Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Phenomenon of Scapegoating in Community

The typology of the scapegoat from Leviticus 16 (cultic ritual of the Day of Atonement) finds an interesting place in the culture of community.  The background surrounds the scapegoat, Azazel.  In the present context, a bullied person or persons, by virtue of their position, may find themselves a target of the more powerful person or group.[1]  Triangulation occurs.  They become the ‘bearer of sin’ so the more powerful entity — usually a group headed by the one who has all power — can survive and feel atoned for. 
The scapegoat is not chosen randomly.  Importantly, the more powerful entity has a need “to project their own fear and hostility onto others when there is tension, disunity, and a lack of conflict-resolution skills within the group.”[2]  Once a person or persons has/have been scapegoated, there is a winning of peace for the more powerful entity.  Unfortunately, this peace is short-lived, for like any addiction — violence is addictive[3] — disharmony returns and a seeking for a new scapegoat, where there is a lack of conformity, ensues.  Any organisation, including churches, can exist like this culturally;[4] a local church may exemplify the dysfunctions of family more than any Christian leader would either desire or accept.
The devastation of scapegoating for the scapegoat is described by Benyei:
“Communities frequently choose as their scapegoats persons or groups who are unknown or different because difference parallels their own disunity, and the unknown provides a convenient blank screen upon which to project hostility, turning it into the problem ‘out there’ instead of ‘in here.’  In this way, it is not unusual for communities to unite themselves against a perceived common enemy.”[5]
In communities, difference tends to be viewed as bad, where there is fear, and the need to, and agency of, control.  And in the communities where fear might reign, because of difference, we tend to “replace feelings of insecurity and fear with feelings of anger because being pumped up with aggressive energy has more survival value than being paralysed with fright.”[6]  Aggression serves better than submission, but in a faith community this is a falling short of a healthy mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21) for the good of truly all.
A problematic issue with scapegoating is its insidiousness.  The scapegoat may not even be aware of the role they are playing.  They may appear to be the one ‘with the problem.’  And “usually the scapegoat is someone who is very sensitive to the anxiety in the system.”[7]  They may be the elephant in the room!  And rather than tackle hurting issues and problems head-on, scapegoating leaders can attempt to pin the blame on someone who will take the fall.  More is the pity that “[T]he biggest problem with a church caught up in scapegoating is that healing and wholeness become rare,” due to the suspicion it creates, because it is cultural.[8]
It is important to recognise the proclivity toward scapegoating in communities. It is equally good to presume it takes place so that measures can be considered and implemented to ensure everyone is included and empowered.

[1] Benyai, C.R. Understanding Clergy Misconduct In Religious Systems: Scapegoating, Family Secrets, and the Abuse of Power. New York: Haworth Pastoral Press, 1998, 99.
[2] Benyai, C.R. Ibid., 99.
[3] Cram, Hecker R. Ibid., 58.
[4] Dempsey, K. Conflict and Decline: Ministers and Laymen in an Australian Country Town. North Ryde: Methuen, 1983, 122, 125.  The chapter “Insider or Outsider?” portrays that “true insiders [in Barool] were people who shared a common fate.”  They were locals who stayed.  What pastor could ever be considered an ‘insider’ in that context.  And the point needs to be made: the language of ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ speaks of a scapegoating culture.
[5] Benyai, C.R. Op Cit., 99-100.
[6] Benyai, C.R. Ibid., 90.
[7] Richardson, R.W. Family Ties That Bind. Seattle: International Self-Counsel Press, 1988, 60.
[8] DuPont, M.A. Ibid., 142.

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