By Rev. Paul Graves
As I watched the inauguration ceremony Wednesday, I was also pondering this column about victimhood. So, I couldn’t help but think of the Jan. 6 riot that began in the very place the new president would be sworn into office. What an incredible contrast that very spot represented!
From my perspective, those Capitol building invaders were victims of who-knows-what, victimizing democracy as they destroyed federal property, hurt people and hunted down elected officials. Again, in my view, they had let themselves be victimized by political lies and manipulations that perhaps fed their longtime sense of being victims of something else.
Their choice to attack the Capitol building was designed to spew their hatred of “whatever” in the vilest way possible. They destroyed property, but democracy wasn’t victimized. It stood tall and resilient on Inauguration Day. As did our new president, Joe Biden.
President Biden was victimized decades ago, when his wife and children were killed; and again in 2015, when his son Beau died of cancer. In spite of his personal tragedies and political defeats, Joe Biden continues to choose to not be a victim.
And his speech signaled neither has democracy. “We have learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” he said.
Victimhood is a confounding place to live. It invites us to live there in the most visceral, personal ways, even in our mothers’ wombs on occasion. But we’re also invited to live in victimhood as part of our society, or a group we identify with. All of us, in some way or another, has experienced being a victim.
But how we choose to respond makes all the difference.
Consider your own victim experience. Does it push you to separate from others, or even from yourself? Does it prompt you to “reconcile” – restore a relationship – with others, or even yourself? Either choice is very possible. Both may even happen.
Separated victims share some common characteristics: they easily blame others, don’t take personal/social responsibility, disrespect others who don’t look or act like them even to the point of feeling morally superior, and may become a victimizer, when their fear and anger feel uncontrollable. This looks simplistic, and perhaps is overstated. But there is enough documented evidence about victimhood to confirm some truth here.
Victims may even identify with Adam, of Genesis fame. He hid while God strolled in the Garden of Eden. “Why did you hide?” God asked. Adam: “Because I was afraid, because I was naked.” (Gen. 3:9-10).
Fear is a primary motivator of victimhood. But there’s so much more in the Bible than victimhood. Consider: All of Jesus’ ministry makes reconciliation, restoration, the better choice!
Reconciled/restored victims also share some common characteristics. Some who begin as separated victims find themselves somehow awakened to realize they don’t want or need to stay hateful, fearful or angry anymore.
They slowly accept reality. They’re able to reach out to others for help, for caring contact. They find purpose beyond their self-absorbed reason for living in the victimhood. It’s usually a very destructive neighborhood.
I think of close friends and family members who were victimized in the past and found new purpose beyond victimhood. I think of COVID-related tragedies, of organizations including Wounded Warriors or children’s hospitals, where victims become reconciled/restored victims, finding ways to embrace their new reality in loving ways.
I hope separated victims can find a trickle of restoration in their hearts that turns in a flowing stream, so they are no longer drowning. God didn’t see Adam as a victim. No one is a victim separated from God.
Our job is to realize that.
The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Council on Older Adult Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.