January 12, 2015

Dear Friends and Family of the Diocese of Eau Claire,

“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 desert as a scapegoat.” Leviticus 16:10

Ancient Israel taught us the concept of the scapegoat. We take our sins—individual and corporate—and put them on something or someone else. That entity carries them away, and we are free to live without our shortcomings. While ancient Israel observed Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and was serious about acknowledging sin and asking God for forgiveness, scapegoating morphed into something else. Usually this was done without acknowledging sin and blaming others.

In Nazi Germany Hitler used the Jewish people as his scapegoats. He and his regime determined that nearly all of Germany’s problems, past and present, were caused by the Jews. From this mindset measures increased from prejudice to restriction to persecution to imprisonment and finally to murder.

Do we have scapegoats today? A case can be made that the police serve as society’s scapegoats. In America they are in the vortex of the conflict between protecting individual liberties and enforcing laws that supposedly reflect the common good. Demonstrators frequently dehumanize police and call them pigs. Meanwhile, the larger society in passing unjust laws, expects the police to enforce these laws while washing its hands of responsibility. It makes me ask, “Why would anyone want to be a policeman?”

When Jesus died on the cross, we Christians connect his act as the new atonement—an “at-one-ment”—with God. Jesus is the innocent, the Lamb of God, who took away the sins of the world. We stop short of thinking of him as our scapegoat, but is he? When we sin both individually and corporately as a society, it is good to know that Jesus by his death on the cross has the power to remove sin. Still we must take responsibility for our actions and attitudes and name sin for what it is. From this understanding we can in sorrow confess to God where we are, and Jesus can begin his work. This is different from modern scapegoating; it is the opportunity for a whole new life. With my love and best wishes, I am,

Your brother in Christ,