scapegoatsscapegoat:  [skeyp-goht] a person or group made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in their place.

* * * * *

this post has been swirling around in my head for over a year now and i finally got a chance to sit down over a month ago and write it.  then i still didn’t post it until now. i think i’ve been avoiding it because i don’t want to listen to my own words, ha ha.

in a recent conversation about church woundedness with a few friends i was reminded how there’s a similar pattern in many of these kinds of painful stories–a scapegoat.

on the journey toward easter, we prepare for the biggest scapegoat in history–Jesus.  we see what happens to a scapegoat.  we see how the crowds turn in a snap.  we see betrayal.  we see the consequence of our sociological dysfunctions and human brokenness.

it’s easy to keep scapegoat language safely tucked into the old testament or in the Jesus story and forget how powerful and strong it is at work today–in families, groups, organizations, almost any system we are in.  rene girard, a french sociologist/philosopher, writes about this in his well-researched and utterly fascinating mimetic theory.  last year i was part of a 2 day intensive hosted by my friends at center for transforming mission that processed some of these ideas together.  while my head was spinning with ideas far above my limited, give-me-the-practical brain, i was deeply moved by it.  he nailed a critical point about human nature–our tendency toward violence.

violence doesn’t always look like guns & bombs & physical assault.  violence looks like turning against our brothers & sisters & ourselves & God to protect ourselves.  this can come out in all kinds of different ways that are far more subtle than war.

we separate. we turn against. we withdraw. we blame. we point the finger. we circle our wagons.

all in an effort to protect ourselves, to save our own skin.

families use scapegoats.  companies use scapegoats.  churches use scapegoats.  politicians use scapegoats.

they help groups & systems stay insulated & protected.

it will be easy for some of us to read this and connect with the feeling of being a scapegoat. unfortunately, i know the feeling.  it sucks. it hurts. it’s violent. it’s really hard to recover from.  it’s easy to say that it’s inconsistent with the ways of Jesus, and i believe it is.  but it’s actually very consistent with what Jesus experienced.  2,000 years ago we witnessed the biggest sociological experiment in history; and now we are participants in the same weird, violent, oh-so-not-the-way-it-has-to-be patterns.

subtly, directly, we are often looking for the scapegoat or maybe somehow living out being one.

either way is icky.

groups create a scapegoat to protect the group from looking at their own dysfunction.

and we create scapegoats to protect ourselves from the same thing.

it is a way to deflect things away from ourselves and direct our energies toward easier, safer targets.  we often forget that when we point our finger, we’ve got one finger pointing toward “them” and three fingers pointing toward “us.”

it’s so easy to blame others.  to wrap up all my pain & shame & ugliness and put it in the spot called “someone else’s fault.”  i do not for a minute want to minimize the real and clear damage that many have endured when we became the scapegoat in our families, churches, companies, etc.

but for the sake of the spirit of holy week and honest reflection, i’d like to center my energies on how i use scapegoats as a way to deflect my own pain.

i can blame “the church.”
i can blame the politicians.
i can blame other people.
i can blame my addictions.
i can blame my past.
i can blame God.
i can blame myself for things that aren’t even my fault (my specialty).

i can blame a long list of people & things & circumstances & situations that help me find some temporary relief for my suffering.

but the relief that scapegoating brings is only temporary.

the reality always remains.  in every system, after someone is scapegoated, the same ugly unhealthy stuff remains underneath that will continue to perpetuate the same ugly unhealthy stuff on the top over time.

scapegoating buffers us from the reality that we have things in our hearts that we need to reckon with.  for me, most all roads lead to fear–fear of rejection, failure, of being unloved or not enough.

i think part of this reflective season is acknowledging our scapegoats–the things we blame & direct our anger toward so that we don’t have to look at the deeper pain within.

scapegoats split us and perpetuate violence against ourselves & others & God.

Jesus brings shalom, wholeness, integration–a better way. a humble way. a vulnerable way.

scapegoating is easier at first; but in the end, it leads to death.

humility is harder at first; but in the end, it leads to life.

God, show us how to be people of humility & peace, not violence & blame.


Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Very good blog. I totally agree with you….very insightful. A good choice for Holy Week.

  • Kathy – so good. so true. i just read John Dominic Crossan’s book, The Power of Parable, and he speaks to violence. Mark wrote Jesus as one utterly committed to non-violence in both word and deed. Matthew, wrote about Jesus speaking of non-violence in the sermon on the mount, but by the end of the gospel Matthew writes of Jesus using violent rhetoric. so Jesus says not to call anyone a fool in chapter 6 but then goes on to use name-calling regarding the pharisees (hypocrite being his favorite) which, Crossan says, is very derogatory language in context. now Crossan argues that Matthew framed Jesus as more violent to suit his understanding, his post-70AD setting and pastoral needs. but i find it interesting that Jesus says to not even tend to violent words… recognizing that violence starts long before the first punch is thrown.

    so your post seems to flesh it out for me a bit further… that along with rhetorical violence there is scapegoating, all part of a larger trajectory of violence we are exhorted to avoid in favor for the peaceable kingdom. such a good reflection for holy week…

    hope to see you soon!

    • hey kelley, thanks so much for sharing. i’ve heard about this book but haven’t read it. great stuff. our tendency toward violence is something that i believe we need to look at. there’s a wide range of what that really looks like, far beyond guns & knives. i hope i get to see you in AZ!

  • Wow Kathy, another great post. To escape from scape-goating we must take responsibility for our own lives, acknowledging our own woundedness and fear but also accepting that in Christ we are set free from these, if we will choose to live in that freedom. I’m not saying that people do not get hurt or that the hurts are not real. They are. People wound us, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. Sometimes those wounds go very deep. But we have the ability to choose how to respond to those wounds and too often we respond by blaming–scape-goating, someone else or another group. It’s easier than confronting the pain and finding healing and release.

    You are right. Humility and vulnerability are more difficult, but they lead to freedom. Fear, scape-goating, violence are easier, but they lead only to further bondage and enslavement.

    • thanks, andrew, for reading & sharing. scapegoating is so much easier than confronting the pain. i always like the easy way out!

  • I was reminded of the comic “Family Circus.” Seems every time the kids god into a scrape, neighbor’s garden torn up or glass bowl broken, they knew the name of their favorite scapegoat.

    “Ida Know”


  • Kathy- you sure know how to deliver after being on a lil vacation lol I resonate with you when you say it all leads back to fear, and mostly the same fears you said. My mind spins round and round digesting your post because I want to get off this fear merry-go-round and something in me finds a way to speak saying, * you have had this since you were very young what makes you think it will leave now?* and similar self-defeating inner dialogue. Funny how anytime someone comes to me with their version of this I can so genuinely seek to direct them to Jesus living water, but find it so difficult to do the same to myself 🙁 Thanks for always sharing from your heart my friend and encouraging hope faith and love!!!! Can’t wait to see you in may!!!

    • thanks my friend, can’t wait to see you in a few weeks, too, it’ll be so fun. yeah, it’s so much easier to offer words of comfort and hope to others and then be so mean to ourselves. violence committed against ourselves is very damaging. i would never in a million years treat my friends the way i treat myself sometimes. may God continue to work in all kinds of beautiful ways to heal this.


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