Nothing Hidden: Implications of a René Girard Insight for Third Way by Caroline Kittle

Split-Shire

The Gospel of Mark teaches that nothing hidden will remain covered and all secrets will come to light (Mark 4:22). In this vein, René Girard’s work on scapegoating effectively busts myths. He uncovers the violent origins of ancient myths. His analysis compels us to examine our own tendency towards victimization and violence. Since our victims often seem to be people marked as different, it makes sense to join the work on accepting our differences. As a feminist, I have embraced Audre Lorde’s call to recognize, accept and celebrate our differences. Too often we victimize people who are physically/mentally/socially different. We exclude or condemn LGBTQ+ people from churches and leadership. We want women and men and people of color to fit into certain categories and punish them if they do not fit. However, Girard writes, “Despite what is said around us persecutors are never obsessed by difference but rather by its unutterable contrary, the lack of difference” (p. 22). As we learn to celebrate our differences, Girard challenges us to consider a bigger threat: lack of difference. This insight holds implications for Third Way and may shed light on some of the strong negative reactions to a Third Way approach.

Despite what is said around us persecutors are never obsessed by difference but rather by its unutterable contrary, the lack of difference

– René Girard

The most heinous crimes in our society are those done that cross over sanctified boundaries of difference. Girard gives incest and parricide as two examples from Oedipus that highlight sins eliminating differences. Incest and parricide eliminate the sanctified differences between parent and child. Adultery and theft are crimes that cross sanctified boundaries of difference with our neighbors – by taking what is theirs. In light of this insight, one can see how preserving important distinctions is a healthy way to preserve society from harm. We rightly preserve sanctified differences between, for example, parents and children and by loving our neighbors.

However, the powers of the world want us to also believe in the sanctity of certain socio-political differences grounded in lies related to power and privilege. Nothing hidden will remain covered. The truth can uncover these false differences but not without consequences in this world. Jesus spoke this type of truth and was punished by death on a cross. He was crucified by Rome for erasing long held, practically sacred differences between the rich and the poor, Jew and gentile, and other norms of society that allowed one group to remain in power over others. He threatened the very fabric of society. People in reacted as if he committed a heinous crime.

People in power have long fought to preserve false differences and persecute those who blur their lines. Segregationists fought to preserve differences between white people and people of color. Complementarians seek to preserve differences between men and women. The argument that marriage is only between a man and woman preserves differences between straight and same gender partnerships. Girard writes:

The further one is from normal social status of whatever kind, the greater the risk of persecution” (p. 18).

In these examples, persecution occurs against those who threaten cherished differences by blurring the lines of distinction.

So, when someone is upset about gay marriage and jumps to some form of “What’s next, acceptance of pedophilia or bestiality?” they are revealing a fear of a blurring of boundaries. They compare same gender marriage – mutual love and commitment between two consenting adults – to truly heinous crimes which harm the vulnerable. They don’t see the fight for equality for what it is – an end to false and harmful differences and a revelation of truth.

Jesus blasted truth through the social fabric of his time. He brought truth to light. The Gospel of John records Jesus saying, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…[the father of lies] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him” (John 8). Jesus affirmed the truth. The truth will set us free. By listening to the experiences of people who have been historically silenced, we uncover truth in flesh and blood. Third Way came about from listening in this way.

Listening to the experiences of people who have been historically silenced, we uncover truth in flesh and blood.

Third Way busts the myth of LGBT exclusion in the church. Third Way recognizes, accepts and celebrates LGBT Christians in the church as equals. This lack of difference may threaten the powers which demand social distinctions. Yet, at the same time, Third Way does not erase honest differences in convictions before God. It calls for us to love one another. In the foundational text of Third Way, the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 14: “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another…Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:13, 19). Applying Third Way can create mutual upbuilding between those who are different while, at the same time, uncovering false and harmful differences of power and privilege. This does not happen without consequences. Nevertheless, we continue to pursue peace on a foundation of truth without judgment. For in the end all secrets will come to light and nothing hidden will remain covered.

 


Girard, René. The Scapegoat. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1986. Print.

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