It’s a Shame

Jesus said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” – John 8:7-11 NRSV

It has been all over the headlines recently and in countless pictures floating around the internet: shame. From the release of thousands of users of the Ashley Madison website, to pictures of dogs with signs hung around their necks, shaming has become an everyday occurrence in 2015. Frankly, that worries me.

There is no doubt that shame can be a powerful tool to promote change. Jennifer Jacquet suggests that the power of shame is that it can be used by the powerless against the strong. She cites the Occupy Wall Street movement as an example. She says the movement was essentially a shaming campaign against the upper echelon of society, known as the 1%. The movement sought to bring to light practices and structures that the rest of society does not view as acceptable. Shaming has also been used to promote changes in attitudes toward Native Americans and other minority groups.

Jacquet says the power of shame is that it can be used to spark transformation at any scale. Shame can be used against governments and multi-national corporations just as effectively as against the individual. However, she also notes that “just because shame can be effective doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.”Jacquet explains that shaming is best-suited for use in situations where there is no obvious route to punishment or where there is a defined impact on boarder society. She says shame “should be reserved for bad behavior that affects most or all of us.”2

Is shaming acceptable behavior for Christians? Yes, and no. In the case of pets who soil the carpet every time the doorbell rings, probably not. Animals cannot feel shame in that way, so it is not about changing behavior as much as it is sharing our misery as pet owners with others. There is also the issue of power. Personally, I have a hard time when someone with power shames someone without power. Which is why I become so frustrated when I see similar shaming pictures of children. I can’t imagine how devastating it would be to have my picture posted on the internet with a sign around my neck, telling the world what mistake I’d made.

I believe the powerful shaming the powerless is an example of bullying. And bullying is never acceptable. Whether we believe it, or not, parents have a great deal of power in relationship to children. When shame leads to fear, I question how ethical it is as a way of encouraging transformation.

Before we throw out shaming altogether, however, we should consider the scripture above. In this passage Jesus turns the tables of shame. A group of men has gathered to stone a woman caught in adultery. This is a very public and likely fatal form of shaming. When Jesus arrives on the scene, however, the situation is transformed. Instead of the powerful men shaming a powerless woman, they are the target of the shame. Simply by inviting anyone without sin to throw the first stone, Jesus defuses the situation.

I think it is important to note one more piece of the equation. In this instance, Jesus does not shame the men. He does not say that they have sinned. He does not declare them unclean. Instead he simply invites them to assess themselves before throwing stones at someone else. In my experience, this is the best way to employ shame as a tool for transformation. Instead of publicly announcing their faults, Jesus boldly invites each person to reflect on their own shortcomings. Through the power of a question Jesus not only saved the life of a woman, but he opened the opportunity for transformation in the life of each man preparing to stone her as well.

Is shaming a powerful tool? Yes. But it has been said that with great power comes great responsibility. It is my prayer that our words and our actions will bring about much-needed transformation in the world. More than that, however, I pray that we will act with the grace and love of Jesus Christ.

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1
Zoë Corbyn, “Jennifer Jacquet: ‘The power of shame is that it can be used by the weak against the strong’” The Guardian. Accessed August 24, 2015.http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/06/is-shame-necessary-review

2Ibid.

 

Up Periscope!

We will be attempting to stream the sermon live on Periscope (periscope.tv or the app on your android or apple device) this morning. The username is @revalexruth. If everything goes as planned the video should be available on demand for 24 hours.

Hidden Trouble

At the recent General Assembly we passed a resolution which called upon all expressions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada to strive to become a people of welcome and support to all God’s children despite their mental health status; and providing information to support recovery, educating church members about mental health, and providing information on available resources in order that people affected by a mental illness, their loved ones, and caregivers will experience welcome, support and recovery.

One of the problems with mental illness is that it is nearly “invisible.” People who suffer from depression, or bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, or many other forms of mental illness look very much like you or I. As a matter of fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that one in five adults in America suffer from mental illness. One in five. If you figure our average weekly attendance at MCC, that means that around 15 of us are suffering from some form of mental illness. That’s substantial and eye-opening.

How do we, as a community of faith, respond to our friends and family? How do we provide welcome, support, and recovery?

I believe the first step in the journey is to do our part to remove the stigma against mental illnesses that exists in our culture. NAMI reports that nearly 50 percent of youth aged 8-15 with mental health issues did not receive treatment last year. When surveying adults that number goes up to 60 percent untreated. I cannot think of any other illness for which such abysmal treatment statistics would be tolerated.

These are our friends and family. Maybe it’s you. What you need to know is that you are loved. And there is help and hope.

If someone confides in you that they have a mental health diagnosis there are several things you can do to help. NAMI suggests: express your concern and sympathy, ask for more details about your friend’s diagnosis or concerns and how he or she is doing, make sure your friend knows you honestly care, ask what you can do to help, and educate yourself about mental health conditions and treatment options to become aware of the myths and facts of mental health conditions and to show your friend you care and want to help him or her.

As people of faith, it is important for us to be advocates for our friends and family who suffer with mental health issues. I was fortunate enough to receive some training in how to respond to those with mental health issues from NAMI a few years ago. I believe it would be a good idea for anyone in our community of faith, or from the community at large, who are interested in learning how to help and advocate for those with mental health diagnoses to receive some training as well. If you are interested in learning more, please let me know and if there is sufficient interest I will work toward hosting a NAMI training in the near future.