Blaming the Victim
No one would deny that our present culture is filled with violence, deceit, and treachery. Neither would anyone deny that there is far too much injustice. Those who do evil seem to get away with it due to corruption in law enforcement, in the courts, and in the lawmaking bodies. Many wicked people are not being held to account for their wrongs, while many innocent people are falsely accused and victimized.
But what is in fact being denied, across cultures and religions, is the practice of blaming the victims. When we hear about looting, we blame the shop owners for being greedy. When someone deliberately looks for trouble and gets it, we blame the person or group who was set up, for defending themselves. When a home is broken into and the burgler shot, we cry out against the homeowner and owning guns. When a student refuses to learn or to get along with others, we blame the teacher.
Now let’s bring this issue into the Christian community. We are all familiar with faith healers who blame the sick for not having the faith to be healed. But fewer are aware of the many, many reports of abusive pastors who blame their followers for the abuse, citing lack of obeying the pastor’s “vision” or straying from the pastor’s “covering”. This isn’t just a problem with cults, either; it is, however subtly at times, very much a mainstream problem. The churches have traditionally put pastors on lofty pedestals, and while some have not let this near worship of them go to their heads, many others have not only accepted the worship but demanded it. And whoever crosses these power-mad “hired hands” knows all too well what the consequences can be.
Yet we never seem to look for the underlying causes of this disease: not only sin in general, but specifically false teachings. Ideas have consequences, and these consequences take on a more sinister quality when the ideas are claimed to be from God.
It is as though Jesus said, “Let it be so among you” instead of “Not so among you” (Mat. 20:26), or “Wash my feet” instead of “Let me wash your feet” (John 13:14). But though his rebukes to his power-tripping disciples are undeniable, most of church history has practiced exactly that for which Jesus gave the rebuke. Jesus did not rebuke the kind or manner of “lording over”, but any sort of hierarchy. The desire to hold power and control over those who are our brothers and sisters (Mat. 23:8–10) is a sign of immaturity and ignorance of the scriptures.
Yet even among the few who recognize this principle, this primary teaching and example of Jesus, hierarchy has been retained in the one place it should never be: marriage. Of all the relationships believers can have, the one where they should all feel the most secure and equal is between a wife and husband. If Jesus Himself did not cling to his privileges as God (Phil. 2:5--11), and if the apostle Paul voluntarily gave up the privileges he could claim as one commissioned directly by Jesus (1 Cor 9:12), then even those who believe males are granted privileges by God over females must follow the teachings and examples of Jesus and Paul by laying such privileges down.
Of course, those who disagree will give dire warnings of disorder and chaos, of the downfall of society (which many today, inside and outside of the church, are saying is due to women having too much freedom and autonomy), and of violating “God’s natural order”. But all of these same fears were raised when slaves in America were granted freedom and personhood. Again, while some would point to such equality and freedom as the scapegoat for the decay of the world, the truth is that freedom and equality of all human beings is not the cause of any problems that aren’t also true of those who already hold all the privileges. The problem is human nature, not racial or sexual nature.
Now there is one aspect of sexual equality which is not also true of racial equality, that being the charge that one kind of sexual equality is the same as all other kinds. That is, it is feared that if women are treated as equal human beings, then all sorts of sexual deviancy must also be legitimized. But this is a false comparison, since females being treated equally with males is not a sin. Of course, many on both sides of the issue don’t see any distinction, but the fact remains that God never calls female equality a sin, while God certainly does call homosexuality (and, by at least strong implication, other acts such as beastiality, pedophilia, and rape) a sin.
Rape and all other kinds of sexual abuse have been blamed on the victims for centuries, even millennia. The Christian community has taught, and still teaches today in many cases (e.g. the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), that men have divine sanction to rule over women. Though there is much disagreement among such people as to exactly where women are to be restricted, they all agree that restriction is the command of God, on no other basis than the flesh. Women in such teachings are, by strong implication, born defective and dependent, inferior by nature. And it follows from this that men are born complete, independent, and superior. Cultural stereotypes and norms are used to support this premise, and verses are taken out of context to justify them. In all this, the words and examples of Jesus and Paul are not only forgotten but also twisted and contradicted.
We as a faith community need to come to grips with this glaring hypocrisy and rebellion against Jesus, remembering that he came to do much more than die for sins: to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, relief for the oppressed, and favor from the Lord (Luke 4:18--19). If we cite particular passages, or snippets of passages, to justify denying all those things to certain groups of people for whom Jesus died, we are in rebellion against Him. The Golden Rule (Mat. 7:12) has no loopholes.
So let each of us claiming to follow Jesus make sure we are not like the Pharisees, who lived by the principle, “Do as I say, not as I do”, and who believed themselves to be a privileged class to whom all others must submit. Let us stop blaming others for our own sins and faults. If we truly believe that we “are all sisters and brothers”, let us put it into daily practice… but not out of obligation. If we harbor in our hearts a resentment of other people’s equality with us, we must question our grasp of the gospel and the character it demands.