Today I have the privilege of sharing with you a contribution from Dr. Ron Clark. Ron is a church planter and minister at the Agape Church of Christ in Gresham, Oregon. Ron has served in numerous capacities related to abuse and violence including the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force, The Engaging Men Project (TEMP), and the co-founder of Community Against Domestic Violence. He is the author of numerous books and articles, and is a leading voice in Churches of Christ about how we engage issues of abuse and violence both in our churches and our communities.
The word seems to strike fear in us not only as we say it, but as we think about those we know who are victims, have been victimized, or have family members who suffered as victims. It also seems logical to us that we remove the word from our vocabulary by empowering the word so that we can be “victors.” Victors has a better sound, connotation, and memory. However we forget that whenever there is a victor, typically there is or are victims. Yet for us it is a matter of avoiding that which is uncomfortable. Since victim connotes helplessness, suffering, and vulnerability—we opt to be victors instead. In addition to this we become, like the many other humans researched who observe an act of bullying and side with the bully or do nothing, people who collude with and empower the oppression of victims. Whether or not it is intentional, we side with the victors rather than the victims.
As Christians and people of faith this seems contrary to the God we serve. Since the beginning of time Yahweh and, later Jesus, seemed to stand opposite the oppressors and for the victims.
“Your brother’s (Abel) blood cries out to me…” Genesis 4:10
“I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt, I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering…” Exodus 3:7
“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.” Exodus 22:21-23
“Yahweh is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble…who does not ignore the cry of the afflicted…” Psalm 9:9, 12
“If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered…” Proverbs 21:13
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the empire of God…” Luke 6:20
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers/sisters of mine, you did for me…” Matthew 25:40
“The Son of Man has no place to lay his head… (meaning that Jesus was homeless).” Luke 9: 58
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and drowned in the deepest lake/sea…” Matthew 18:6
The crucifixion of Jesus was an act of “humiliation” (not humility), a word used for sexual assault victims, the oppressed, and marginalized people of this world.
Throughout the Biblical text God is the god of the oppressed, the marginalized, the suffering, and those society has deemed unworthy. Additionally this group is also silenced. They have no voice, no one to represent them, and no one to understand their pain. Those who marginalize them do so because they have chosen the path of oppression, affliction, and a display of power over others. However, these “privileged” classes of people are also the groups confronted directly by Yahweh, the prophets, apostles, and Jesus himself. Their only hope of salvation is to hear the cries of the marginalized (victims) as the prophets exclaimed to their kings.
“Therefore O king (Nebuchadnezzer), please accept my advice. Renounce your sins by doing what is right and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed (poor). It may be then that your prosperity will continue.” Daniel 4:27
“’Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father (Josiah) have food and drink? He did what was right and just and all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares Yahweh.” Jeremiah 22:15-16
When we ignore the cries of the oppressed, marginalized, poor, or victims we collude with their oppressors. First, we assume that they deserve to be oppressed.
Homeless people are viewed as lazy and unwilling to work, rather than being part of a system that prevents them from receiving help.
Rape victims are blamed for being over sexual, underdressed, or sexually expressive and therefore responsible for this sin. We assume that every male is incapable of self control and must have been tempted by them. “Boys will be boys…” Boys who are raped are seen as deserving it because the must have communicated effeminate signals to “real boys.”
Abuse victims are considered to be women who over exaggerate their suffering. Those with bruises “must have pushed his buttons,” while those abused and controlled verbally and emotionally are considered “too sensitive.”
Does it amaze us that the most common age of sexual abuse victims are young girls age 10-15? How many times do we circulate rumors about “school girls” and young girls making up stories and false accusations? Is it possible that they are targeted because offenders know we wont believe them? Is it surprising that many of them, when sharing their story, state that they felt that no one would believe them?
Women in prostitution and pornography are believed to be fully in control and in charge of their own futures. They are seen as the aggressors, rather than the pimps who brutalize them and their customers who also exploit them.
Male violence victims are told that they need to “man up” and victimize other males.
Boys who cry are also told to “man up” and be stronger. They are also given female or gay labels if they don’t “man up.”
Trauma survivors are told that they need to “get over it” and move on.
Victims suffer unjustly. There is no valid reason for people to be oppressed, tortured, terrorized, or ignored in their victimization. Those victims who experience horrible acts of human oppression many times find acceptance and solitude by being intoxicated, high, or under the influence of various substances. Substance abuse exists among them because they hate living in reality and believe that people will not accept them.
The sad news concerning this—they all have a God who hears their cries, feels their pain, and suffered the same humiliation, shame, and rejection. Jesus also was homeless, poor, humiliated, and a victim of unjust suffering. Before Jesus became the Lord of the upper class—he was the Savior of the marginalized.
Unfortunately the Church, for centuries, has tried to dissect the Biblical text to find meaning for the oppressors, victors, and those with privilege. We worry about their forgiveness, their healing, and making a community where they can move forward and enter leadership again. For the victims we say, “Forgive, Forget, Move On, and Get Over It.” If they are revictimized, it is considered a small price for a community to be viewed as forgiving and loving the sinner. In doing this we ignore the voice of the ones among whom Jesus lived, ate and drank, and cry out for justice. We also silence their voice so that they will not speak up. Who would blame them, no one wants to be known as a “nagger” or “prophetic.” However, this is how oppression, privilege, and injustice thrive in communities. If we remove the voice of the victim, then we can all move forward and be victors.
When we listen to the voice of the marginalized we should find the empathy and compassion to respond to their needs. If we are allowing the Spirit of Jesus to live within us, we naturally move toward their voice and turn our ears to their suffering. We see ourselves not as oppressors but family who also suffers victimization. To be a victim introduces us to a community in which we are family and have each other’s best interest in mind. We also become more sensitive in our outreach and ministry:
Each time we discuss pre-marital sex there are a percentage of people who were molested by a family member, or coerced into sex by a male in their church. They believe that they are guilty because their victor told them they were.
When we speak negatively concerning divorce there are a large number of people who left an abusive or dysfunctional marriage to establish peace and safety in their family. There are also men and women who divorced their spouse because they wanted their children to live in a peaceful, healthy, and non-addictive home. For them it was not only an option God gave them, but an act Yahweh practiced during the Babylonian captivity. Sometimes divorce has to happen.
When we call people to turn their victimization into a victory we ignore the fact that Jesus/God, like them, was victimized on the cross, during the Babylonian captivity, and the violation of the Hebrew covenant. Victory came through justice, and the repentance of the offender, not the victim. The resurrection is new life and a new kingdom—where peace and justice reign.
When we push victims to forgive, without discussing the repentance of the offender, they are forced into a unhealthy relationship. Repentance precedes forgiveness. Forgiveness is the act of a victim who has been validated, given amends, and feels a sense of healing through the words of the oppressor. They also feel safe because a community names the oppression and offense as a sin, not their victimization.
When we talk as if victims enjoy living as victims we have not heard their story—their stories involve a desire to heal and get better.
When we assume young girls are exaggerating sexual assault, coercion, or clergy misconduct we tell them that victims’ testimonies are not as credible as offenders. We also assume that young girls (and sometimes boys) enjoy the shame of being a victim to horrible acts of male violence, oppression, and infliction of pain. History teaches us two things concerning this issue:
1. Offenders are not open and honest with the truth. They often lie.
2. Males tend to lie as well when it comes to sex
Our response as a faith community is to not only imitate Jesus/God, but to understand that a major quality of God involves “hearing the cries of the little people.” The voices of the victims are being silenced in churches, synagogues, and other communities of faith. Continually victims tell us that no one cares, not even God. However, the spiritual community has a powerful opportunity to advocate for the voiceless by giving them a voice.
When we say, “I believe you…” we empower their testimony.
When we understand that some people have different moral codes, not because they are rebellious, but because they have been taught by their oppressors that this behavior is desirable, we help them to move to change.
When we realize that victims will only speak in a safe environment, we create safe spaces where language is used to encourage rather than shame, hugs and intimacy involve compassion and holiness, and oppression/oppressors is/are confronted and called to repentance.
When we hear the voice of the marginalized, and allow God’s Spirit to live in us, we not only feel compassion and empathy, we feel anger at the injustice we see. We understand the anger of Yahweh and the prophets, Jesus and the apostles, and those throughout Christian history who have advocated against racism, economic oppression, gender discrimination, and human affliction.
When we stand beside them we not only suffer with them, but we understand the heart of Jesus who was criticized for eating with sinners and tax collectors (Luke 5:30; 7:34). We become as they are, humans in the image of God needing acceptance, support, and justice. We see their ministry and speak to Pharaoh, “Let my people go…”