuum. How do I show my love for God? Oh, I love my neighbor. How do I serve God? Oh, I serve my neighbor. And I also serve the people who are not my neighbors, the people who are way more challenging to serve. And in this way, it reminds me of a book called The Way of Love by Luce Irigaray. And she has a stunning line that has stayed with me ever since I read the book. And it says, “The celestial lies not only above our heads, but between us.” And I think this touches on the same thing that verse 17 is trying to get at. That God and the divine is not just in heaven. We can recognize God and divinity in other people. But the only way to do that is by serving them and getting to know them.

C: There's a quote that I love from C.S. Lewis that, same as yours, has just stuck with me forever. C.S. Lewis says, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible Gods and Goddesses. To remember that the dullest, most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature, which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. There are no ordinary people, and you have never talked to a mere mortal.” And so I think that that ties really well into recognizing that other people have so much more… not even so much more potential, but are so much more. I feel like really often we look at someone and we never see them as they really are. We're really looking at an illusion through our own filter of experience and what our current emotions are and what our understandings are. And sometimes those can be twisted and not entirely accurate. And so if we can just remember, and it's hard to remember sometimes, but to remember that every person that we come into contact with is so much more than the illusion that we see them as, can really change the approach that we take when we think about service and when we think about even just relating with other people.

E: And service also reminds us that we have to have a healthy imagination because of exactly like Channing said. And also in Matthew 25:35, when the disciples are saying “God, when did we see you and give you any food? Or when did you ask us for water? When were you in prison? We haven't done those things.” Right? And Jesus says, “You didn't recognize me and other people because you couldn't imagine the possibility of divinity showing up in others.” Right? Obviously those are my words,  not Jesus’s actual words, but I think that imagination plays a big role in trying to get to the heart of verse 17 in Mosiah, chapter 2, because we have to imagine these people the way that God imagines them and in a way that allows us to see God through and in them. 

C: So when we're talking about privilege and service, and using our privilege to serve others, sometimes that can seem like in an abstract idea. So we wanted to just share some ideas that we've had, some experiences that we've had, about what it looks like to use your privilege to serve others. So for me, just as I quickly thought about this, one of the things that stuck out to me from recent experience is when I first moved into our new ward, I was called as the word communication specialist. And what that meant was, I was in charge of doing the monthly newsletter and the weekly sacrament program. And the Bishop had asked me to encourage all of the presidents of all the different organizations to submit their portion of the newsletter to me every month. And he invited me into a ward council, and I've never been to ward council ever before. And so this is my first time. And all he wanted me to do for the five minutes that I was there was to share what my vision was for the newsletter and to ask people to contribute. It would have been so easy for the Bishop to just take care of that all on his own. Right? He could have just said, “Oh, I've called Channing Parker to do the newsletter. If you guys could all do this, blah, blah, blah, that'd be great.” But instead he knew that  had that calling, and he wanted to give me the opportunity to share what my hope and vision was for that, and what I needed, and so I just felt like that was a really cool moment for me to just have, you know, my two or five minutes to share what I needed to share. And then I was excused, which I was grateful for. I did not want to sit through a whole ward council. But that is one example of a person in a position of power or privilege using their time in a meeting to give it to somebody else who needs it, or could use it.

E: One way that I've recently been challenged to use both my academic privilege and my white privilege is through a challenge that was given by Rachel Elizabeth Cargle on Instagram. She's a public academic, a writer, and a lecturer, and she posted the other day, “Academic institutions need to actively address the white washing of their teaching materials. It's unacceptable to have reading lists quilted with all things white and male, to suggest all expertise is at the tongue of men, or only obtained through the lens of whiteness. Syllabi need to be scoured, scrubbed, and re-imagined to include, and in every chance possible, should center marginalized voices as an active intention toward being an inclusive place of learning.” And so with this, it got me thinking about, “Okay, hang on, let me go back through the last few years I've been teaching and scour my own syllabis. What are we reading? Whose voices am I centering and holding up as the voice of all truth and knowledge, and how do I use the power that I have? My decision-making power, my academic power, my white privilege, to say, “I need to rearrange things. I need to change up my syllabus to, just like Cargle said, center marginalized voices. To go away with this white washing of knowledge.

C: Totally piggybacking off of that, my mom was a school librarian and a teacher for a huge portion of her career. And as I got older and was in high school and telling her about the different authors that we were reading, she was excited when I told her we were reading people like Sandra Cisneros and Maya Angelou. And she was like, this is awesome because a lot of times all we ever read in school are the old white guys. And I could make a whole list of them, Ernest Hemingway and Ray Bradbury and Charles Dickens and Shakespeare. And not that any of what they've written is bad, unless you're Ernest Hemingway, but my own opinions aside, as I've gotten older and a little more aware of my own privilege, I've appreciated challenges to read outside of what my comfort zone is. To read more from authors of color, to read more from poets of color, or from people who are maybe from a different religious background than I am, just because it's good to look outside the box and it doesn't even necessarily mean you have to like all of them. It's okay. But to try something new and open, widen your understanding, and widen the door for what information you are basing your experiences and understandings off of can be a really powerful way to learn about the world.

E: So those are some of the examples Channing and I thought of about using our privilege and trying to engage in the good work and engage in service. And we hope as your family moves throughout the week after you've read these words from King Benjamin, that you focus on service, that you really try and recognize the divinity in other people, but that you also take a good close look at how your privilege shows up for you, and how you can use that privilege to help others.

C: And going along with that, we can really draw strongly from King Benjamin's example. He is a wonderful example of checking your privilege. He's a wonderful example of doing the work, and he's a really great example of doing the work from a place of power and what effects that had on him personally. Obviously, he's a very humble person. And also on his entire kingdom, I think from everything that he said, things are looking pretty good. No dungeons, no slaves, and everybody's being righteous. So just some things to think about as you go through the next week and see what these scriptures have to offer you. So, we're so, so happy that you joined us today for this conversation about service and privilege and humility and being a good leader. And we are excited to share it with you. And ultimately, we're just happy that you're here, and we can't wait to talk with you next week. Bye!

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