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Scapegoating is taking the sins of a community and placing them on something or someone and driving that person or thing out of the community.

It’s roots go back to ancient religious practice.

But it is still practiced regularly today.

Scapegoating is used because the community needs to relieve itself of its guilt and sin.  It needs someone or something that it can place all the blame and sin into and onto.  It needs the attention and pressure that is on the community to go somewhere else.  It needs to move the guilt and sin to someone else – someone or something that can be classified as “bad.”

The benefit for the community is that it gets to wash its hand clean from the blame and sin from within.  The most famous example of this is Pontus Pilate washing his hands over the soon to happen crucifixion of Jesus.  Scapegoating means that the community can fool itself into believing that it is not guilty, that it is sinless, and not blameworthy.

Never mind that the object or person being scapegoated is ruined – that’s the point.  Someone or something has to suffer the consequences of the sin.  Someone or something needs to feel the wrath and the community is protecting itself from that.  That isn’t innocent blood anyway – its guilty blood.  Never mind the ripple effect either.  Never mind that people’s lives are ruined.  What is most important is that the community feels better about itself, that it did something, and looked good doing it.

Scapegoating especially happens during highly stressful situations and around highly stressful and difficult “topics” – such as race, sexuality, nationality, poverty, wealth, education, and more.

There are many problems with scapegoating.  The biggest problem is the belief that the community is innocent.  It isn’t.  The people in such a community have skeletons in their closet – things they would rather not talk about or deal with.  It’s too painful for them.  They may be required to acknowledge their own guilt – to consider the blood that is on their own hands because of policies or politicians they supported and the consequences of their policies, allegiances and loyalties they have.  While we may not agree with the policies we are governed by, and in fact we may be very opposed to them, how complicit are we?  How much responsibility do we bear if we continue to swear allegiance and swear our loyalty?  How innocent are we?

The other problem with scapegoating is that it isn’t permanent.  It is only a temporary relief of anxiety and stress.  Our guilt and sin will haunt us again because we have not really dealt with them.  It will rear its ugly head at the most inopportune time.  And we will have to seek out another scapegoat.  It’s easier than examining ourselves and seeing how we are to blame ourselves or make these systems possible or continue to prop them up by the way we live.  It’s easier to relieve the pressure than it is to be honest with ourselves, to repent and seek forgiveness, and make real changes.  It’s easier to kill the scapegoat than to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow God.

Rest in peace scapegoat.  You won’t be lonely for long.  There will be others who will join you.  Just know that you will continue to serve a deeper purpose – to be a painful reminder of the sin of the community.  One that is unresolved.