REV. JUSTIN HOYE, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Kansas City, North: Much like fire can be either devastating or enriching in its use, so too can shame. While shaming is often not the first tool we use in addressing a person’s sin, it certainly can be employed as a means to invoke healthy change.
Employing shame — again, like fire — demands prudence, because admonishment is a good thing that can be poorly implemented. Public shaming — from the pulpit — is probably an overreach if addressed at a particular person and his or her transgression.
Yet most of us can probably recount a look of disapproval from a parent, the somber expression, “I’m disappointed in you,” from a coach, or the scolding dismay of a physician who begs us to change our lifestyle lest we lose our life prematurely.
These interventions are painful and disquieting, and can sometimes be internalized in ways that lead to despondency. Shame can be debilitating if one is simply left there in his or her exposed condition.
When shame exists in an environment of trust, though, sharp words and uneasy feelings are situated with the invitation of forgiveness and hope. It is a reasonable expectation that a religious congregation should be a place where both admonishment is extended (insisting on the destructive nature of sin), as well as the path to restoration.
One who truly loves us, then, will never simply use shame as a means of ending sin in our life, but will also foster the space for reconciliation and a renewal of life.
REV. PAUL ROCK, Second Presbyterian Church, Kansas City: Shame works amazingly well. It’s a razor sharp spur we can dig into another’s soul quite easily and with fabulous effect.
That’s why church leaders as well as friends, parents and just about all of us use it when we really want to get at someone. And, in the short run, as an occasional kick in the pants or a pointed reminder, shame can be effective. However, when employed over time, the effects of shame are toxic. Shame is isolating, life-depleting and, sadly, contagious.
When we are shamed we tend to release our discomfort by leveling shame on others, and the sinful, vindictive cycle continues. So, we leaders should keep that in mind when tempted to use shame to stop others from “sinning.”
In fact, one way to understand the brutality of the crucifixion is to see it as humanity’s propensity to shame and blame — piled upon an innocent Christ.
When shamed, God in Christ chose not to retaliate with the same, but to receive it, absorb its destructive power, and through his resurrection, defeat the destructive cycle and provide a more effective way to mitigate our sinful tendencies. The way of forgiveness.
As author Brene Brown has said, shame whispers to our souls, “You are not smart … you are not beautiful … you are not talented enough.” Shame locks us away in self doubt and effectively keeps us from accepting forgiveness, for ourselves and others.
If we want to persuade others to stop sinning, shame will work — it’s just not how God works.
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