Main Entry: scape·goat
Etymology: 1scape; intended as translation of Hebrew ʽazāzēl (probably name of a demon), as if ʽēz 'ōzēl goat that departs—Lev. 16:8 (Authorized Version)
First known use: 1530
1: a goat upon whose head are symbolically placed the sins of the people after which he is sent into the wilderness in the biblical ceremony for Yom Kippur, 2 a: one that bears the blame for others, b: one that is the object of irrational hostility
In the Old Testament, a goat that was symbolically burdened with the sins of the people and then killed on Yom Kippur to rid Jerusalem of its iniquities. Similar rituals were held elsewhere in the ancient world to transfer guilt or blame. In ancient Greece, human scapegoats were beaten and driven out of cities to mitigate calamities. In early Roman law, an innocent person was allowed to assume the penalty of another; Christianity reflects this notion in its belief that Jesus died to atone for the sins of humankind.
People have been scapegoating one another from the beginning of time—for as long as one person was able to point the finger at another--long before Merriam-Webster’s first known use. Though very destructive to the ethos of a community, scapegoating is actually a very common practice both in the church and our larger culture. Yet, it is so prevalent in our lifestyles and interactions, it can be difficult to realize and pinpoint. A few examples are worth highlighting to illustrate its commonality. When the stock market drops (like it regularly does), we blame the president. When we get a speeding ticket (the due consequence to exceeding the Speed Limit), we blame the police officer. When we fail to do our homework in a timely manner (because of procrastination), we blame technology for failing us (or resort to the cliché: “my dog ate it”). Scapegoating is an unfortunate part of our human sinfulness that stems from both our inability to take accountability for our personal failures and our anxious need to (poorly) answer away ambiguities in an attempt to make us feel better. When unimaginable, illogical things happen (whether to us or others), we blame God (or even sometimes the person in pain) for the horrible situation at hand.
A more recent, prevalent form of scapegoating (perhaps a 21st century phenomenon) encountered in the church is through discussion surrounding "the evil synod." For many, it has just become a regular practice to blame "the synod" when something is said or happens in the church that is counter to what they think or believe—immediately and ultimately nullifying all that "the synod" has ever done or will do from now on. Insurance premiums increasing--people blame the synod. A hopeful pastoral candidate is called to serve who ends up hurting a congregation--people blame the synod. A churchwide decision is made to open new possibilities for any congregations desiring--people blame the synod. (The list of reasons--no matter how absurd—goes on and on). We each are guilty of this--I as much as the next person—at one time or another. Don't get me wrong; there are things in which I disagree with the synod, and failures done (unintentionally) by particular synodical staff that hurt me, but such differences and failures do not warrant blame or irrational hostility. Differences and failures (which happen in ALL PLACES) are part of our human nature broken by sin and death.
There is no need to treat the synod--called and equipped to help and guide its individual congregations and leaders in mission and ministry--as if it were a goat receiving the sins of the whole state, sent out, and killed to rid us of our wrongdoings. Jesus has already served in atoning all people (the synod included) of our entire sins. God incarnate in Christ was the ultimate scapegoat--not the “evil synod.” When we lose sight of this and seek to blame others, we forget that Christ died for you and me, and in turn, we cast God’s gifts of grace and forgiveness to the side in search for a blood offering.
The "evil synod," despite what some (misinformed people) might believe, actually does many good things in supporting the ministries of local congregations and furthering additional work on larger regional and global scales. There is simply not enough time to write out all of the synodically-supported ministries, nor room on my blog to explain each in due detail. I (and I would imagine synod staff, themselves), however, welcome any and all opportunities to answer questions and discuss some of the many things “the synod” does to help serve all God’s people locally, nationally, and globally. In a church where decisions are made, dollars designated, and lines drawn—all as part of making one’s individual dissatisfaction public through religious scapegoating; instead of forcing an answer, I want to conclude this discussion with a question:
How do we, the church—a community who bears the name of the One who became the ultimate scapegoat for our sake—move away from contributing to such hateful and harmful blaming, to a place of accountability, offering forgiveness and love to ALL OTHERS (including the synod)?