How Shame Drives Us From Christ

This story came up in my newsfeed today. I am taking a sick day today, but there is so much wrong here, and it is so prevalent, that I wanted to make a few comments.

For some reason, Evangelical America has decided that shame is an effective way to battle sin. My whole life, I have heard that “Israel forgot how to blush” (Jer. 6:15) which led to their destruction. Therefore (so it is taught) when we catch someone in some kind of sin, the best thing we can do for them is publicly shame them so that they won’t sin any more.

This is actually practiced in so many churches, but it seems to always be selectively applied. The only people I have ever heard of being publicly shamed like this – forced to stand before the whole church, or the whole school, and confess their sins – are teenage girls who are found to be pregnant. I find it abhorrent, and contrary to the gospel of  Christ. And yet, it still seems to be the consistent practice of Evangelical America.

The article linked above does an excellent job in its critique and how it actually encourages abortion. But there are a few theological issues as well.

First, to clarify the Jeremiah passage, the prophet was not addressing those with tender consciences who needed comfort and hope, already plagued with guilt. He was speaking to the hardened, oppressive, idolatrous leaders who were casting their children into the fire, crushing the poor and the widows, and abusing and destroying without any twinges of conscience whatsoever. Jeremiah is rebuking their hardness of heart and was not expecting any repentance from them. It was not written to teach us that shame is an appropriate corrective to sin but to warn us of those with “seared consciences”. There are those who can do the most horrific things and feel no pains of guilt whatever. To apply this passage solely to teenagers found pregnant is simply abusive.

There is no biblical warrant for public confession of private sins. And, no, sex before marriage is not a sin against the whole school – or the whole church, for that matter.

Even in the Old Covenant, before the Gospel of Jesus Christ was fully revealed, two kids who got pregnant before marriage was not considered the worst imaginable sin that must be publicly exposed and shamed. The boy was either to provide a dowry and marry the girl. Or if the father thought that marriage was a bad idea, the boy was to provide a dowry and leave town.  Neither one was stoned or publicly shamed.

That being said, it might be good for us to remember our first parents after their first sin. Shame drove them into the bushes, hiding from the face of God. It was the voice of God that lovingly drew them out of the bushes. “Adam, where are you?”

They didn’t die. God told them the truth, but he didn’t shame them. Rather, he provided for them coverings, pointing to the perfect sacrifice of His Son, to be revealed in due time. Now that the gospel has been revealed to us, we know that the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ covers our sin and our shame and brings us out of hiding. That is what being a Christian is. We live openly and honestly, not seeking to cover our shame by shaming others, but by coming again and again to the cross. Why an organization that calls itself Christian would drive sinners into the bushes is beyond my understanding.

The kind of “Christianity” practiced by so many, which publically shames young girls for sin, is not the Christianity of the Bible. Shame is intolerable to the human spirit and must be covered. We have only two options: Cover with fig leaves of our own making, or come to Christ for what he has offered us. When we come to Christ, shame is taken away so that we might stand before God and one another. When we try to cover our own shame, we increase it. We may temporarily feel better, but eventually, the shame returns.

The worst part of what happened to this young woman is that she learned about a false Christ – a Jesus who shames sinners, who turns an angry and harsh face on those who confess and repent, who demands his pound of flesh before he offers peace. She was taught that Jesus first ridicules and gleefully watches us weep before he grudgingly offers forgiveness. She was taught that even after she goes through all of that, Jesus is still ashamed to be seen in public with her. She was taught that Jesus was ashamed to be her God, ashamed of her and her baby!

No wonder the young people are leaving the church in droves! They aren’t leaving the Church of Jesus Christ, they are leaving the Church of the Blind Leaders of the Blind.

Jesus came to call us out of hiding. To offer covering for our shame by taking it upon himself. He came, not to ridicule and mock us, but to bear all of that shame and guilt and take it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Heb 2:11 ESV)

Jesus offers salvation, not shame, to all who come to him in faith. Shame is reserved for those who refuse to come, who refuse to repent. Shame is reserved for the Day of Judgment, but it has no place in the Gospel.

How should the church respond then when a young girl is found to be pregnant?

First, reach out with love and support. Do not pretend that sin is not sin, but respond to it honestly according to scripture. I would hope that the pastor and elders have forged an open relationship with this girl before this happened, so that she will feel safe with them, because there are some important questions. Was this assault? Who is the father? Did she feel compelled? Was there a power imbalance?

If this is simply a boyfriend/girlfriend situation that got out of hand, they will need counseling and help to deal with the shame and guilt that they already feel. Otherwise, if they get married, they will carry that shame and guilt into their marriage bed, which will be damaging to the “one-flesh” relationship. But those are topics that are far bigger than can be addressed here.

But more importantly than all of this, they need to know again the gospel of Jesus Christ. He offers his perfect righteousness without shame, without reproach, without grudging, to all who come to him. No strings, no penance, no public ridicule. This is what the free offer of the gospel IS. It’s about time we got it right.



Filed under Gospel, Sin and Grace

17 responses to “How Shame Drives Us From Christ

  1. Amen! Amen, indeed. Shame drives us from Christ and in Christ there is no condemnation. Shame is also one of the least effective ways to control human behavior. Shame is often the very fuel that keeps addiction going, abusive marriages, eating disorders, whatever unhealthy muck we find ourselves trapped in.

    Christ came to set the captives free, “despising the shame” on our behalf. Shame changes nothing, but grace sure does. Grace changes everything.

    • AMEN, IB! Thanks for re-blogging this it as it touched my heart and I wrote to the Principal in a loving and testimonial way to PLEASE let her graduate with her class….although it may be too late…..what a travesty. Now to support her!

  2. Reblogged this on See, there’s this thing called biology….

  3. Lea

    I love that you brought up the old testament penalties, because many people talk and act like this action should be treated not just the same as adultery, but worse. Adulterers are coddled and forgiven, while teenage girls are shamed. Pathetic.
    The real problem to them is not the sin, but the public nature of it. The same church covered up sexual abuse of children for years. The same type of people tell victim to hush, because it’s all about keeping sin private.

  4. Sorry, but this article is attacking a straw man. Did you miss the line in the original report you linked to that said, “the support she received from her parents and church made all the difference”?
    Because one school responded as they did does not make this a problem of “Evangelical America.” You are making up a villain here that simply does not exist as you have described it.
    In fact, I’d say many in “Evangelical America” have forgotten how to blush—how to repent, how to acknowledge that we have fallen short of the glory of God. We are following closely behind the world with our “that’s the way I am, so I just need to accept it, and call it beautiful” attitude.
    No, I don’t think we are marching unmarried, pregnant teens up front of the church and crying, “For shame.” But maybe that’s happened in your church. It hasn’t happened in mine.

    • I have seen it over and over and over again. It is not an isolated issue, or I would not have written this. The EXCEPTION, for which I thank God, is the response of this young woman’s church. If you have not seen it happen in your circles, then be thankful for that. The rest of us have, over and over again.

      • Sean, I’ve seen the opposite over and over. I’ve attended baby showers, at church or put on by members of a church or hosted by a pastor, for unmarried women who were pregnant. I know of Bible studies held for unwed mothers in shelters that do far more than provide physical support for them. Perhaps your criticism belongs to your town or your region. But it is not an accurate reflection of “American Evangelicalism.”
        I am genuinely sorry that you haven’t seen the love and forgiveness and mercy of God at work in the body of Christ. Believe me. It’s awesome to behold.

      • The church I pastor is not at all as you describe. If your church is as you describe, then I am not sure why you are so defensive. Shouldn’t you want every church to be as yours is? Shouldn’t you also be appalled that EVEN ONE TIME a young woman was publicly shamed instead of ministered to? Why do you feel the need to admonish me and dismiss what I wrote on the one hand, and then agree with me on it at the same time? But I don’t argue on line with strangers. If you disagree, OK. If you agree, OK. Could it possibly be that we have different experiences and different backgrounds?
        Thank you for your comments. I won’t engage again.

      • Sam, I see I incorrectly identified you as “Sean.” Sorry about that.

        I certainly don’t want to argue about this issue either. I’m very much against “church bashing” and the idea that nothing evangelicals do is enough or quite right, so I guess I read your article and the one you linked to in that light. As it happens, I think a lot of Christians are living examples of Christ’s love. To suggest that “Evangelical America” is all about shaming, and that the only “pet sin” we target is sex outside marriage, simply is not consistent with what I’ve observed first hand. For the record, I was referencing three different groups of Christians, not just my church. I guess I’m “defensive” for Christendom because I see the love of Christ on display over and over. Do we love perfectly? No. But neither do we fit a paradigm in which we as Evangelical Americans are all about shaming young women who are pregnant out of wedlock. I just want the record set straight, and I thank you for the gracious opportunity to do so. You could just as easily have deleted my comments.

    • Lea

      “No, I don’t think we are marching unmarried, pregnant teens up front of the church and crying, “For shame.” ”

      I know a girl who had this happen. Last year.

      • Lea, I didn’t mean to imply that it doesn’t happen, but I don’t think that’s standard operating procedure with “American Evangelicals.” BTW, that someone confesses sin publicly, isn’t wrong. Crying “shame” instead of “the blood of Jesus Christ has paid your debt” is a problem. Sweeping other sins under the rug is a problem.

  5. Titus2Homemaker

    Well said.
    And while I agree with Rebecca that “church-bashing” may be concerning, it’s just as concerning to ignore things that are very widespread issues in the Church, because we have been blessed to not see them in our own small circles. I have seen, again and again, in a variety of fellowships all over the nation, a lack of love in numerous contexts. The shaming of young girls for being pregnant (which seems to be about the pregnancy and image, not about the sin that preceded it), absence of support for the chronically ill (often accompanied by — yes, shaming — of these individuals for not “doing” as much as others think they should), the rejection of special needs children and their families…
    It isn’t inherently “church-bashing” to express our grief that these things *do* characterize much of “evangelical America,” rather than the love for one another that Jesus said would show that we’re His disciples, and call the Church to repentance. When one part of the Body suffers, we all suffer. I am *thankful* for the pockets of real love and grace we see scattered around the nation. But I’m frustrated by the seeming blinders that many in these pockets have on, assuming their experience is normative for all and expecting us to sit down and shut up while we watch the Body of Christ self-destruct.

    • It’s a painful issue,isn’t it? I think what grieves me the most is that there are people driven away from the church and sometimes from Christ Himself, because of this kind of spiritual abuse. We are the church, I am the church,in the sense that we people are the Body of Christ and must do better to actually minister to fallen people, because that’s who we all are, fallen people. If any of us were able to actually do it on our own, we wouldn’t need a Savior.

      • Titus2Homemaker

        “If any of us were able to actually do it on our own, we wouldn’t need a Savior.”

        Amen to that.

  6. Reblogged this on Smart

  7. Pingback: How Shame Drives Us From Christ - The Aquila Report

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