Scapegoating, Part Three

On this week’s podcast, Dan Allender concludes our series on scapegoating by reflecting on what might be required to change these age-old cycles of shame displacement and reciprocal violence. And, like so many of the complex, heartbreaking dynamics we engage here at The Allender Center, Dan says it begins with something seemingly obvious: the courage to tell the truth.

Dan: “As obvious as it may be, you cannot address what you cannot name.”

In regards to scapegoating, it is essential to name both the dynamics that are at play and the intent that underlies those dynamics—the reality that scapegoating is about a desire to do harm. That might sound dramatic or hyperbolic, because in most systems where scapegoating emerges, love and goodness might also have been present. This is because we are complex human beings: We are all capable of loving and being loved, and we are all capable of harming and being harmed.

Dan: “The reason people envy you, and the reason their own mimetic desire is energized to find you as a scapegoat, is because you reveal something beautiful, something so tangible but intangible, something seen, but something with regard to the character that is unseen.”

If we are able to start with naming the truth—I have been scapegoated, and I have scapegoated others—then Dan says that opens us toward the movement of blessing our enemies. That is admittedly a complicated phrase, one that comes loaded with other messages and connotations. Dan argues that blessing your enemies is not about passively opening yourself to more harm, or covering over harm and pretending everything’s okay. It’s about refusing to be motivated by the same violence, and in that refusal taking back some of the power and control that scapegoating aims to consume.

Dan: “To bless your enemy is to not become like your enemy, to not become motivated by the same violence that they perpetrate against you. Because in some ways, that’s what evil wishes to occur: for you to become like it, for you to have a mirroring of desire and act similar to itself. When you begin to bless your enemy, even though that is a complicated process, you’re already saying, ‘I will not be like you. I will not let my heart be drawn into the same level of violence as yours.’ In that sense, you’re taking away power spiritually, and you’re taking away power internally from them.”

Blessing your enemy is ultimately about the movement toward forgiveness—taking away their power by refusing to resort to violence, and then offering something new, something that invites them to engage their own violence and move toward repentance. It’s saying,

“I will not be bound, but I also will not escape engagement, so that I have the opportunity to bring my face to you, and for you to bring your face to me.”

By naming the truth and blessing our enemies (which might involve removing ourselves from ongoing harm), we open ourselves to the long, difficult process of tending our wounds and moving toward healing.

Dan: “Now there’s ongoing debris that needs to be addressed, which is why we often return blame to blame, scapegoating to scapegoating, and why we don’t actually want to acknowledge the injury that comes with that. […] You need to tend to where you’ve been scapegoated, and open the door again to the goodness of God in the land of the living, who became a scapegoat on our behalf.”