Once the news of yet more Roman Catholic priestly abuse of women and children exploded out of Pennsylvania (much less the steady trickle flowing out of the rest of the world), I knew that it was all too painful.
The church would have to turn on someone to blame.
As piece after post after tweet came out offering suggestions of accountability and action, the flow of blame against gay clergy began to swell. Catholic twitter and social media turned very quickly and found their scapegoat.
It wasn’t unchecked power, it wasn’t misogyny, it wasn’t a system made for secrecy, it wasn’t the fear of bad PR, or the lack of women in places of leadership – it was the “cancer” of allowing gay clergy into the priesthood.
I don’t mean to beat up on Roman Catholics. That’s just one story among so many. They aren’t unique. In fact, there seems to be nothing more natural to humans.
Scapegoating is an incredible thing. It is everywhere—business, politics, sports, and heavily ensconced in the church.
In a twisted way, there’s nothing more fundamentally Christian than pinning all your wrongdoings on another and then not looking back. Millions of people lay their life on the belief that Jesus is the ultimate scapegoat, taking everyone else’s wrongdoings and sins and walking away with them.
The problem is that this isn’t about Jesus. This isn’t about God’s self sacrifice. This isn’t God volunteering to take it all on. This is about our continuing addiction to sacrificing others, our Christian brothers and sisters, on an altar of evading our own guilt and responsibility.
There are so many out in the wilderness of the scapegoated. People that churches, Christian organizations, schools, etc. have pinned their wrongdoings on in order to wipe their hands clean. For some, it was their community’s past mistakes that needed to be chased away. Others continue to shoulder the responsibility of continuing sins, with no end in sight.
Some are totally innocent. Others have a reason they were volunteered.
I remember seeing a real scapegoat ceremony as we did relief work along the border of Rwanda and the DRC. The community giving this poor being all their sins so that they could move on and move forward—chasing it into the harsh wilderness to never return.
That’s the #1 rule of scapegoating, you see. The sacrifice must never return to the community. There is a lot riding on not being reminded of who you were. Who you still are deep down.
I remember the westerners around me thinking how refreshing it was that “we” had moved on from this…that we had “evolved”. What we in the West do, however, is far more dark, sinister, and damaging—and yet exactly the same. There is something so fundamentally human about not wanting to be faced by your own worst self. We are all children desperately looking for someone else to take the heat for our messes.
What is it about us that refuses to REALLY confess our sins, all our sins, and not only repent and ask for forgiveness, but trudge through the process of restitution? What is it about us that refuses to live a Christian life that was asked of us?
Of course, why do any of that?
Why admit wrongdoing or welcome someone back who has paid their price when it’s just so much easier to put it all on someone else and never have to think about it again? Why not anchor your sins on a Christian brother or sister, chasing them away never to be faced with what you or your community has done (and will, I’m sorry to say, continue to do)?
I often think about that saying that church isn’t about perfect people coming together, but instead a hospital for broken sinners.
We Christians don’t actually live and worship as a bunch of sick in a hospital, forgiving and healing as has been done to and for them. Instead, we live as broken people willing to crush or blame anyone else as long as we don’t have to admit our brokenness—all in the name of he who asked us to be better. All in the name of someone who scapegoated himself so that we would never have to do this to others.
He asked us to admit our wrongs and not approach the table until the wounds and harms between our brother and sisters was healed. We are asked to repent, repent, repent…and then forgive.
But here we are. Crushing those around us, sending our friends/leaders/sibling in Christ out to die in the wilderness so long as we never have to look in at ourselves—so that we never have to admit that we sacrifice at the altar, not of Christ, but of something else. Something so sinister and beloved that we cannot even put a name to it.
Our golden calf of money, ego, whiteness, misogyny, nationalism…our loved sinful cancer that will just go away if this person—this former colleague, pastor, student, friend, family member—would just take it and never come back again.