The Meandering Political Definition of Victimhood

“Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true” – Yogi Berra

I read an article a few days back by someone calling himself “The Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson” titled “Christians, You’re Not Victims.” Let me just establish at the outset that anyone who has the audacity to label themselves the Right Reverend anything, probably isn’t worth listening to. That said, Mr. Robinson very nearly stumbles onto a decent case initially that the Christian howling over “oppression” in the case of creeping gay marriage rulings is likely a bit over-wrought. His argument then goes to pieces as he makes some silly claims about what does constitute victimhood.

The major themes appear to be these (and I will give Mr. Robinson a fair bit of deference on the first one –  it is the only legitimate point and he develops it far less than he should have):

  • Many Christians view the legalization of gay marriage as the upending of reasonable moral order and are greatly disturbed by what this means for their place in our society
  • Businesses being forced to provide services they do not wish to, based on moral objections, is a small concern
  • True oppression is being a social outcast, which many in the LGBT community have suffered for much of their lives

To the first point (again, the one Mr. Robinson doesn’t explore fully enough), there is a significant bit of the Christian objection to gay marriage in America that is based in discomfort with the new political reality. That is, Christians are very used to being able to use the power of majority rule to punish behaviors they find disdainful. This includes behaviors that don’t expressly violate anybody’s rights (e.g., the immoral behaviors that occur between two consenting adults). It is very true that many Christians are still struggling with this “sea change” – but we (the Christians) cannot view “removal of the right to rule over the lives of others” as oppression.

That said, I do hold that it is oppressive for businesses, rather for individuals who operate businesses, to be forced to comply with activities that violate their conscience. If a business decides to refuse service over moral objections, or refuses to provide certain medical benefits over moral objections, then they should be free to do so. Note that I’m not saying they should deny those services – I think we are all better off when Christian business owners engage those with whom they disagree. But free people get to make free decisions about how they will interact with a free market. To force any more than this is to presume communal ownership over the life of the individual (and so doing, we open the door to all manner of oppression against all manner of classes of people – on the basis of “the greater good” as defined by the “will of the majority”).

Then there is the last flail describing the oppression of LGBT community. Obviously there are some valid claims, but there are also some silly claims. Consider [my comments inserted]:

Here’s what victimization looks like: every day, especially in some places, LGBT people face the real possibility of violence because of their orientation or gender identity [yes violence is oppression]. Young people jump off bridges or hang themselves on playground swing sets because of the bullying or discrimination they face [suicide is not oppression, though it can stem from oppression]. In 29 states, one can be fired from one’s job simply for being gay, with no recourse to the courts [actually, it’s 50 states – many Christian organizations reserve the right to fire people for violating certain moral standards – you have no right to employment]. In most places, we cannot legally marry the one we love [more on this in a bit]. Some of us have been kicked out of the house when we come out to our parents, and many young LGBT people find themselves homeless and on the streets because of the attitudes of their religious parents toward their LGBT children [you have no right to acceptance or free room and board].

Oppression has to be cast as violation of individual liberties, of life, of freedom, of property. Bullying – oppression. Violence – oppression. Getting fired? Not oppression. For an agreement of employment to remain in effect, both parties must agree to continue. An employer cannot cry “oppression” because an employee decides they don’t want to work there anymore (they are free to go). Employers have no right to demand that employees continue to work when they don’t want to. Similarly, and employee cannot cry “oppression” because an employer terminates the employment agreement (unless the termination violates terms of the contract). Employees have no right to demand continued employment when the employer has decided he no longer wishes to continue to pay them.

Now, about gay marriage. For my part, I think that the government should stay out of the marriage definition business. To the extent that it is a private legal contract between two (or more?) parties, there are already legal frameworks under which it can be managed (and open to all who wish to enter legal contracts). To the extent that it is a religious institution, the government has no role.

Here we note that there are many on the Right that view “gay marriage” not as an appeal to freedom of contract, but an appeal to forced acceptance. If the government recognizes gay marriage, then employers, businesses … and eventually churches must. One suspects there would be less objection from the Right if gay marriage legalization were not accompanied by forced participation and acceptance on the part of those who object.

Ultimately, it seems that Mr. Robinson and I part company over a simple definition. What is oppression? Mr. Robinson appears to hold that oppression is the equivalent of hardship (and whoever has had the most difficulties is the most oppressed, and wins the victim award). But this is a poor definition. Hardship, difficulty, and suffering are regrettable, but are not necessarily the outcome of oppression; they are not necessarily the outcome of offense against the life and liberty of a person created in the image of God. We have no reasonable expectation of a trouble free life.

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