Ray Rice, Hypocritical Outrage, and Objectifying Victims

Ray and Janay with their daughterThe 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.  Ray and Janay press

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.


About dgkeheflin

I blog about theology, church, culture, etc.
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3 Responses to Ray Rice, Hypocritical Outrage, and Objectifying Victims

  1. Elouise says:

    Yes. This is a tangled issue with multiple threads. I like your bottom line–most important is attention to the family–to relationships. With no guarantees about the outcome.

  2. Paul Smith says:

    Hey David, good thoughts. I was going to write something myself, but I like your words.

    My issue with Janay’s response is the message it sends to other women whose husbands, boyfriends, significant others, whatever you want to call them, abuse them violently. One of the most difficult things to do is to get a female to press charges – and believe me, this was a case that screamed for charges being pressed. This was not just domestic abuse, but this was assault. Reconciliation means that there had to have been a separation, and genuine repentance as well. Rice has skated by with, “yeah, I messed up” and had the second video not been made public, he would have been playing in front of thousands of screaming fans next Sunday. I respect and admire Janay if her forgiveness is genuine. But no one – not the NFL, not the police or prosecutor, not the Raven’s front office, and especially not Ray Rice or Janay Palmer have come anywhere close to being open and forthright about what happened, and especially in the case of the NFL, the police, and the Ravens, what they knew and when they knew it. That to me is what is so disturbing about this case. In Janay’s message on instagram it appears to me that she is far more upset about the loss of income and Ray’s career than what he did to her or the message it sends to young men all across America. She may have been an innocent victim up to and until the punch, but her actions following the assault have been far from innocent. Leaves me shaking my head.

  3. dgkeheflin says:

    Paul, thanks and I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, but you are just making different points. In the immediate aftermath of what happened, I agree charges should have been pressed. Ray should have gone to jail and the NFL and Ravens booted him immediately (And I would have told any woman I loved to get out of that relationship). And I don’t know what has transpired b/t Ray and Janay in private. My point is that she shouldn’t be expected to act a certain way seven months later just because a video made public what she experienced first-hand. The opportunity to speak up for fellow victims of abuse was when it happened. I don’t think it is right at this juncture to judge her for not denouncing Ray. I didn’t see anything in her comments that inherently tacitly excuse abuse. She has in fact, for better or worse, moved on. There may be a financial concern, but it is more than just finances. It is his livelihood. I think his banishment is just, but there’s just a whole lot of hypocrisy going around too and I think Janay has the right to define her life with her husband and father of her child by something other than being a perpetual victim. Hope that makes sense.

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