Imperfect Victims & Problematic Heroes: Breaking the Binary of “Good vs. Evil”
Ten years ago, my friend, Matt, was executed by the state of Mississippi for a murder I do not believe he committed. Before his state-sanctioned murder, I was heavily involved in advocacy on his behalf, seeking any means to have his execution stayed and his case reopened. Part of that was telling people Matt’s story in the hope that they would join our efforts.
I was stunned when a pattern started to emerge in people’s responses: When people learned that Matt had made other minor immoral and illegal decisions prior to the killing, they were significantly less likely to consider his innocence of the murder. No matter how much I explained that those failings were entirely unrelated to the crime, many people wouldn’t put their name to a cause where the victim wasn’t “pure as the driven snow”.
I ran into this again as I was advocating for LGBTQ+ folks seeking to escape social and political contexts where they faced torture and death. The organization I was asking for help from was a Christian group with connections all over the world, adept at organizing and moving across borders at a moment’s notice.
While the leadership acknowledged the injustice and cruelty these people were being subjected to- and despite having acted on behalf of other persecuted groups- they refused to get involved in this work. Why? While they tiptoed around a direct answer, the truth was that they knew involvement with a group viewed as “sinners” would negatively impact their credibility and funding.
The reverse is also often true, that the villains are unequivocally bad, deserving of divine judgment. In fact, being the focal point of such a perspective is what finally drove me out of that same organization after 25 years of service. When it became known to the senior leadership that I was both bisexual and fully LGBTQ+ affirming, a campaign to see us silenced and removed began in force, culminating with a thinly veiled death threat. One international leader cited me and my beliefs alongside terrorism as one of the biggest threats to the church today, all in a public prayer email sent out to hundred worldwide.
While giving a public message during that time, the founder of the organization gave an example of how he deals…