Editorial: The False Discipleship of Scapegoating

(Spectrumbot) #1

The notion of fervent discipleship has become, for some, a constant effort to tweet and post about heresy within the church and then make sure that the widest audience possible is aware of the perceived danger. I know Elder Ted Wilson had the best of intentions in 2010 when he told the audience at the General Conference Session, “Hold them accountable.” I am also sure that he did not envision the path this would take. The admonition to “hold them accountable” is causing our denomination to spiral into endless public shaming of perceived variant targets. As a community we have abandoned irenic generosity and have become entrenched in pursuing the illusive goal of community purification. This is not true discipleship.

Jesus portrayed Spirit-filled people as a source of living water for others (John 4:13), not as a sort of honor brigade that roots out any questioning or variance protruding from a particular interpretation. As soon as we play the blame game, the devil wins; Satan, after all, means “accuser.” And accusing has become so easy with social media.

Here’s an example. A few months ago the decision of the Huntsville First Seventh-day Adventist Church to hold worship services on Sunday jolted the Adventist cyberworld. Based on speculation and with little care taken to understand the strategy and motives of those involved, Hunstville First received a barrage of criticism and condemnation in the blogosphere. After the initial fuss, the church’s evangelistic initiative seems to have been forgotten. Thus, few will know the success of the undertaking, while many critics continue to harbor poorly reasoned negative, even condemnatory opinions of the leaders. Social media and the mandate to “hold accountable” has given a false sense of empowerment to many who have chosen to pursue the counterfeit discipleship of accusing others within the family of God. Appropriate Christian efforts at corporate integrity would include truth seeking, personal conversation, and follow-up with generosity and kindness undergirding any accountability exercise.

With each individual now controlling an instant printing press and bully pulpit, social media has given scapegoating a massive shot of steroids. Prior to social media’s rise, anthropological philosopher Rene Girard wrote copiously about the destructive nature of this timeless, insidious, malignant mechanism within all human groups (“I See Satan Fall Like Lightning,” Orbis Books, 2001). Girard uses the term “mimetic rivalry” to encapsulate the process where people imitate each other in an escalating frenzy of scapegoating, so that, in effect, cultural stability comes to depend on identifying a problem person/group and enacting violence against them in a misguided attempt to force the community to move to a higher plane. The desire to target another as the “problem” feels intuitive and feeds our own egos. This community tension searching for a scapegoat orchestrated Jesus’ crucifixion. Currently, we see this system manifested in the cadre of Internet warriors battling for their version of truth and demanding blood from their favorite scapegoat. Dwight Eisenhower said, “the search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.”

Social media expedites demonizing in previously unimaginable ways, as sharp verbal violence ricochets immediately amongst groups. Jon Ronson (“So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Riverhead Books, 2015) explores the chaos and pain that have invaded people’s lives in the Social Media Age. Generally this public shaming is unfair, out of proportion, lopsided and just plain hateful, a demonstration of snowballing mimetic rivalry against a targeted “problem” individual or group.

Is this the way of Jesus? When the church leaders claim to be above the human condition of society, the church suffers from a lack of self awareness. Yes, mimetic rivalry can be seen in the 150 years of our denominational existence. Frequently, it seems as though our identity has depended on the continued existence of a negative “other” so that rather than looking upward, our goal has been focused on identifying and fully exposing problem groups.

Currently, social media users face the task of sifting through posts which claim to give an inside scoop about a speaker, pastor, independent ministry, institution. Eyes blur with a barrage of information. Yet, when one focuses on the nature of these “facts” one typically sees that the evidence is flimsy. Quite often the “damning” information is based on a narrow perception of one or two people as they lift few paragraphs from the context of an enriching speech or program and use these isolated words to scapegoat the group or individual. Are efforts to call out “heresy” actually sabotaging our goal of being Jesus’ disciples? Are we ignoring the description of church in 1 Corinthians 12 as a living, breathing body?

Attention to correct belief is in the Adventist DNA. Seventh-day Adventism was founded with the intention to peel away doctrinal varnish that accumulated over centuries. Early church leaders wanted to get to the truth through Bible study, with a willingness to turn from traditional interpretations and a deep realization that truth would not be discovered all at once. J. N. Loughborough famously stated that “the first step to apostasy was to get up a creed.”

In time, catalogues of beliefs can become subject to the rule of church politics squelching the spirit of our ancestors.

Can efforts to distill doctrine into a static, orthodox purity cause one to lose the essence of Christianity by minimizing the kindness and forbearance and gentleness to which the New Testament writers refer so frequently?

Girard makes a strong case that any human effort to achieve purity will inevitably degenerate into mimetic rivalry.

Through the ages, misguided God followers have attempted to please Him by coercive attempts to form a homogenous group of believers. Despite any rationalization given, scapegoating does distort true discipleship. The development of the Internet, for all its inherent democratization, has allowed information to be spread around the circle at light speed, and has allowed the sharp tool of public shaming to become today’s weapon of choice. While intentions may be to enhance and promote the cause of Jesus, public vilification results in division and fracture, so that the effort to build up the body, paradoxically, results in fragmenting the body.

It is time to come out of the Babylon of judgmental scapegoating. Creating an online public documentation of another’s errors too easily becomes a permanent record of false witness, and is the ultimate exercise of missing the point. This is a counterfeit discipleship. Let’s avoid cruelty, ridicule, half truths and force. Let’s persuade by love, witness, spirit, reason, rhetoric and if need be, martyrdom. Let’s rediscover the way of Jesus.

Carmen Lau is a member of the Spectrum / Adventist Forum Board of Directors.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6822

(k_Lutz) #2

Thank-you, Carmen, for bringing these glad tidings of the Huntsville experiment!

As well, your entire message is greatly appreciated.

Trust God.

(efcee) #3

Thank you, Carmen. This seems to be chronic behavior on both sides of every issue.
Amen and amen.

(Elaine Nelson) #4

While there was a link in Carmen’s article, why hasn’t Spectrum given it its own space since it initially had a report? Ten Baptisms would make any evangelist proud!

(Thomas J Zwemer) #5

The little band of believers that formed the Advenist Church had each and all been disfellowshipped from their home church. These outcasts had a double bond of belief and rejection. Their focus was narrow but to them bright. They had learned the hard way not to let their special brand of light to be dimmed by questioning or doubt. So the purged did their own brand of purging. they even keep track of their trophy “kills”. Want to test the waters, just sample a few, “self supporting” zealots.

“hold them accountable, Ire consequences” are inherent in the breed., This circle the wagons mentality is likely to prevail in SA.

(Marianne Faust) #6

Carmen excellent!.." pursuing the illusive goal of community purification…" I wonder what the reason is, behind this illusive goal…

(k_Lutz) #7

… is my first guess.

Trust God.

(Steve Mga) #8

“Each individual NOW controlling an Instant Printing Press AND Bully Pulpit.”

It was shameful what was done to the Huntsville Church. It makes it difficult to report on New and Unusual Methods of Evangelism in the SDA world of ALL the Magazine sites — Spectrum, Advindicate, Ordination Truth-- Council of Adventist Pastors, and others.
Not to mention Facebook “shares”.
Then there is YouTube “shares”, and some others that are similar.
Instant disapproval of someone doing something that one believes is “wrong”, and then it goes Viral.
Then there are NO Consequences to the Anonymous Persons who Slander and Browbeat those who are not “faithful Adventists” and are bringing the World, Satanism, Babylon into the Church.
We see that here on Spectrum.
But at least WE have conversation. There is no conversation on Facebook, YouTube, etc. It is just “out there”.

(k_Lutz) #9

And this from The God Article:

[quote]We’ve actually been hearing about Christianity’s hypocrisy for years, so that should come as no surprise.
But, what we have to start realizing is that hypocrisy is the symptom, not the cause, and not the disease.
The disease is eating the Church alive from the inside out.
The disease has caused the Church to develop a highly sophisticated system that allows it both to quote the Bible and believe whatever it wants, without regard to the scripture itself. That’s not a particularly tremendous shocker, right?
It allows us to hear love preached from the pulpit and still practice judgement towards others in our personal lives.[/quote]

When we point at anything or anyone that is not God, we are looking and, following our eyes, headed in the wrong direction.

Trust God.

(2nd Opinion) #10

I was told once, “It is better to be divided by truth than united in error.” To which I replied, “Groups holding to such a dictum have a half-life–dividing again and again until there is nothing left.” This is the path of exponential decay that the Adventist Church is currently treading, and I appreciate Carmen encouraging us to take another, higher road.

(Steve Mga) #11

Purification == Status.

(Floyd) #12

Is not identifying self-supporting work as the problem a form of scape-goating itself? Jesus said to check first the log in one’s own eye so that it is far easier to find the speck in another’s.


It is naïve to pretend Ted Wilson had the best of intentions when he said, “hold them accountable”. Let’s not insult everyone’s intelligence here.


Girard applies this framework to all groups of humanity. It is only natural for groups to seek equilibrium and relieve tension by focusing on a scapegoat. Typically, this is done subconsciously. Of course, the holocaust is the most recent large-scale example. All communities face tension and cope by mimetic rivalry which is the chief tool used by the prince of this world(SatanI).

Girard points out that Jesus exposed the pure evil/faulty logic of mimetic rivalry. He references 1 Corinthians 2:7-8 " No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God[a]—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8 But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord."

Jesus followers, hopefully, can be aware of the mechanism and by God’s grace, not fall into that trap.

(Elaine Nelson) #15

Who sculpted the figure shown in this essay?

(Jared Wright) #16

Belgian sculptor Christine Jongen.

(Peter Marks) #17


While no one is really going to disagree with you in what you have written, the question I would ask cuts a little close to the bone.

The question I would ask is this - “How much scapegoating do contributors and commenters on this blog indulge in?”

We are constantly hearing of the heresy of gender discrimination, the heresy of male headship in the church, the heresy of a literal reading of the first 11 chapters of Genesis, the heresy of believing that marriage is between a man and a woman and the heresy of believing that sexual activity outside outside this context is sinful and must be repented of.

Many on this blog constantly maintain that the troublers in Israel are those who believe such things. This to me is the false discipleship of scapegoating as much as that contained in other social media produced by a less sophisticated class of individuals.

(Ole-Edvin Utaker) #18

When Ted W. proclaimed: “Hold them accountable”, he used his administrative power. This blog is one of the global (wired) public spheres of Adventism, where deliberations takes place between different voices from the SDA civil society. It is based on the non-coersive communicative power of free speech and the “the best argument”, which functions as a check and balance on administrative power. At least, this is the “democratic ideal”.

Spectrum is as “sounding board” for dection of problems and pathologies whithin Adventism; a warning system with a network of sensors, and a bulwark against administrative totalitarianism. Public spheres like this will always be riddled with conflicts, and differences of opinion. Despite that, it is a healthy sign and plays a key role as a check on administrative power, fundamental to the well-being of the Church.

Scapegoating should not be identified with open and non-coersive public deliberations.

(Tihomir Odorcic) #19

Thanks, Carmen, for the insightful essay and this quote I will treasure in my memory.
Both camps can learn many lessons from it. The only discipleship which counts (and isn’t a counterfeit one) is in following the Person who was not only human. And that is a problem for us humans. We tend to imitate us alikes.

(Peta Hay) #20

“There have been prophets and students who handle the Bible like a child’s box of bricks; they explain to us the design and structure and purpose; but as time goes on things do not work out in their way at all. They have mistaken the scaffolding for the structure, while all the time God is working out His purpose with a great and undeterred patience.”
― Oswald Chamber

and -"In Luke 10:20, Jesus told the disciples not to rejoice in successful service, and yet this seems to be the one thing in which most of us do rejoice. We have a commercialized view—we count how many souls have been saved and sanctified, we thank God, and then we think everything is all right. Yet our work only begins where God’s grace has laid the foundation. Our work is not to save souls, but to disciple them.”
― Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest: Traditional Updated Edition

APRIL 4 SUGGESTED READING: ACTS 5:17–32 … We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29b). You know exactly in what respects you have refused to obey the Lord and persisted in having your own way. When He said, “Drink with Me,” you responded, “No, Lord, I want to have the pattern and imprint of my church. I want to go their way. I want to live as they live and adhere to their decisions in my life.” Instead of having fellowship with Him, you have preferred the fellowship of other Christians. The Lord stands beside you very patiently, but in judgment as you refuse Him and obey others. Do you want to know Paul’s attitude about what other Christians thought of him? He said, “With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment …” (1 Cor. 4:3a). Is this true with you, brother and sister? If the Christian crowd you mingle with judge you, so what? Are they your god, or is the crucified Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? We are called to faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Any movement or person that contradicts Jesus, God will blast to pieces. PRAYER THOUGHT: Deliver me from obeying other people instead of You.”
― Oswald Chambers, Devotions for a Deeper Life