If you follow either religion/social issues news or tech industry news, you will have almost certainly heard about the ouster of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. His sin? (And this is the right word.) Donating money to California’s anti-same-sex-marriage Proposition 8.
Many things could be said about this lamentable event. That Eich is being described in the press (here, for example, by my former colleague Jim Edwards) as “anti-gay” even though one of the things everybody involved agrees on is that nobody has ever witnessed Eich exhibiting any sort of animus towards gay people and Eich pledged support for Mozilla’s gay-inclusive policies. That Mozilla is an organization based on open source software, and that a cardinal value of open source is the idea that everybody’s contributions are judged solely on the merit of the contribution, not its author. That, as my friend Leah Libresco pointed out beforehand, these sorts of purges will only further radicalize the culture wars.
But before I tell you what I think about the Eich event, I want to talk about another thing that happened yesterday, and has received much, much less coverage in the press.
Activists in Uganda report that plain-clothes police raided a U.S. military-affiliated AIDS services clinic in Kampala today, accused it of promoting homosexuality, and ordered it to close. The clinic has been one of relatively few health-care facilities in the city that willingly treat LGBT people. […] Dozens of HIV-positive people relied on that clinic for ARV treatments.
Are you getting this? In Uganda, now, apparently, treating HIV-positive gay people is seen as promoting homosexuality and therefore verboten.
When I accused Uganda’s anti-gay (and the moniker is right, here) laws of homophobia, and the Catholic Church of being complicit in this homophobia by not criticizing these laws forcefully enough, I got a lot of pushback from my Christian brothers and sisters for (a) using the word homophobia which they see as being stripped of all meaning now that it is used against people like Brendan Eich; (b) essentially making a mountain out of a molehill.
But this is what is going on. If that is not oppression, I don’t know what is. If that is not injustice, I don’t know what is. If a key part of a Catholic bishop’s job isn’t to denounce and fight injustice, I don’t know why we have them. If you don’t think laity like me should occasionally criticize bishops for being insufficiently zealous in support of justice, I don’t know where you’ve been the last 15 years.
Here is the point I made in my previous post on the topic and which I will reiterate here since everybody conveniently missed it the last time: one of the absolutely fundamental themes of the Christian Gospel is the concept of scapegoating.
Scapegoating is a movement of collective violence wherein the community’s sins are imputed on a sacrificial victim. The sacrificial violence brings harmony to the community by uniting it against a common, demonized enemy. Of course, this harmony only lasts very briefly, because scapegoating is a lie and hasn’t actually solved anything.
Following René Girard, there’s a very good case to be made that every human society is based on scapegoating. Every human society finds its unity and harmony by demonizing someone, whether it’s black people in the South, or gay people in Uganda, or whoever it is. Every human society has a founding myth, and that founding myth is a scapegoating myth. We all live in Omelas.
Once we’ve said all this, we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room, which is the Bible, and in particular, the Christian Gospel. As Girard points out, in many ways the story of Jesus of Nazareth follows the logic of the other scapegoating myths, except in one crucial respect: the scapegoat is firmly asserted as being innocent. In the Greek tragedy, Oedipus really did kill his father and have sex with his mother. Remus really did leap over the wall of Rome. But in the Christian Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as innocent. The Gospel of the Lamb exposes the lie and the atrocious evil at the heart of scapegoating, which is itself the heart of all human civilization.
To be a Christian is to refuse, reject and denounce scapegoating. To be a Christian is to immediately recognize it and have instinctive revulsion towards it. (The alternative? The Grand Inquisitor. He might not have had the theory, but Dostoevsky clearly understood that dimension of the Gospel.)
The Christian Gospel is unbelievably clear about this. This is the heart of the story of the woman taken in adultery. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. “Oh, Jesus is denouncing hypocrisy.” Well, sure. But he’s denouncing the particular hypocrisy of the scapegoater. When you scapegoat, you are imputing your sins onto the scapegoat. Did the scapegoat actually commit a sin? That’s irrelevant, Jesus says, because the reason you are scapegoating has nothing to do with the scapegoat’s guilt, and everything to do with yours.
You can always tell that scapegoating is going on when, when defending a scapegoat, you are accused of defending the scapegoat’s actions. Just like a clock is right twice per day, sometimes a scapegoat may even be guilty! But scapegoating is still wrong. I will even go so far as saying that in some circumstances scapegoating can even be necessary (because if Girard is right, then the alternative is the war of all against all). But it is never right.
Scapegoating is always built on a lie. Scapegoating is demonizing and Othering. The scapegoat might be guilty, but he is never a demon or an Other. In fact, it is because he is guilty that he is our brother, because we are guilty too–and this is the hard truth that scapegoating lets us evade.
As I’ve written in my previous post, for most of human history and still in the majority of the planet, gay people have been the scapegoat, with sometimes horrific consequences and, very often, in the West, with the complicity of Christians and Christian institutions. A new phenomenon is that in some quarters holding a Biblical view of sexuality can lead one to become a scapegoat (new, or old: the Romans viewed Christians as depraved for refusing to expose their infants and affording women social status).
For Christians, the worshippers of the ultimate Scapegoat, all scapegoating must be immediately and instinctively repulsive. When we endure it, we must do so with the joy of sharing in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the hope for the time when every tear is wiped from every face. When we see it–anywhere, everywhere–we must denounce it and combat it.
I want to make one thing clear: I am not setting up an equivalency between the fate of gay people in Uganda and Brendan Eich. Obviously, obviously, what is happening to LGBT people in Uganda is immeasurably more horrific than what has happened to Brendan Eich, who is a (presumably) rich white guy living in a rich Western country. This isn’t about setting up a moral equivalency or having sort of double-entry bookkeeping of sin. My point is that the process is the same, and it is a process that is always and everywhere evil.
I don’t know what the future holds for orthodox Christians in the West. Maybe Cardinal George is right, maybe he’s not. But in the end (the true end), it doesn’t matter. So, Christians: repent for past homophobia; denounce current homophobia; remember that what’s happening to you in the West isn’t nearly as bad as what’s happening to gays in Uganda; pray for all and love all, scapegoat and scapegoater alike; and always, always keep your eyes fixed on the Cross and Easter morning. For weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.