The whole Ray Rice saga has prompted me out of my blogging apathy. I suppose the story just crosses into too many domains that I care about. I’m a Christian, first of all, and I care about the effects of sin in all of our relationships. I’m a family man, and I hate the destruction of domestic violence in both the victim and perpetrator. I’m a football fan. This pales in comparison to the other two, but that fact brings me closer to the story.
In fact, it is only because of Ray Rice’s celebrity that we know about the story at all. How many other men have abused their female partners since Ray Rice coldcocked his fiancee in February? How many have done worse? How many fathers and mothers have abused their children with their hands, their words, their drugs, and their neglect? We zero in on Ray Rice, because we know him, or we pretend we do. We use him to focus our moral outrage, because we believe he’s the proof that we are better than that, better than him.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Domestic violence–doesn’t that term sound like an oxymoron, kind of like “civil” war?–is inexcusable in all of its forms. In fact, had the NFL and the Ravens acted courageously early on by taking the measures they took only after a certain video become public, it would have been the correct action. It would have been best for everyone including Ray Rice and his victim, Janay Palmer. Instead the NFL slapped Rice on the wrist with a two game suspension and the Ravens defended him!
Instead by coddling Rice, the NFL and the Ravens sent a message that undermined the seriousness of the offense and actually allowed Janay to apologize in a press conference for “the role I played in the incident that night.” I actually want to support Janay’s right to speak out (more about that in a moment), but a press conference hosted by the Ravens in which two people are apologizing, as if this was a mutual misunderstanding, sends the message that victims of domestic violence are in some way responsible for their abuse. This is a message that will do great harm and fails to hold the attacker as fully responsible for his or her actions.
And yet the NFL and the Ravens could not be driven to do the right thing until TMZ released the video they both claimed to have not seen prior. TMZ itself claims that the NFL purposely did not seek out the video from the Atlantic City casino. That’s hard to prove, but we don’t need to in order to establish that the NFL and Ravens only took serious action when their hands were forced by public outrage.
Now to that public outrage…I suppose it is warranted, but that outrage is also prompted by video footage while the rest of the time the public generally turns a blind eye to domestic abuse. Domestic violence is shockingly pervasive, but we demonize Ray Rice so that he gets to be the scapegoat. He must now stand as the symbol of all the domestic violence in our country. We heap the sins of all abuse upon him. Have even we Christians forgotten that another man already absorbed the sins of us all, including Ray Rice’s sins? Jesus willingly embraced the worst abuse mankind had to offer. He became the victim that he might become the victor.
This brings me back to Janay. She spoke out this morning through her Instagram account. I’ll link it instead of quote it. Janay has chosen to be reconciled to Ray (they are now married) and are raising a child together. Yet, people were upset at her, because she would not continue to play the victim they need to justify their moral outrage! It is amazing how quickly the outrage will turn toward the victim, if he/she does not dance to the song we play! No one should continue to stay in a dangerous situation, but that does not mean that reconciliation is impossible in situations where there has been violent behavior.
One person tweeted that he wishes they would divorce and Ray Rice have to live in a foreign country. Christians, what should we hope for in this matter? Should we not hope that this entire sordid affair is turned into a manifestation of the gospel and its power to reconcile even perpetrator and victim? Should we not hope that not only will they stay married, but that they would prosper and ultimately raise godly children? Could Ray Rice himself become a powerful witness against the destruction of domestic abuse?
I do not care if Ray Rice ever plays football again, but I do hope for their marriage and their children. I do hope for the proclamation of the gospel into their lives. I do hope for a gospel powerful enough to reconcile perpetrators and their victims, so that both receive a new identity in Christ. And I do hope the gospel of the one who said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” is real and alive in the midst of God’s people today.