Unpopular governments are always anxious to turn the anger of the people away from themselves and towards someone else. The philosopher Rene Girard describes the “scapegoat mechanism” all societies use to defuse internal tensions by agreeing upon a common enemy, a scapegoat, an outside party to carry the blame and anger and sin of the whole community. It’s a theme universal as time itself – scapegoating is at the heart of all wars and conflicts, as well as the basis for racism, patriarchy, homophobia, social injustice and genocide.
Since 2001, Australian leaders on both sides of politics have deliberately set up scapegoats to distract the focus from their own incompetence. Elections have been won on promises to “stop the boats” – stirring up anxiety over foreign refugees seeking freedom and a future by traveling to our nation by sea. Thousands of traumatized men, women and children have been locked up and hidden away, often for years, and now face being relocated as part of the cruel “No Way” campaign, hand-balled to nations with abysmal human rights records. Asylum seekers are no longer treated as vulnerable people with rights, but as human political pawns.
More recently, the peaceful, moderate Muslim population of Australia have become the target of prejudice and suspicion, as the government capitalizes on the horror of ISIL by stirring up fear of “homegrown terrorism” (conveniently distracting the population from an unpopular budget and rushing through laws which undermine our freedoms). In the past two weeks, since our terror alert was raised, we’ve seen a rapid escalation in hate crimes, racist attacks and threats of violence against mosques, Islamic schools and Australian women wearing headscarves known as hijab. The Muslim faith has become associated in some people’s minds with radicalized extremism, and has become a scapegoat for the internal tensions within our broader society.
Jesus showed us a different way to live.
Jesus became the ultimate scapegoat when he died on the cross. In this world-changing act, he exposed the forces of violence by which our societies operate, and welcomed in a new kingdom, a new way to relate to one another, the way of love.
Through his life and teachings, Jesus turned the scapegoating system upside down. He lifted up the marginalized and ostracized. He embraced the outsider. He met the needs of the needy. He loved the unlovely. He healed the sick, supported the weak, celebrated the least, the lost and the last. But he also stood up to the authorities, the gatekeepers, the system of hierarchy and scapegoating which divided people into separate groups.
Jesus began a new kingdom.
As Jesus-followers, we are called to a radical, subversive position of nonviolent love. Not some passive, sit-on-your-hands-and-do-nothing position, but an attitude of identifying with the outsiders and scapegoats in our society, and boldly challenging the crowd in their thirst for violence. Our creative nonviolence is meant to expose the violence deep at the heart of our “civilized societies”.
This call to action is not without risk. Jesus was crucified by his own people group for preaching peace. Many leaders of nonviolence movements have been assassinated. Jesus was serious when he told us we would has to take up our cross daily if we were willing to follow in his footsteps.
In the midst of the hysteria and racism, I am encouraged.
I’m encouraged by the #WISH movement (Women In Solidarity with Hijabis), which emerged after Kate Leaney (from Welcome to Australia) wore a hijab for a week to identify with her Muslim friends. I am inspired by more than 70 Christian leaders (nuns and priests, Anglicans and Pentecostals, and every type of Christian in between) who have been arrested for sitting in politicians’ offices and politely asking when the children will be released from detention. I am excited that there are hundreds more from all denominations preparing to creatively demonstrate nonviolent love as part of the #LoveMakesAWay movement, despite the risks of taking on the system.
These brave people are exposing the heart of cruelty and violence in our system.
As Jesus followers, we don’t need to give in to fear, and we certainly don’t need to scapegoat other humans. Now is the time for us to stand in solidarity with the marginalized and scapegoated. Now is the time for us to befriend and defend Australian Muslims. Now is the time for us to reframe the conversation around asylum seekers, and stand up for the least of these.
Because Jesus shows us that where there is no way, love makes a way.