Vulnerable People—Victims Forever?

Cliff Williams

In a recent experiment, video clips were made of people walking along crowded city sidewalks. The clips were then shown to prison inmates, who were asked to identify the people they would most likely rob if they could. Interestingly, there was a great deal of unanimity in their selections. Even more interesting was the fact that a group of psychologists, when asked to identify the people in the clips who were most defenseless and vulnerable, made the very same selections the professional muggers had made.

This experiment confirms what should be evident anyway, namely, that the vulnerable are most likely to be taken advantage of. They are more likely to have their rights violated, to have undue power exercised over them, and to be influenced in illegitimate ways. Because they cannot stand up for themselves, they fall prey to others who are tempted to do things to them that they would not otherwise do.

Everyone is vulnerable in some way or other. But there are some people whose vulnerability is more exposed than others. The poor and the uneducated, for example, are more easily taken advantage of, as are the senile, the handicapped, the very young, and the economically dependent.

God has a special concern for these people. Scattered throughout scripture are statements that exhibit God’s care for the weak and defenseless. Amos, for instance, denounced the people of Israel for trampling the poor and depriving them of justice in the courts. Jesus, in his inaugural speech in the synagogue, stated that he had been anointed to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, and to release the oppressed. And James declared that pure and genuine religion is to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering.

The word from God is that we should treat people without regard to their status. This means several things. It means that we ought not to mistreat those who, for whatever reason, are weak and vulnerable. It also means that we should not give special treatment to people who are at the opposite end of the scale—those who are financially secure and educated, for example. Their needs and rights should be respected, not because of their wealth or knowledge, but because they are people. Finally, it means that we should come to the defense of those who are easily taken advantage of. We need to stand up for them, because they cannot do it for themselves.

Turtullian wrote, “It is our care for the helpless, our practice of loving-kindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents.”

People who are mugged, whether by professional thieves, twisted justice, oppressive economic structures, or unequal opportunities are likely to be helpless. Those of us who identify as Christian need to exhibit the same concern toward them that God does.

Published in The Marian Helpers Bulletin (October – December 1984), 21.

Posted online on January 12, 2022

© 2022 by Clifford Williams

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