But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat. —Leviticus 16:10
We are neck deep in the U.S. political season. We’re constantly bombarded with messages telling us whom we should support, whom we should doubt, who should be in jail, and who should be ignored. It’s been a season of anger, resentment, hostility, and blind, unwavering partisan support. It’s confusing and terrifying.
As a pastor, I’ve found myself struggling with how to shepherd my congregation through such a vitriolic season. What does it mean to lead a group of people into peace, reconciliation, and hope while the world around us screams vengeance, violence, and hate? How do we participate as citizens of a broken society while remaining separate from those things that are antithetical to Christ and his kingdom? How do we emerge from this political season with our kingdom integrity and prophetic imagination still intact? These are difficult days, indeed.
We humans are an interesting species. As much as we desire unity, community, and shared beliefs, we often find ourselves united more against a perceived threat than we do in favor of a single mission or goal. Far too often we find ourselves more engaged in conversations about the enemy than about our ideals. We spend our time blaming the goat rather than celebrating the hero.
we lash out in fear at our brothers or sisters, naming them the problem, making them the scapegoat, and pushing them out the door.
For Democrats, Republicans are heartless. For Republicans, Democrats are unpatriotic. Capitalists demonize Communists, Red Sox fans insult Yankees fans, and Obama is to blame for pretty much everything. #ThanksObama.
If we’re honest, it doesn’t take long to begin to see how commonplace the practice of scapegoating truly is. There’s an addictive quality to scapegoating. It feels right to unite against a common enemy. The anger, the fear, the fight all give us purpose and meaning. They help us know the terms of belonging and give us definition in a world ever in flux.
Fear, though, isn’t limited to politics. Ever since the forming of the early church, fear has seeped into theological conversations as well, and it continues to seep in today. We are afraid of Fundamentalists. We are afraid of liberals. We are afraid of where millennials will take the church. We’re afraid of losing theological arguments on Facebook. We’re afraid of church splits.
Politically, theologically, and personally we find ourselves constantly fighting the ever-encroaching feeling of fear because the loudest voices are pundits and politically bought pastors. We are afraid of each other. There’s an almost palatable sense that we sit on the brink of oblivion and that if “those people” get their way, everything we’ve ever known will plummet into the darkness below. Quickly, almost without realizing it, we lash out in fear at our brothers or sisters, naming them the problem, making them the scapegoat, and pushing them out the door. We then justify our decision by telling ourselves it’s not safe for them to stay here.
Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, rejects the cultural ethos of scapegoating when he teaches: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. . . If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:44, 46–47).
During a political season as contentious as this one, the overwhelming temptation will be for us to divide ourselves into us and them. To unite by way of our shared shaming of the other. We will be tempted to let cable news and radio commentators convince us of the less-than-humanness of the other. They will desperately try to convince us that those who comprise the other are not humans made in the image of God. Rather, they’re a problem to be dealt with.
In this kingdom we find———contrary to what our culture tells us———that we are bound not by a shared enemy but by a shared brokenness.
I pray we rediscover the scandal and the power of the Eucharist. Something powerful happens when we take the bread and drink from the cup. In those moments we’re reminded that we’re part of something bigger than theology, politics, sports, or economics. We’re part of an emerging kingdom (Revelation 21:5). This kingdom is for both the ones who know the right words and the people who can’t seem to do it right. It is for the proper and the pious as well as for the offensive and the unredeemable. It is a kingdom for the clean and the unclean, the well-spoken and the brokenhearted, the hope-filled and the hopeless. In this kingdom we find—contrary to what our culture tells us—that we are bound not by a shared enemy but by a shared brokenness. Where once we were separated by ideology, race, gender, or sexuality, we are, in this kingdom, united by a cross and an empty tomb.
In this election season and long after, may we reject the ethos of our time. May we name the lie that whispers fear into our hearts, uniting us against the other. May we refuse to scapegoat someone who is different from ourselves for the problems in society and the church. Instead, may we welcome into our midst all who have been scapegoated—seeing them not as enemies but as fellow bearers of the image of God (imago Dei). For, as Jesus teaches us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).