Does Shame Play a Role?

We live in a guilt and shame culture. That might not make sense from one perspective because it seems that no one feels guilt or shame about anything they do anymore.  That's not what I'm talking about.  We employ guilt and shame as tools to cause others to conform to what we believe.  Consider these buzz-words:

  • body shaming
  • race shaming
  • weight shaming

There are ten thousand more.  Essentially, whatever you don't like in someone else, you can turn into a form of shaming.  Our culture basically tries to bring reform through shaming people into change.  Shame generates guilt that leads to conformity.

It's actually ironic. Since people apparently have no shame, why would we think shaming them will be effective?  And then we turn around and call out the shamers by labeling them bullies - which is an attempt to shame them into conformity as well.

It's in the Church too.

The one place on earth where you'd think shame has no place is actually not immune.  Church folks are expert shamers.  But, unlike the world, we spiritualize it and sprinkle it with faith-language for some added spice. The most self-righteous among us even try to shame the world - a group of people who are unable to understand spiritual truth - and push them farther away from the Gospel in doing so.  But just within the family, we dole out shame with the best of them.

  • "Oh, you vaccinate... we trust the Lord for healing."
  • "Oh, your kids go to public school... we homeschool and teach our kids the Bible."
  • "Oh, you don't vaccinate... the Lord gave us vaccines, so we're going to use them."
  • "Oh, you homeschool your kids... we want our kids to be lights for Jesus in dark places."

I'm not picking a fight on these issues. I'm just using them because they're real - at times hurtful - examples of how I've witnessed shaming happen within the Body of Christ.

The question is this: why are we using shame as a weapon?  Didn't Christ's death destroy shame?  Do shame and guilt have any role in how we live in community with each other?

Yes and no.

Godly Grief vs. Worldly Grief

"As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." 2 Corinthians 7:9-10
Shame plays a role in our repentance. If you never feel shame for the sins you commit, you'll never understand the need to turn away from those sins.  In as much as shame leads you to repentance, it has it's place.  The whole reason Paul said what he said in the verse above is because one of his letters to Corinth caused a lot of grief in that church.  Essentially, he called them out on their sins, they felt the shame, and they repented because the shame they felt came from godly grief.  Thus, he rejoiced because their grief led them to repentance.

However.  There's the shame that comes from having your sins revealed, and then there's the shame that people try to produce in you through self-righteous comparison.  This kind of shame has no place.  When someone successfully shames you into a change of their liking, the grief you feel is not godly grief, it's worldly.  Paul says worldly grief leads to death. The shame people use as a weapon of conformity cannot lead to life because you're enslaving yourself to that person's opinion of you, and not to Jesus.

It's in this way that Christ's death on the cross has destroyed shame. Satan himself cannot shame you successfully if you understand who you are in Jesus Christ. You've been completely forgiven, accepted, and welcomed into the Father's house as a son. No amount of shaming from Satan or from people will ever change that reality. Therefore shaming is powerless for the person who knows who they are in Christ Jesus.

The shame people use as a weapon of conformity cannot lead to life because you're enslaving yourself to that person's opinion of you, and not to Jesus.

The guilt and shame culture, where someone tries to produce shame in another, has no place in the Body of Christ. There's a difference in loving someone enough to humbly and gently show them their sin, and someone selfishly trying to change people to fit into their tiny world. The former is for their spiritual growth and devotion to Jesus. The latter is from the need to control everyone in your life.  The former enslaves you to Christ, which brings life.  The latter enslaves you to the opinions of others, which brings death.

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