Most of Us are Nepo Babies

Loved Maya Hawk (daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawk) in Stranger Things. Regret missing John David Washington (son of Denzel Washington) on Broadway in The Piano Lesson. Congratulations to Jamie Lee Curtis (daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh) who won an Oscar last night. Are these talented people? Definitely. Did they get any breaks based on their family connections? Definitely.

Imagine what life might be like for the children of Jann Wenner (whose son Gus is now CEO of Rolling Stone) or Phil Collins (whose daughter Lily is Emily in Paris) or Steve Harvey (whose daughter Lori is a model) or Quincy Jones (whose daughter Rashida was so wonderful in Parks and Rec). Would we have ever heard of Lachlan Murdoch, Laura Dern, or Angelina Jolie without nepotism?

It’s possible to reach extraordinary success without famous parents (see Jenna Ortega, Zendaya, Daniel Kaluuya, Donald Glover) and yet each of those people had geography or genetic blessings or education on their side as a result of their parentage.

My parents were not famous or rich but I benefited from being their daughter by growing up in a college town (good public schools and friends whose parents were professors from all over) in a prominent church (with a confirmation teacher who showed us actual pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls from his personal research), with enough money to afford vacations and college (with manageable debt.) The nepotism in my life helped me get summer jobs (a friend’s dad owned a cute shoe store) and my second church call (my aunt had a house at Montreat near the Pastoral Nominating Committee Chair’s house.) My privileged friend connections have resulted in invitations to join clergy groups and leadership positions.

I got excellent UNC basketball tickets all through high school and college because I walked Goldie, the head of ticket operations’ labrador retriever who lived in my neighborhood whose son was a year ahead of me in school but didn’t want to walk the dog. This too is privilege.

All of us have privilege who read this blog post. And the hope is that we use our privilege for good – whether it comes from having rich and famous parents or it comes from proximity to other people’s privilege or it comes from randomly winning the lottery.

The conversation about seminary exams last week touched on privilege, both in terms of who has access to mental health care and who gets to be ordained in the first place. In my denomination, we pastors do not get to call ourselves to professional ministry. It’s a three-legged stool:

  • Individuals sense a calling from God.
  • Calling is affirmed by the Church (meaning a home congregation and then a higher judicatory.)
  • There is a calling body (meaning a congregation or a hospital or an educational institution issuing “a call”).

I mention this because I know people who feel called to professional ministry and yet the Church and/or a Calling Institution do not affirm their calling. This is very painful. It doesn’t mean a person is not “called by God” to serve. But it could mean that a person is not called to a particular ministry. (We are all called to ministry by virtue of our baptisms in my theological tradition.)

I also know pastors who have been called to positions because of nepotism and so do you. And I know people who were noticed by Pastor Nominating Committees because someone like me contacted them and suggested they take a closer look at Candidate X. It’s extremely rare to be called to a position without some – even nominal – connection.

I’m inviting you to connect with me and I hope I can connect with you. If there’s anything I can do to share my own privilege, let me know. What I can also say is that the inability to be ordained or receive a pastoral call might be related to other real and true factors.

Yes, it’s true that incompetent people still get called to serve in plum positions because of nepotism, sexism, racism, etc. while exceptional leaders get passed over. And yet there is less of this in 2023 than in 1973.

Every day I see excellent candidates without the usual connections and/or profile (at least the profile of most leaders 50 years ago) be called to serve as ordained pastors. And I also see excellent candidates who are not considered because someone with better connections prevailed.

Again, it’s true that most of us have life connections that have helped us. And it’s also true that we can be those life connections to people who could be helped. We are all in this life together.

Image source of British Media Nepo Babies.

4 responses to “Most of Us are Nepo Babies

  1. Thank you.
    As a first generation child of immigrants there seemed to be implied and stated notion within our Dutch circles that we pulled ourselves up by our own boot straps. NOT SO! My father’s family of 11 children and two parents of which he was the oldest benefitted from a lawyer’s non-interest loan to buy their first of 4-farms. The lawyer told them to pay it off as they could, and they did. This after about a year in Canada. Their ability to become prosperous and to farm was definitely hastened by this. And so I too benefitted, from having money to attend good schools and have steady work on the home farm. This is my reality, that I recognize and acknowledge as a responsibility to use well to benefit or bless others. May I share your post on my Linked In Page?
    Thank you!


  2. FYI, you forgot the “white” in front of the privilege you keep talking about.

    Liked by 1 person

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