Very Reverend Dr Peter Catt
Dean, St John's Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane
13 April 2017
A few years ago I had cause to caution a member of staff over bullying behaviour towards a colleague. Her first and immediate response was to contact professional standards and make a complaint about me; she alleged that I was bullying her. The complaint against me was dealt with and dismissed and in the fullness of time the employee left our staff.
That employee's tactic provides some insight into the way power dynamics can play out in our community. Over the past few weeks we have seen the Marriage Equality debate become the latest arena in which this power play is occurring.
Until the time of Jesus, most people believed that victims were deserving of their fate. Illness was understood to be a punishment and falling under the power of another a sign of faithlessness. This outdated way of dealing with victims is still used by some today when they talk of or to victims.
Victims of rape are told that they 'asked for it', domestic violence victims can be persuaded that they were the cause of their partner's outburst, those who are subjected to school yard bullying can be lead to believe that they attracted the attention of their oppressors, and the suffering we inflict on the people who are seeking asylum, now detained on Nauru and Manus, is justified using similar logic.
The story we encounter on Good Friday and Easter day confronts this. On Good Friday, Jesus became a victim of those who wielded political and religious power. He was executed unjustly. On Easter Sunday the world is turned on its head. The disciples encounter Jesus anew and the efforts of the powerful are unmasked. The victim is proclaimed as innocent.
For nearly 2000 years an alternative narrative, driven by the idea that the victim is innocent, has been seeping into our hearts and minds.
Our culture, even for those who do not claim allegiance to a church community, has been shaped by the new way of looking at victims. The victims are innocent. They are not the guilty parties. Our modern day interest in progressing and defending human rights is based on this understanding.
Victims do not deserve their fate. The perpetrators have to be challenged. The system has to change.
As this narrative has found its way into our communal psyche it has led to different way of looking at those subject to the abuses of power. It has encourages us to empower the powerless, to provide the voiceless with a voice and to bring the invisible into our view.
Those who wield power never give up power easily. They can see that the Easter day narrative, with its focus on the innocence of the victim, gives a certain amount of power to victims. To be recognised as a victim is to have access to some degree of empowerment. It is the first step in giving one access to support, to the support of allies and the overturning of injustice.
As a result, some who wield power are beginning to seek ways to harvest this source of empowerment for themselves. They seek to proclaim themselves as victims or to label those who challenge them as perpetrators so that they can have access to the power that being a victim provides.
The bullying employee recognised this and sought to take the narrative of being bullied to herself. She wanted access to the power and protection that being the victim can provide.
For several months now, I have been observing this dynamic gathering steam within the marriage equality debate. Last week, Peter Dutton claimed that equality advocates had bullied businesses into supporting marriage equality and some Christians are claiming victim status. Most of these claims are light on when it comes to specifics and seem to reflect the fact that those against marriage equality are feeling vulnerable as they anticipate the certainty of marriage equality coming to Australia.
Not liking something doesn't make one a victim. Neither does another gaining equality with you. Loss of privilege and status and a changing world can make us feel vulnerable, but they do not make us victims. Genuine bullying needs to be called out in the marriage equality debate as in all aspects of our living. To claim the status of victim as a way to hold on to power diminishes the plight of those who are truly suffering and we need to call that out as well.
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This article was originally published on Sydney Morning Herald.