In his 1992 essay, "More Victimized Than Thou," author Os Guinness described the prevalent cultural dynamic of victim politics:
"The new group logic runs like this: Whether a group is ethnic, sexual, racial, or religious, only those in a group can understand and appreciate what it is to be a member of the group. Therefore, no one outside a group has the right to criticize those inside, and to do so is necessarily to be insensitive, oppressive, and guilty of disrespect. To join a group in America in the eighties and the nineties is to become a connoisseur of sensitivity."
Twenty four years have passed since Guinness wrote those words about the emerging market of grievance-based politics. It turned out to be no passing fad. The atomizing of our common cultural life into a thousand aggrieved tribes has only quickened and deepened.
Now in 2016 our top universities need professional therapists on-site when a "controversial" speaker is invited to campus out of fear some student will be "triggered" by oppressive speech and succumb to severe emotional distress. The whole weird thing is well-documented in Edward Schlosser's article for Vox titled, "I'm a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me." Christians might like to think victim politics is the exclusive provenance of liberal secularists and our tribe has safely navigated around this "slough of despond." We might like to think it, but we would be wrong.
In 1992 Os Guinness found convincing evidence that orthodox Christians were drinking the same cool-aide as the rest of the aggrieved. Guinness investigated two primary venues among Christians to make his case that the idol of aggrieved "minoritarian" status has become a new god among us.
First, he looked at Christian publishing. The hot books being sold in Christian bookstores were becoming increasingly alarmist, striking loud bass notes of fear and oppression upon Christian hearts. Second, Guinness documented some of the paranoid statements of leading Christian activists. The most telling were those that suggested Satan was making more inroads against God's helpless people than at any other time in history.
Guinness noted the irony:
"Without realizing it, many Christian conservatives at the end of the eighties were following the example of the Christian liberals at the end of the sixties. The liberals had ended the sixties with a hollowed-out demonology that owed more to sociology than orthodoxy, whereas conservatives ended the eighties with a hyped-up demonology as close to popular author Stephen King and medievalism as to the Bible."
The painful truth that Guinness presses his readers toward is that the church has increasingly resorted to the "politics of resentment" like so many other minority groups in American culture. Why? Because it is the newest way to gain legitimacy in the culture, to be counted, to be heard. Minoritarian complaining is a way for the church to keep chasing cultural respect after having lost its majoritarian position in the cultural revolution of the 1960's. Indeed, one can not help but wonder if Intervarsity's embrace of the #BlackLivesMatter movement at last year's Urbana Conference was more about gaining cultural cachet than calling the church to repentance.
As Christian individuals and Christian churches lose some cultural and legal privileges we once took for granted - but were never guaranteed by God - we will be tempted to pursue redress through culturally acceptable methods that appear on the surface to work. The politics of resentment fit the bill. They appear to work, to capture attention, to mobilize. As Guinness says:
"In the short run, there is instant political power in appealing to those who feel victimized - many forms of political tribalism are simply potent 'instant brotherhoods of the scapegoated.' But over the long run the results are self-defeating. In order to sustain the power, the self-professed victims must celebrate their victimhood so long that they come to see themselves only as victims and end up victimizing themselves. Victim psychology thus becomes the all-purpose excuse for every Christian (or feminist, black, and Jewish) disadvantage and serves only to perpetuate the handicap. Victims becomes losers for keeps."
Never would something so grand and wonderful have been turned into something so small and pitiful if Christians turn their union with Christ and their adoption by God into an earthly tale of marginalization and complaining.
The remedy is to recognize by faith that the sewing on of a victim badge is not they way of Christ and does not accord with the gospel. Not in the least. The gospel compels us to bring compassion and relief to those treated as less than divine image-bearers, but the gospel does not ever deliver relief through minoritarian resentment.
Os Guinness wisely and boldly leads all who will listen out of the slough of despond away from the sludge of self-inflicted handicaps that only weaken the church further:
"Followers of Christ will be called many names, but our only identity comes from the One whose call reveals our names and natures. Followers of Christ may no more like shouldering the cost of their commitments than followers of other ways, but no one who knows what our Master bore can bear to shrug off the blame on others. In reality, the brotherhood of the victimized ones is a twisted counterfeit of the fellowship of the crucified one. Followers of Christ flinch at times from the pain of wounds and the smart of slights, but that cost is in the contract of the way of the cross."