We are so much more aware of the sociological contexts for the public square, these days – or if we’re not, we should be, because they will be pointed out soon enough! This means that the background of whoever is holding forth is taken into account. The assumption is that we should listen more carefully to those who have been previously silenced and even oppressed while withholding scepticism for the privileged and powerful.
I’m white, male, British, privately educated, with a post-grad degree, married with 2 nearly grown up kids, in the top 1% rich of the world’s population (by virtue of living here and my wife and I both having paid employment). That is quite the privilege package! There is no question that the sum total has given me significant advantages at nearly every stage. In fact, one of the reasons I loved living in East Africa, working in a Ugandan-founded and -led institution, was that some of these ceased to be important. But I was still the white teacher (which brought inordinate authority) with a return airfare. You can’t stop being who you are. I touched on this in more detail a while back. But you can do what you can to listen to, and take seriously, those less privileged. It can’t mean you necessarily must retire altogether.
I’m not suggesting that this gives them a pass – being a lone voice doesn’t necessarily render one authoritative or correct, any more than a minority is necessarily wrong. I’m just suggesting that it would help deepen a sense of civility if we could show respect whenever the current context makes it hard to defend a position. As an example, here is my friend Sam speaking at the Church of England’s General Synod.
Always honour the one who courageously speaks against the prevailing winds, whether in society or (especially) locally.