The Problem With Scapegoats

From SBC dumping Guidepost Solutions to the Tennessee Statehouse

Sarah Stankorb

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“The Scapegoat,” William Holman Hunt, (1854)

Back when I was a college religion student, my Bible professor happened to be a Presbyterian minister. He was young, wore round-rimmed glasses and bow-ties, and nearly bounced on the balls of his feet as he revealed historical nuance within scripture. I remember him being particularly gleeful as he connected important dots for us. He also loved unpacking metaphors. One in particular stands out: scapegoats appeared throughout the Bible in meaningful ways, he told us.

We learned about the sacrificial goat in the book of Leviticus upon whose head Israel’s high priest placed people’s collective sins on the Day of Atonement. Instead of the sinners, the goat. We were still smarting from Genesis, when it seemed God was perfectly chill with the prospect of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, and relieved–thanks to an angel’s intervention–with the sacrifice of a ram instead. Rather than Isaac, the ram. When we finally got to the gospels and were reminded of the lesson of the scapegoat, I had one of those revelatory experiences with chills, when my intellect and spirit seemed to sync, and when I realized the same model held again: instead of the world, Jesus.

Although I am no longer a believer, I returned to that idea last week many times, an Easter week when burdens were cast and carried by what I could only see as proxy parties. But it wasn’t with relief, a holy sacrifice. It was all wrong. Things crept closer to our modern usage of the term scapegoat.

News broke that the Southern Baptist Convention would likely break from Guidepost Solutions, which had independently investigated how SBC leaders treated abuse survivors over recent decades. The move was sparked, Religion News Service’s Bob Smietana reported, by Florida and Ohio Southern Baptist Pastors due to outrage stemming from an LGBTQ-affirming Pride Month tweet on Guidepost Solutions’ account in 2022, posted about a week after the organization released its findings concerning SBC.

A statement released by SBC’s sex abuse task force noted that the group would still use Faith-Based Solutions (a division of Guidepost Solutions that works with religious organizations) to oversee a hotline for reporting abuse. The task force cited the…

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Sarah Stankorb

Sarah Stankorb has published with The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Glamour, O, and The Atlantic (among others). @sarahstankorb www.sarahstankorb.com