The Impossibility of Neutrality

The Impossibility of Neutrality graphic

To stare in the face of evil and to do nothing, is evil in itself.

As people we are often taught that neutrality is a virtue. We are taught to not take sides, to be an objective observer or even mediator, to treat everyone the same and never be to hasty to cast our lot with one particular person over another.

There are many times in life this advice is both prudent and Godly. In fact scripture even promotes the idea of having third parties involved in conflict to help bring peace.

However, true neutrality is a myth. None of us are neutral. I have all sorts of unique life experiences, formulated worldviews, and ways that I understand the world. And I bring all of these presuppositions and experiences into every situation. I can never truly be neutral, and neither can you.

Yet when it comes to sexual assault, far too many people believe neutrality is the best option. That we must remain “neutral and objective” in any situation in order to avoid the potential of making a mistake or “siding with the wrong person”. Yet to claim neutrality is often our first, and at times even most fatal, mistake.

To be neutral in a case of sexual assault is to actually place yourself on the side of the perpetrator. To do nothing, is in fact to do something.

Judith Herman states this well in her book Trauma & Recovery. She writes…

“It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”

To remain “neutral” is to side with the perpetrator of sexual assault. Why? Because sexual assault is no mere personal conflict, but rather it is a form of oppression. To say sexual assault is a conflict, is a category error which leads us to try and remedy the evil with the wrong cure.

Interpersonal conflict involves two parties who have mutually sinned against each other. Both parties bring their wrongdoing to the table, with respect and equal power, at times with a third party, and resolve their differences. In interpersonal conflict each owns their mistakes, forgives one another, and hopefully gains their sibling in Christ back.

But sexual assault is a form of oppression. It is an abuse of power, a display of violence and manipulation and must not be treated as an interpersonal conflict.

Ecclesiastes 4:1 describes the power involved in oppression, “Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.”

To be an oppressor is to wield power.

 To claim neutrality is to always side with those who hold the power.

Oppression is unjust treatment or control. And scripture has a completely different formula for dealing with oppression than it does for dealing with conflict. Oppression takes courageous men and women to stand up for what is right and what is true. To come face to face with oppression is to be forced to pick a side.

If you are walking down the street and you see a large man, physically beating a small boy can you remain neutral? No, your ability to be a neutral party has just been taken from you. You are no longer free to be neutral, you must make a choice. To walk onward is to side with the powerful. To stop and stand up for the young boy is to intervene and stand up to oppression.

God doesn’t call us resolve our differences in oppression…he calls us to stand up for the weak.

Isaiah 1:17 – “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression”

Sometimes as human beings, we are faced with the reality of such great darkness that we are put at a moral crossroads: to claim neutrality in these moments is to do nothing and ultimately to give approval to the darkness itself.

To know of abuse and to do nothing is to strengthen the hand of the abuser.

We are called into the uncomfortable and the unknown, to step out in faith and side with the weak and the oppressed, the very people whom God so closely identifies with.

May we have the courage to do what is right, even at great cost to ourselves. May we have the courage to stand with victims and break the chains of abuse and oppression that have been set upon them by others.




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