Substance abuse is a common scapegoat. So are absent or abusive family members, personal enemies, and situations like job loss. I call these things “red herrings,” or the blame game.
Sadly, some societies and governments have chosen to use whole ethnic groups as scapegoats. Sometimes these people are ostracized, like African-Americans under Jim Crow laws. Other times they’re displaced, like Cherokees on the Trail of Tears. The worst form of scapegoating is genocide or ethnic cleansing. The Jews in Europe during the Holocaust, the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, and countless other people groups were victims of such cleansing.
What would lead a society or government to say, “This ethnic group is a threat to our health and freedom” or “this ethnic group is the cause of our economic or moral downfall”? What would cause such societies and governments to treat these groups like lepers or systematically kill them? Are they guilty of the charges that others bring against them? Most of the time, no. The groups in question are usually more innocent than their accusers.
This act of scapegoating is an implicit acknowledgement of sin. The society or government has decided that something is wrong. The world they live in isn’t paradise. But instead of pointing inward, at themselves, such people choose to point outward, at others. They refuse to admit that sin is both universal and individual, the fatal moral disease of mankind since Eden. No one can blame another person for his or her sin. Everyone is guilty. No one is innocent.
We can’t choose our ethnicity. We’re born with it and it’s not a sin. God likes variety! So blaming a different ethnic group for one’s sin is scapegoating. However, some things are sin and we’re not born with them – homosexuality, non-Christian religions and gods, etc. We can change these things and we must if we want to be saved. Is targeting homosexuals and non-Christian religious adherents scapegoating? No. These people can lead to our moral downfall and ruin, both as individuals and as a nation. However, true Christians don’t treat sinners like lepers or kill them. They witness to them instead. Through Christ alone, an enemy can become a friend.
The cross is our only hope, both individually and corporately. Jesus Christ is our only scapegoat. He’s the only one who will bear our finger-pointing and relieve us from the burden of sin. If we use anyone else as a scapegoat, we are guilty of idolatry and we will bear our sin in hell.