Is Christianity a Religion of Shame?

Even though I disagree with the LGBTQ+ movement, I try to cultivate relationships with people of that persuasion. It is often uncomfortable. Because I believe every person is made in the image of the God, I try to treat every human being I meet with dignity and respect. And I try to listen to their arguments against my beliefs. I hope they know I am trying to speak the truth in love. You may be one of my friends or acquiantances like that, and I’m glad you have come to read this post. I hope you will take time to listen to me even as I take time to listen to you.

Today I would like to address one of the main accusations the LGBTQ+ community levels at Christianity. It goes like this: “Christianity makes some valid points, but when it comes to sexual liberties, Christianity is a religion of shame. You need to incorporate the good stuff in the Bible (being loving, showing acceptance) and toss out the bad (condemning people who don’t agree with you).”

A Shame-Free World?

I’d like to begin by defining “shame.” As best I understand it, when people accuse Christians of shaming others, they mean we manipulate others by holding them to a standard, then making them feel bad if they don’t reach that standard. If someone fails to conform to a moral standard where sex is only appropriate in the context of a marriage between one man and one woman for life, then they are ruthlessly shamed.

I would like to ask a question at this point—is a shame-free world even possible? The underlying assumption behind the call for Christianity to stop shaming is that all shame is bad. But I don’t think people in the LGBTQ+ community really believe this. Let me share an example.

I live in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Ten days ago I opened Twitter and read this statement from my state governer, Tom Wolf:

Governer Wolfe’s tweet was in response to a conversation I won’t get into right now, but my basic point is that the governer held up a standard. He claims if I believe it is wrong for people to change their gender, and I call them by their original gender, then I am speaking with hatred and such speech is unnacceptable. In other words, he said “You should be ashamed of yourself.” Shame occurs any time an individual violiates a set standard, whether or not that standard is correct.

Let me go a little bit deeper. Recently arguments have surfaced from dark corners of the internet for pedophelia to be accepted in society. Why? Because, in line with the logic of our current moral revolution, pedophiles are claiming they should not be judged for being attracted to children. It’s their identity. Most I know from the LGBTQ+ community seem to condemn this argument. Why? They agree with Christians that child predators have violated a standard. They would agree (I hope) that child predators “should be ashamed of themselves.”

Eliminating the presence of shame can never be possible in a morally-charged universe. It is the way a society approves or disapproves of moral standards. The only question is this: whose morality will rule? Let me explain Christianity’s answer.

The Usefulness of Shame

I invite you to go back with me to very beginning. In the Garden of Eden, God provided Adam and Eve with everything they could possibly desire. But he gave them one command, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and took the fruit, they violated his standard. In this sense, God did not shame them, they actually brought shame upon themselves. After they realized their wrongdoing, “they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Gensis 2:7) then hid from God.

Their actions point to the intensely relational nature of Christianity. Shame does not come from merely violating some standard “out there”—it is betraying another. Shame can be sumed up with words like these—traitor, liar, deceiver. Though moral standards regarding sex and marraige have plummeted in American society, we all still recognize the evil of one person cheating on another. Adam and Eve cheated on God based on the lie that God was holding something good back from them.

And that, I think, may be the greatest problem with accusing Christianity of being a religion of shame. In essence, we buy the same lie Adam and Even bought. We accuse God of being manipulative, of holding back good from us, of using shame as a tactic to bend his creatures into submission. But God is not so small nor so weak as to resort to such measures. In his glorious beauty and perfect holiness, he does not need us. He can accomplish whatever he desires whether we agree to it or not. Yet in his mercy and compassion he actually stooped to clothe the shame Adam and Eve brought on themselves when they betrayed him. Then he promised to send a Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who would clothe us in robes of righteousness (see Zechariah 3:1-5). God promised, by the death of his Son, to cover the shame all of us had brought upon ourselves.

So I thank God for shame. By that, I mean the shame I have personally experienced for my sin. If I speak harshly to my children, I should be ashamed. If I fail to love my wife, I should be ashamed. Shame is the warning indicator on my spiritual dashboard that tells me something is wrong. Shame drives me to seek forgiveness in Christ.

But what if I reverse the moral standard, choose to betray Christ, and become ashamed of him and his words? His words are very clear.

For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words
in this adulterous and sinful generation,
of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed 
when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Mark 8:38

Will I be ashamed of the world, or will I be ashamed of Christ? I gladly choose to follow Christ.

Unbiblical Shame

I hasten to add, though, I could hold up a moral standard but go about it in the wrong way. This is an inappropriate kind of shaming. Christians should “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). I am grieved every time I hear a professing Christain openly mock people of the LGBTQ+ persuasion with off-color jokes or inappropriate comments. How do those words square with this command?

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness 
must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, 
which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving
Ephesians 5:3-4

Mocking sin is not speaking the truth in love; it undermines your Christian witness. Sexual immorality is far too serious a topic and people’s souls are far too important to be tossing around crude jokes and ruining our witness.

Witnessing in Shame

Let me share one more personal story. I was once at a conference, and a person at my dinner table began talking about this issue of sexual morality. She didn’t know my beliefs, though she knew I was a pastor, but she made it clear she did not appreciate people who held my kind of beliefs. She may have been more careful if she had known me better. Words like “bigot,” “homophobic,” and other more colorful, four-letter words were used to describe people like me. I was shocked.

Since then I’ve come to realize that is how Christians who take the Bible seriously should expect to be treated. It is an opportunity to take joy in suffering with Christ. Jesus himself said in the Sermon on the Mount,

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you
and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,
for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:11-12

But in the very next breath Jesus connects the Christian’s response to persecution (like being publically shamed) to our Christian witness.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste,
how shall its saltiness be restored?
It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out
and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 
Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand,
and it gives light to all in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others,
so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:13-16

If you are a brother or sister in Christ, consider carefully how you walk. The way we speak the truth, and the way we live it out, is just as important as the truth we speak. Will the world mock us to scorn? Sometimes, yes. But I am persuaded that if we endure mistreatment well there are some who will listen, and perhaps listen to the salvation of their souls. If we speak the truth in love, we can make an eternal difference for the sake of Christ. All glory be to his name.

~CP

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