Creating Scapegoats

Creating Scapegoats

It was with sadness and empathy that I read blogger Jen Hatmaker’s Good Friday post. I understand her pain at the hands of the “Christian Machine.” I was a cog in that machine. I did not attack or disparage others, but I kept the machine running, which enabled the attackers. That is not something of which I am proud.

After my experience of the past four years, I can say with confidence that the meanest people I have encountered have been Christians. I remember a lecture in which M. Scott Peck said 99 percent of the evil done in the world is perpetrated by those who believe they are 100 percent right. Too often evangelicals are convinced their rectitude gives them a free pass to judge others, particularly those who come from within their own tribe. The late anthropologist and philosopher René Girard explained the reasons for this behavior, but when you are the one being attacked, it is difficult to take comfort in the broader view.

Over 12 years as a weekly columnist and editor-at-large for Christian Standard magazine, I learned to develop a thick skin, particularly when I chose to write about women in ministry. A few years ago I watched an interview with several writers for The New York Times. They were asked how many positive letters it took to make up for one critical letter. The writers decided the number was 50. It took 50 good letters to make up for one negative one. When I heard that I thought, “Yep, 50 to 1.” Writing publicly is not for those with thin skin.

When I became a magazine editor we still received much of our correspondence by mail. Back in the good old days you had to go to your typewriter, or take out a pen and paper before you could write an angry response to a columnist with whom you disagreed. You had to put the letter in an envelope and take it to the post office. By then your anger was likely to have dissipated, so only a fraction of those angry letters were ever mailed.

With social media, all it takes is a single strike of a key, and what’s done is done. As a magazine columnist I learned what goes into print remains forever. People have a harder time understanding the same is true with the Internet. Once you’ve hit “send,” you lose control of that expressed thought. It might be good to remember that it is all right to have an unexpressed thought.

I always feel badly for those who are new to ministry. In the secular world they expected to be attacked every now and again, but they thought it would be different with Christians. They learn pretty quickly that fear makes people behave badly.

I have an easier time with those who attack me than I do with those who attack my family and friends. You can mess with me, but don’t mess with those I love. I’d like to equate that anger with Jesus turning over tables in the temple, but I’m thinking my exegesis might be a little suspect on that passage.

The bottom line is that if you are well known in the evangelical world and choose to take a more liberal stance, you will pay a price. Evangelicals believe their survival depends on making scapegoats of those who “misbehave.” Jen Hatmaker painfully learned they have no problem driving those scapegoats from the fold.

And so it goes.