Stop scapegoating the “other”

Centrists / Religion

I’ve written here before of the danger of trying to find ways to blame others for the tensions that exist in society and personal relationships. Some of the most noxious examples of the last century were the ways that anti-semitism was used in Eastern and Western Europe to rally people during the times of economic depression by blaming the hard-times on the capitalist “jews”.

In this past ten years here in the United States most of that scapegoating has either been of “liberals” or “the gays”. Sadly, because of our cultural hegemony, our own shortcomings are being exported.

One of the most virulent users of rhetoric of scapegoating within the Anglican Communion and in Africa has been the Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, Peter Akinola.

In a series of recent statements regarding draconian legislation in Nigeria to further outlaw any non-heterosexual relationships, he’s used almost classic language. But now, as Seni Hensman points out, he’s trying to tar the GLBT community with the responsibility for a perceived decay of traditional morals. The danger is that this is happening at a “powder-keg” moment during the global economic downturn, in a time not dissimilar to the 1930’s.

She points out:

“Attempts to justify the hardening of Nigeria’s already harsh anti-gay laws have been strongly resisted by human rights campaigners locally and internationally. The reasons being used to try to justify the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, in which anyone who attended their son’s or daughter’s partnership ceremony or even rented a room to a same-sex couple could be jailed, may seem odd.

For instance, one of the most vocal champions of the Bill is Archbishop Peter Akinola. According to him, “As with every other thing in human development, globalization has both good and bad sides… individualism is one of the marks of secularization and post-modernism… Same sex marriage is out to foist on the world a false sense of the family which will bring disastrous consequences to mankind.”

Indeed, he argues, same-sex marriage will “endanger human existence” and “is capable of engendering moral and social holocaust in this country”.

In trying to link lesbians and gays with the ill-effects of globalisation, he seeks to blame them for social trends over which they have no more control than any other Nigerian, projecting genuine anxieties on to a convenient scapegoat.”

Read the full article here.

Hensman is making the same point I’ve been. Almost all the “wedge issue” use of gay marriage hysteria is specifically working out the social dynamics of scapegoating.

It’s worth paying attention to as we stand on the brink of Holy Week when our ancestors managed to do the same thing to God by seeking to find common ground between the sacred (Herod and the Sanhedrin) and the secular (Pontius Pilate) by killing God. It’s only by God’s willingness to die for us that the cycle has had the possibility of ending. Sadly we’ve managed to avoid the cure for most of our history since.

The cure, as Girard and other theological writers have pointed out, is to stop seeing the “other” as alien and to start seeing that God has actively identified himself with them in the life and death of Jesus.

Maybe Iowa’s ruling today is a sign of light?

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Thanks for these thoughts.
    Scapegoating works in a number of ways, but as Girard pointed out, it seems ultimately to be at the bottom of so much human motivation. I wrote recently of how scapegoating functions in American society between celebrities and those who follow their activities – in this case, Joaquin Phoenix, but it could’ve been anybody: Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, etc. – as well as how Christians can see these relationships differently, more productively, not so much in the context of winners and losers.
    Torey Lightcap

  2. One wonders why a man elevated to the episcopate is allowed to pontificate, demonize and inflict injury (physical, spiritual and otherwise) on his flock without serious retribution from the wider communion. Conversely, another man elevated to the episcopate happens to have a husband, and all hell breaks loose.
    Interesting link between Herod and Pilate. Thanks for the post!

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