Friday, September 29, 2017

The Christian Shame Culture

The shame culture in which we live has infiltrated the church, affecting our attitudes to those we call, "brothers and sisters."  Let me explain.  Traditionally, shame cultures were driven by society as a collective, governing how the group viewed each of its individuals by their adherence to, or rejection of that culture's ideals and principles.  if you followed the culture, you could become a person of honor.  If not, you were a person of shame.  Many Asian and Mid-Eastern cultures followed and still follow this.  The peoples of the Old Testament were usually part of honor-shame cultures.

In the past, America was more of an individualistic society.  The history of the Old West with its gun slingers and pioneer settlers demonstrates this.  We praised the independent thinkers, inventors, and entrepreneurs among us.  Today we are turning into a shame culture, and a distorted version of it.  The internet has helped create this distortion.  Speaking of recent college life, David Brooks wrote in 2016,

"Many people carefully guard their words, afraid they might transgress one of the norms that have come into existence. Those accused of incorrect thought face ruinous consequences. When a moral crusade spreads across campus, many students feel compelled to post in support of it on Facebook within minutes. If they do not post, they will be noticed and condemned." †

Shaming Different Ideas
As Christians we often shame others over differences such as doctrine, which Bible version to read, or the latest political issue.  We are so concerned with being right that we demonize anyone who disagrees with our tribe's belief system.  Sometimes we try to decide if someone is friend or foe, based on their view of free will versus predestination, for example.  Yes, "Whosoever will, let him come." And yes, "You did not choose me, but I chose you."  They're both in the Bible.  Seems like we could just obey the commandment to make disciples, whether it's their idea to follow Jesus, or His.

Another passage that has caused contention for years is 1Corinthians 12.  We argue whether these gifts are still in use today, whether this is a complete list, how we should, if we should seek these gifts.  The whole point of the passage was unity.  Look at the passage with the unity parts highlighted and see if you can decipher its meaning:
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.1Corinthians 12:7-11

Paul is driving at the unity of the Spirit and then continues with the unity of the body of Christ.  His discourse culminates in one of the most famous chapters in the Bible, called the love chapter:  1 Corinthians 13.  Rather than trying to decide if someone is one of "us" or one of "them," we should be more concerned that each of us is one of His.  In Joshua 5:13-14, Joshua discovered that the angel of the Lord he encountered wasn't on his side, or his enemy's; he was on the Lord's side.

Shaming Those Who Fall 
Another type of shaming in which we've participated is shaming those among us who have sinned.  I'm not talking about those who make no profession of faith in Christ.  Sinners will sin.  That shouldn't surprise us.  The Word of God actually makes a case for shaming an unrepentant sinner, who calls themselves a brother or sister, but continues to openly commit sins (1Corinthians 5:11).  Jesus' teaching on the subject in Matthew 18 instructs us to go through a multi-step process of warning them of their fault.  If they continue in their sin we are to stop associating with them (2Thessalonians 3:14-15).

The purpose for not associating with someone who has continued to sin unrepentantly is not to kick them to the curb and wait for the garbage collector to take them from our sight.  It is to make them ashamed of what they have done, and open them up to the Holy Spirit's conviction, so that they might repent, trade in their agenda for the Lord's, and be restored as a fellow brother or sister.  Someone we bring through such a "prodigal son" experience will have an even greater appreciation for God's mercy and our desire for their best.

In his first letter to the Christians at Corinth, Paul instructed them not to associate with an immoral brother.  In his second letter, Paul told them that the punishment inflicted on this person was sufficient.  He then commanded the believers to:
  1. Forgive him
  2. Comfort him
  3. Reaffirm your love for him
We understand the first part of the process, because distancing and disassociating from others is natural.  Scripture requires a complete process, culminating in restoration of the repentant.  In the passage above, Paul pushes the envelope on restoration.  Comfort him?  Paul, you want us to comfort the man who did what he did?  of course we must possess love for him, in order to reaffirm it.  By the way, we are commanded to love one another (John 13:34).

I have been on both ends of restoration.  I understand the tendency to hold an offense against someone I'm supposed to reconcile.  I've also felt the sting of public avoidance by someone who used to call me their brother in the Lord.  Thank God for the Pastors and other believers who have demonstrated to me love-based restoration.  We all need to do better in this area! 

Paul pushed the Corinthians to go beyond their natural tendencies based on the God of forgiveness (Psalm 86:5), comfort (2Corinthians 1:3-4), and restoration (1Peter 5:10.  Those who only know how to disassociate, but can't follow through with reconciliation cause division.   Scripture considers division a sin, like any other, with the command to warn a divisive person, and then stop associating with them.  Shame the shammers, who can't also reconcile (Titus 3:10-11).

Paul and Barnabas argued about whether to restore John Mark to missionary work after he had deserted them during a previous mission trip.  They had such a strong disagreement that they parted ways (Acts 15:39).  In this case, Paul, who preached restoration, failed to follow his own teaching.  Barnabas, his name means, "son of encouragement," took John Mark with him, restoring him to ministry.  Eventually, John Mark's writings about the life of Jesus became the Gospel According to Mark.

Our View of God
Our view of reconciliation stems from our view of God.  Do we project onto God our own desire to see those who do wrong crash and burn?  If we aren't renewing our minds, we tend to want others to suffer the consequences, or reap what they sow, in the biblical language with which we're so familiar.  I do believe everything the Bible says about the God of justice and truth.  Psalm 96:13 says the Lord will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with his truth (Book of Common Prayer, 1979).  That should make us tremble and strive to live our lives for the Lord, as we continue to trust Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross that makes us holy in God's eyes.

However, we are called to to, "Follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2).  This means we are to emulate God in our view of each other.
  • God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love (Psalm 103:8)
  • God wants the wicked to turn from their ways and live (Ezekiel 18:23)
  • God sent his Son to save, not condemn (John 3:17)
  • God does not want anyone to perish (2Peter 3:9)
  • God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1Timothy 2:4)
Is this the standard by which we view each other?  Or, do we relish the pain someone's sin or stupidity has lead them to?  Do we judge the poor and sick as somehow responsible for their own lot in life?  I know that behaviors have consequences, but you can't correlate each person's misfortune with their personal sins.  Hugh Hefner not only lived lavishly, but 5 years longer than Mother Teresa.  The author of the great hymn, Rock of Ages was 38 when he died.  David Brainerd, missionary to several Native American tribes, died at only 29.

The sun shines and the rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous.  Sometimes the good die young and the evil linger.  Life's not fair; at least this one isn't.  For those who don't understand grace, God can seem unfair as well.  The Master who, in Matthew 20, paid wages to those who worked all day long, and then paid the same wages to those who showed up an hour before "quittin' time" doesn't sit well with a shame culture.  The hard workers even tried to shame the late-comers.  "Those who were hired last worked only one hour" (Matthew 20:12).

Those who get a revelation of God's character, will understand why the late-comers were paid as much as the full-timers.  They will rejoice that Jesus responded to everyone who appealed to his mercy, including the thief on the cross.  Jesus promised this condemned man paradise simply for acknowledging that which opens the way for all of us:  Jesus, you are Lord, and I'm not."  We're all offered the same hope, with the same requirement.  When we walk through that door, we all become part of the same family.

Warning and Hope
 Jesus says if we don't forgive others God will not forgive us (Matthew 6:15).  One of the characters in a Luke 19 Parable has a distorted view of the master, thinking him a harsh man.  When the master returns from a trip he says to this servant, "I will judge you by your own words" (Luke 19:22).  He then deals harshly with this servant.  Many in the church are harsh judges because that's how they view God.  I wonder if God will judge, by their own view of him, those who never tried to forgive, comfort, reaffirm their love for, and restore the fallen.  He might say, "You didn't think I was a God of second chances, neither will I give you one."  Restoration must become a greater part of the church!

We don't have to continue to follow the flow of our surrounding culture.  We can renew our minds with the Word of God, and put it into practice, showing the world an example by taking our own people from shame to restoration.  James 5:19-20 says if we turn a brother or sister from the error of their way we save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

God has called us to hold one another accountable and rebuke those in sin.  He has also called us to a ministry of reconciliation, to bring hope to those who have repented as we gently restore them to their place in the kingdom and family of God.  We must push against our distorted shame culture and follow the Lord's commandment to love one another.

† Brooks, David. “The Shame Culture.” The New York Times, 15 Mar. 2016,

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The Christian Shame Culture

The shame culture in which we live has infiltrated the church, affecting our attitudes to those we call, "brothers and sisters."...