No matter one’s position on issues of human sexuality, the Lambeth Conference’s exclusion of same-sex spouses must appear ugly. And, as the old saying has it, God don’t like ugly.
Apparently folks at Lambeth also realized a bit of the ugliness of their exclusion. The Lambeth Conference webpage originally said, “The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is sending personal invitations to every eligible bishop and spouse (excluding same-sex spouses*) and is looking forward immensely to hosting them.” The webpage has since been updated and the parenthetical phrase “excluding same-sex spouses” has been omitted. The policy hasn’t changed, but I suppose someone must have realized how ugly it is to speak of excluding human beings parenthetically (with an asterisk to boot). God don’t like ugly.
In fact, since the exclusion of same-sex spouses seems almost (not entirely) a textbook case of what Rene Girard called the “scapegoat mechanism,” it’s hard to believe folks at Lambeth didn’t realize its blatant ugliness sooner. In a nutshell, Girard explains the scapegoat mechanism as a way that communities try to overcome internal rivalry and strife. When the tensions within a community grow to the point that they threaten the very existence of the community a bizarre mechanism arises: the communal violence is turned toward a single individual or group. People who were enemies now become friends as they communally participate in the execution or exclusion of the specified scapegoat. The scapegoat is usually an innocent victim from some marginalized group, but the innocence of the scapegoat must never be recognized. Rather the victim must be thought of as a monstrous creature who has transgressed some prohibition and deserves to be punished. In this way, the community deceives itself into believing that the scapegoat was the culprit of the community’s crisis, and that the elimination of the victim will restore peace to the community.
As I said, the Lambeth Conference’s attempt to deal with the strife within the Anglican Communion by excluding same-sex spouses is almost a textbook example of Girard’s scapegoat mechanism. It is ugly. Moreover, whatever peace the scapegoat mechanism may achieve in the short term never lasts. And most importantly, as Christian theologians who like to think in Girardian terms tell us, Jesus came to unmask this ugly sacrificial system, put an end to scapegoating once and for all, and to show us a better way to live together in reconciliation and peace.
The Lambeth Conference’s decision to exclude same-sex spouses, therefore, is not only ugly; it is also stunningly theologically uninformed. I’m no disciple of Girard, but his ideas about scapegoating should be familiar enough to anyone who is theologically competent. How anyone with even a basic grasp of contemporary theology could miss the Girardian implications of the exclusion of the same-sex spouses is beyond me. Stunningly ugly, and, to my mind stunningly ignorant as well.
I can see no reason why anyone would want to attend a conference that is organized on the basis of such ugliness; nor in my opinion should they. The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church’s request that bishops and their spouses, and the House of Bishops together, “prayerfully and carefully consider her/his/their response, choices and actions” in the light of what it calls the “troubling circumstances” of Lambeth 2020’s exclusion of same-sex spouses is entirely inadequate. In my opinion no one from The Episcopal Church should attend Lambeth 2020 and The Episcopal Church should withhold all resources designated for Lambeth 2020 unless same-sex spouses are invited to participate fully.
God don’t like ugly.