September 24, 2009

3 Reasons Why MEN Must Speak Out Against Domestic Violence

For those of us working in the social work field, many of our clients face the inexcusable reality of domestic violence. The statistics are staggering: domestic violence is the leading cause of injury among women, between 85 and 95% of all domestic violence victims are female and over 1200 women in America are killed every year by an intimate partner. Not only do the survivors of abuse endure a lifetime of physical and emotional scars, the cycle of violence impacts the next generation of abused and neglected children, who internalize violent behavior as a “normal” way to handle anger, stress and relationship difficulties. Awareness is on the rise, but a steady stream of local and national news stories describing incidents of women being viciously beaten and abused by their partners continually reminds us how far we still have to go.

Sometimes it even feels like the problem is becoming worse.

Social workers and victim advocates (most of whom are women) have understood the urgency of this crisis for a long time. But while many organizations and grassroots campaigns have formed to help prevent domestic violence before the next life is taken, men (for the most part) have been noticeably absent from these efforts. The question is: Why not? Perhaps it’s not “manly” to join a cause involving the rights of women. Perhaps men are socialized to “mind their own business” when it comes to another man’s domestic outbursts. Perhaps it’s more convenient to remain silent instead of raising one’s voice in favor of change.

From my perspective, there are at least three reasons why it’s critical for men in particular to speak out against domestic violence.

1. It shows that domestic violence is not just a problem affecting women and children. In the past, women and children have been predominantly responsible for the heavy lifting when it comes to confronting this problem. When people see a marginalized group marching for their own rights (minorities, women, the poor), privileged cynics can easily dismiss it as an act of self-interest. But when whites march for racial justice, men speak out for the protection of women or wealthy people stand up for the poor, people start to pay attention.

2. It resists the social approval of abusive behavior. When women are the only ones speaking out, observers conclude that men must not be too concerned about the problem. It's doubtful that domestic violence would go unreported so often if men were as outraged about it as women. In a society where men still constitute the overwhelming majority of those in positions of leadership and influence, values are communicated and reinforced by the actions of men (for better or worse). Conversely, when a social problem truly matters to the general public, you can be sure that men will be involved in the solution. Violence against women will never end until men prove they are serious about stopping it.

3. It promotes a healthy understanding of masculinity. Widespread depictions of "heroic" men by the entertainment and advertising industries prop up twisted caricatures of maleness in which the ideal man is muscular, aggressive and always gets the woman he wants. Women are expected to defer to the wishes of men, whose fulfillment is at the center of most movie plot lines and music videos. By peacefully taking a stand against domestic violence, men can demonstrate what mature and responsible manhood is really about: a commitment to non-violent conflict resolution, active fatherhood and respect for the dignity of women.

Until men care enough to speak out against domestic violence, our silence will be a passive endorsement of the status quo.

UPDATE: Joe Bloom, one of my instructors at UH, describes the recent Men's March Against Violence held October 15 at the Hawaii State Capitol in this Star-Bulletin op-ed piece. Thanks to all who came and spoke out!

September 12, 2009

Further Questions on Torture and Abortion

As a follow-up to my previous post on torture and abortion, here are some of my questions for those who oppose one but defend the other.

Questions for those who are anti-abortion but believe torture can be justified:

1. If abortion is immoral (in part) because the procedure deliberately inflicts severe pain on a pre-born human being, why is it permissible to deliberately inflict incredible physical and psychological pain on a prisoner while torturing him or her?

2. If abortion is truly "worse than slavery" (an outlawed form of torture) as many pro-lifers say, should women who obtain an abortion be treated as criminals on par with someone who is found guilty of owning slaves?

3. If torture can be justified for pragmatic, utilitarian reasons (i.e. to prevent terrorism and save lives), what's wrong with the pragmatic, utilitarian reasons for abortion (i.e. to prevent poverty and unwanted pregnancy)?

Questions for those who are pro-choice but anti-torture:

1. If torture is immoral (in part) because it inflicts cruel, degrading and traumatic pain on a human being, why is abortion not also immoral, particularly in cases where the pre-born child has developed to a stage where trauma and pain can be experienced?

2. Why should prisoners of war have a greater right to life and dignity than pre-born children? Is one more human than the other?

3. If abortion is a matter of personal choice, why shouldn't torture be a matter of government discretion on a case-by-case basis?

September 9, 2009

Torture, abortion, and partisan ethics

I believe that as followers of Jesus, Christians must hold to a consistent ethic of human life. Scripture teaches that all human beings have been created in God's image (Genesis 1:27) and therefore, every person, whether young or old, rich or poor, strong or weak, saint or sinner, bears the imprint of the Creator. Human rights and dignity, yours and mine, are ultimately derived from the One who loves us "with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3). Consequently, people are not cosmic accidents or disposable commodities to be bought and sold, used and discarded. If we indeed believe that life is immeasurably precious to the God who created it, we have a responsibility to be extremely careful in situations involving the choice to purposefully harm, wound or terminate another person's life.

Interestingly enough, the convoluted realm of American politics reveals a peculiar dynamic where opposing sides in the culture wars profoundly disagree on the question of which lives should be defended as sacred and which ones are more disposable. Conservatives are generally opposed to abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide and genetic engineering, but are more likely to support the use of preemptive military force, capital punishment and torture, including water-boarding (see diagram at right) and other "enhanced interrogation techniques." The liberal end of the spectrum often opposes capital punishment, war and torture, but is more likely to defend abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide as matters of human rights. Is it just me or does anyone else find both sides to be inconsistent?

Two of the most contentions issues concerning the sanctity of human life in recent years have been abortion and torture. A Pew Research poll conducted earlier this year revealed that 62% of evangelical Protestants (my own faith tradition) believe "the use of torture against suspected terrorists to gain important information" is often or sometimes justified, whereas only 16% say it's never justified. It's especially disturbing that evangelicals are more likely to support torture than any other religious group in America including Catholics, mainline Protestants and those without any religious affiliation. The poll also found that those who attend religious services at least once a week are much more likely to support torture than those who seldom or never attend religious services. This is lamentable at best and shameful at worst.

When it comes to abortion, the statistics are flip-flopped. According to a separate Pew Research poll, evangelical Protestants remain the group most adamantly opposed to abortion, with well over 60% saying the procedure should be illegal in most or all cases. It's not difficult to find conservative religious organizations lobbying against abortion or liberal groups lobbying for the end of torture on religious grounds, but it's rare to find those who believe both practices are immoral. Opponents of abortion claim that it harms a sacred life and violates the dignity of another human being, a line of reasoning also used by those who oppose torture. Those who are "pro-life" seem the most likely to defend torture, but those against torture seem the most likely to defend abortion. How can this be?

The problem with our culture war categories of right vs. left is that everyone gets divided into two flawed packages of partisan platforms from which we assume the "other" side cannot possibly be correct about anything. We've confused Christian ethics with partisan ethics, deflecting every criticism along the lines of "Well, the other side clearly has it wrong on [fill in the blank: abortion/torture] so why should we listen to what they have to say about [torture/abortion]?" Have evangelicals considered the possibility that both torture and abortion are wrong on largely the same grounds, namely, the inherent dignity of human life created in God's image? Must we choose between the human rights of pre-born children and the sanctity of a prisoner's life? Aren't they both human? When the protection of a sacred human life conflicts with other important goals (national security or women's rights for example), do the ends justify the means?

Cue responses from conservatives defending torture and liberals defending abortion...