Rev. Dr. Jennifer Garcia Bashaw, to talk about themes from her new book, Scapegoats: The Gospel through the Eyes of Victims

“Seeing” with Rev. Dr. Jennifer Garcia Bashaw

~ing podcast Season 3, Episode 11
Full Episode Transcript

Season 3, Episode 11: “Seeing” with Rev. Dr. Jennifer Garcia Bashaw was released on March 14, 2023. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

We’re joined this week by author and professor, Rev. Dr. Jennifer Garcia Bashaw, to talk about themes from her new book, Scapegoats: The Gospel through the Eyes of Victims. Bashaw uses René Girard’s arguments to show that Jesus’s whole public ministry (not only his death) combats the marginalization of victims. These scapegoat stories work together to illuminate an essential truth of the Gospels–that Jesus modeled a reality in which victims become survivors and the marginalized become central to the kingdom.

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw, Mark Baker, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
It’s season three of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.   What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus?

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw  00:09
Why is this? You know, why is it those of us who claim to have Jesus at the core of our faith, don’t.. don’t act like him, you know? And so, as a person who loves the Gospels, I thought, I think the answer really is in how well we read Jesus’s story.

Ben Wideman  00:28
Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world. Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.  Hello, friends, welcome back to MennoMedia’s ~ing Podcast, we’re excited to be joined by Reverend Dr. Jennifer Garcia Bashaw. I’m excited especially for this one. While attending Fuller Seminary, I had the privilege of learning Greek with Jennifer and it’s fun now to come sort of full circle. I don’t know if it’s been… Yeah, it’s been about a decade since I was last in your classroom, Jennifer. It’s amazing to think about that. But the reason you’re here is you’ve got a new book out. It’s called Scapegoats: The Gospel Through the Eyes of Victims. It’s been out for just under a year. And when I saw the news of this book was coming out and read the title and the subtitle, I thought, boy, this is perfect for what we’re trying to do here on ~ing Podcast — to talk about how faith and theology can be made more practical in our lives. In your day to day, you’re an Assistant Professor of New Testament and Christian Ministry at Campbell University. So we know that you must be a fairly busy person and an author as well. You’re also a person who’s got a family. Thanks for taking the time to be here with us at ~ing Podcast.

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw  01:56
Yeah, sure, no problem.

Ben Wideman  01:59
There’s so much more to you. How do you introduce yourself these days?

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw  02:03
How do I introduce myself these days? I think being a teacher is a very core part of my personality. So I love teaching in a university setting with undergraduate students, because I really love getting them like at 18 years old and teaching them to read the Bible in healthy ways. For it, I mean, some of it has been already solidified in them, but not not so much as like a 35 year old. Right. Right. I can get them early. So I enjoy that. Other parts of my identity. Yes, I have a great family. My husband Carrie is the head of a nonprofit here in North Carolina that works for affordable housing for people to he I just love the kind of work that he does. And we have three sons, who are 1714 and 11 years old. Yeah, and yeah, I am ordained minister in American Baptist churches, but I you know, there’s no American Baptist over here where I live in North Carolina. So I end up you know, going and doing pulpit supply and stuff in CBF churches, sometimes the corporate of Baptist Fellowship churches, and non denominational churches and everything like that.

Ben Wideman  03:21
Fringe. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, cool. I can relate to that. Connecting with younger students, as a campus minister, that moment where students step away from home for the first time, just feel so significant, and, and that privilege really to walk with students at that time when they’re away from their families and trying to redefine who they are and what they believe it’s so significant, and to have people to walk with them and help them with what faith and theology can be. I think it’s so, so powerful. Thank you for the work that you do in that way. Thank you. I’m curious about this book project. What drew you to this book, and this particular topic?

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw  04:01
Well, I actually did work on Rene Girard in my dissertation. So way, way back when I was doing my PhD, I use Gerard in that, but I kind of didn’t do much with it after that. I mean, it didn’t publish my dissertation, because it was just felt totally impractical to me. You know, and, and so I said, I’ll, I’ll just wait and see if I want to do something with it. But over the years, when I’ve been teaching, and then, you know, being pretty active in different church environments and settings, I came to the point where I got really discouraged by the way that Christians were showing up in the world and not seeming to look like Jesus very much. You know, and I saw, of course, in my students, but you know, in churches as well. And I was asking the question, like, why is this you know, why is it those of us who claim to have Jesus at the at the core of our faiths? Don’t, don’t act like him that Every, you know, and so as a person who loves the Gospels, I thought, I think the answer really is in how well we read Jesus’s story. Right? I think that, in general, in churches, we don’t read the gospels, well, we don’t actually sort of immerse ourselves into the story and think about what kind of person Jesus was and what he taught and how what he modeled, agree, we tend to have this shortcut Christianity, where we just like pick little verses from Paul or whatever. And like, we focus on like, moralistic sort of things, instead of really trying to understand who Jesus was and how we can be more like Jesus. So it was like, you know, I really want to explore the Gospels, more in depth it but in a way that people can access it, like, I want to use good scholarship, but also I want to write it in a way that pastures and lay people, whatever could interact with it, and then I decided, I think I could actually use Rene Girard to, to kind of give a framework to it. So it was more a little more organized. And so yeah, that’s kind of why I decided to write the book.

Ben Wideman  06:09
I like that. I think even about some of the things that certain cherished traditions hold so dear, like the Apostles Creed, for instance, really doesn’t talk at all about Jesus life, right? tortured and died. And that’s it. That’s that sort of shortcut. theology that you’re talking about? This, this idea of scapegoats to I’m wondering if you could say something about its relevancy for this particular moment, we, we hear all the time about how we are increasingly more polarized than ever. And I think part of that polarization is finding scapegoats for the side that we are on, right? It’s figuring out who we are against, rather than what we’re for. Did the political context of this moment, also play into your direction at all?

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw  06:59
It did, but maybe in a little different way. I’m not seeing the term scape goat has become pretty broad, and we throw around a lot, you know, talking about different groups scapegoating one another, or you know, maybe even someone who’s a scapegoat in the family. But what Gerard has a pretty specific definition of scapegoat, and like, I’ll talk about it a little bit, and then I’ll talk about how that speaks to our contexts, I think. So Gerard was a French, he was he was a literary critic, actually first. And then he got into religious studies and sort of philosophical anthropology. So we pulled together a lot of different things. But his he has two main theories, and one is mimetic theory. And that theory is just the idea that we as human beings, tend to imitate one another. That’s like how we learn our culture and our language, you know, it’s not, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But what ends up happening is that we have such strong desire for what other people have, or what other people are that we kind of get in this conflict, conflictual relationship with other people, right. And so, he that, that happens in a society level, and so just like, the conflict grows in society, because of this mimetic conflict that we have, and then it comes to a point where it we sort of need an escape valve like and, and so he what he did it, he went and looked through ancient cultures, to kind of see, like, how did ancient cultures deal with the violence in their society, you know, they didn’t have as many complicated, you know, systems of law and things like that. And he found that what they would do is they would focus their violence and anger that they had for one another on to one person, usually, it was one person. And so then they would exile that person, or, or sometimes kill them. And that was like, a way to create like a temporary peace, you know, they turn all against one, and that kind of creates peace in the whole society. But what’s interesting about the scapegoats is they tended to be certain kinds of people, like societies will scapegoat people who are more on the margins, who are maybe a little bit outsiders like people who had come from other tribes, but were living in a tribe that was different from theirs. People whose voices aren’t heard people who don’t have like lots of family or friends, to stand up for them, right. So there won’t be any anybody saying, No, we shouldn’t do this. Right. So that’s who scapegoats tend to be. And I saw that the people who throughout history have been scapegoats. We’re getting even more intensely scapegoated, you know, in our political climate, so it wasn’t necessarily like groups or get groups like Democrats against Republicans or something like that. But it’s more that there was so much tension in our society, like we were blaming the groups that we always tend to blame the other outsiders, right? The women, people who were poor, the people who have sort of always served as scapegoats, were getting scapegoated more. And so I did, I did notice that in our moment for sure.

Ben Wideman  10:12
And that allows us then to see Christ in those who’ve been scapegoated, drawing that parallel. Is that sort of the idea then that to see, to see Christ as the scapegoat.

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw  10:23
Yeah, and is that exactly, that’s what Gerard finally comes to, as he looks through ancient texts and mythology and societies, he comes to the Hebrew Scriptures, and to the Christian New Testament, and he reads them, and he says, it feels like they’re doing something a little different than most societies do. We are actually telling the story of the scapegoats, like even throughout the Hebrew Bible, you’ll see stories of the people who are normally ignored the people who are normally scapegoats, right, I get tells a story about what happens to Abel, it tells a story of what Joseph’s brothers did to him, you know. And so the Scripture is focused on that. And then when we get to the New Testament, the Gospels are all about telling the story of not just scapegoats in society, but of Jesus as the scapegoat to end all scapegoats is what Gerard says that he shouldn’t be the scapegoat to end off scapegoat. Because if we really pay attention to what he did, and how society turned against him and sort of offered him up this innocent scapegoat, then we can realize that we do that all the time. And if we can have that realization, or that sort of unveiling or revealing about ourselves, then we can stop doing it. So that was the idea. It doesn’t actually play out that way in history, right? Christians continue to scapegoat even though we know that we’re doing it we know that scapegoating is wrong, and we see what happened to Jesus because of it. But we haven’t sort of internalized it in a way that that stops us from doing that.

Ben Wideman  12:26
Let me know if this question is needs to be reworked, because still forming maybe, as I’m, as I’m thinking about it, but I had an experience recently where someone I was interacting with was trying to say, again, as a person, an American with a lot of privilege, he was persecuted, because he was a Christian, because he felt like in this moment in time, society is against believers, that sort of thing. And maybe what you’re doing here and providing a better term for what a scapegoat truly is, is helping prevent some of that, but is there a danger in in claiming that we are scapegoats when we’re not?

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw  13:09
Yeah, no, there’s absolutely a danger in that. And I think you give a good example of of that. Normally, the scapegoats that are sort of patterned into be scapegoats that throughout history have been scapegoats are the people without power. They are the people without voice. So in our current American context, Christians do not fit that, that description, right, Christians are not powerless, we actually have quite a bit of power in society. And so so there are like, probably discreet instances where people scapegoat Christians, you know, it’s on a societal level, that’s not happening here. It could happen in other places the world. Sure, but not since we’ve had power. And so you can kind of see that when you go back in church history, because in early on, the early Christians were scapegoated by the Roman Roman Empire, right? They were scapegoats. Nero, you know, we, we think, burned part of Rome and blamed it on the Christians. You know, they just became the scapegoat of society until they got power. So we’re getting you know, close to Constantine and everything. When they started getting power, then then they became the ones that would that would scapegoat others. So there, there definitely is a power dynamic that plays out and

Ben Wideman  14:27
Who needs to read this book that you fit together? Who are you writing it for? I guess when you were putting these words down?

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw  14:36
Yeah. Ideally, like I wanted to write it, so any layperson could read it. And I think I think at some points it is that I have been told like it is a little dense and so maybe some people who are lay people who aren’t used to reading that kind of thing might might find it challenging, but then I started realizing that really the best audience the one that will probably get the most out of it are pastors. I think I wrote it sort of on a pasture level. And then my hope is that pastors will read it and then figure out a way to use it in their congregations, you know, whether it’s like a small group or reading group or something like that, but just to start asking questions in your own in their own congregation, like, do we escape school people? Do we participate in this? You know, cycle of scapegoating? That’s that’s around us in society, or do we center the voices of those people who are are more often scapegoated? You know, just just to explore, like, what, what you as a congregation are doing in the world when it comes to scapegoating and victims?

Ben Wideman  15:39
Yeah. Well, I, I feel like there is a significant part of our Christian tradition that not only streams like it, like we were talking about before, but but makes so much about being a Christian is about the afterlife are focuses on life after death, and forgets to make daily living part of that, too. And so I really appreciate that, that nudge to a bit more practicality here, like what is what is this gospel message actually have for how are we living, how we’re living our daily lives each day? I appreciate that. I think I’m imagining what you’re saying of pastors, trying to implement it in their own congregations that that has to lead to a more practical kind of grassroots way to imagine how we can see ourselves in the story, moving and beyond perhaps like, like, a holy sacred text that doesn’t have anything to say to our lives to like, this is actually something we can learn from.

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw  16:41
Yes, absolutely. And hope, and hopefully, it would help spur people on to some sort of action, I try it the way I like divide the book up, you know, I have, of course, the sort of analysis, literary analysis of different gospel stories, I have that but then I also have a glimpse into church history and sort of how the church has scapegoated, but then I also at the end, say, okay, so how can we prevent this from happening? What are some, like practical things that we can do to make sure that we are hearing the voices of victims, and we can, we’re not creating more more scapegoats, you know, in the way that we run our churches, or the way we live our lives on a daily basis are what we what we prioritize, you know, we, we should be the people who are lifting up the voices of victims, who are, you know, drawing people who are on the periphery into the center, because that’s what Jesus did. Right. And so I look at really the way he interacted with the scapegoats are victims of his society. And it’s very countercultural, very radical for his culture. And it is an artist as well.

Ben Wideman  17:53
This is challenging work. I used finding communities that were you really seeing a lot of hope in the in the way that this is being practically implemented today.

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw  18:04
Yes, I think so. What’s interesting to me is that the ones who are doing this sort of work, are the churches that are on the periphery of the American church, if that makes sense. You know, because like, Southern Baptist or whatever, like dominate, a lot, evangelical churches in general dominate the American church landscape. And they have a hard time hearing this message, it seems like they have a hard time thinking they need the message, maybe. But you know, smaller sort of denominations and churches that I think are doing this work of, if you want to call it anti scapegoating, you know, but there’s so many things under the overarching rubric of anti scapegoating, like, you know, anti racism work is in there, you know, anti sexism, anti ableism, like all the isms that we talk about, they have to do with the idea of, you know, the people that we we tend to scapegoat. So yeah, I’m hoping that this book gets out there more to, you know, all different kinds of churches. I’m going to be doing a Lenten series with a church in Arkansas, of all places. On my book, and so I’m interested to see how that works. But this church already does a lot of work, sort of social gospel work. And they so you know, they’re the kind of people that maybe don’t need to hear

Ben Wideman  19:26
This message. Makes sense to them. Yeah.

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw  19:30
It makes sense to them. But no, I’m glad I’m glad to do that with them. And but I just My hope is that more people especially I had hoped to get some of the evangelical like readers. I don’t know if you know, me being a female Bible interpreter might turn them off already. Or if I use the F word feminism in the book, you know, maybe that’s good. I tried in a way to like speak since I grew up in an evangelical setting to speak their language. You know, I don’t know if evangelicals are picking up the book or not?

Ben Wideman  20:05
Well, we assume most of our audience comes from the Anabaptist, or peace church tradition, I think they’d probably be in your wheelhouse as well. But friends, I really encourage you to go check this book out. It’s available now, wherever you wherever you find your books, escaped goats the gospel through the eyes of victims. For those who are excited about learning more, where do you direct them? Do you have a place people can follow your work or place to point them?

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw  20:31
Yeah, I’m not so important that I have like a website or anything. But I do welcome people to follow me on Facebook or Instagram. I do tweet sometimes, but not that much. But also, if you want to hear more from me it really if you just put my name in, in Google Search, Jennifer Garcia Shaw, I’m the only one I think. So like different videos of things that I’ve done, will will pop up and maybe some articles that I’ve written or whatever.

Ben Wideman  20:57
So Jennifer, thank you so much for taking the time today to be with us to share just a little bit about who you are and the work that you’ve done. I really think it’s a gift and an offering to the church to to continue to reimagine what faith can be, and how can we be practical for our lives. Thank you. Thank you. Next week on the podcast, we’re joined by Professor Dr. Mark D. Baker, to talk about his new book centered set Church.

Mark Baker  21:27
And it was fascinating that people who weren’t in the church, when I asked them what you needed to do to become a Christian. They didn’t say, Oh, you need to acknowledge your sins, ask Jesus forgiveness. And what they said was you need to, you know, stop drinking, you need to, you know, get get married, if you’re not, you know, if you’re just living together, I mean, they sit and then you can go and so. So I would say to a person that’s comfortable in their bounded setting, to not just think of themselves, but to think of what is their their boundedness, communicating to others outside their lines.

Ben Wideman  22:09
As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at