The Church has at times been accused (and rightfully so) of shooting our wounded. The wounded being those who have stumbled or fallen in sin. In those instances, we say to them, in effect, “We are so ashamed of you, that we cannot bear to be associated with you. The presence of sin in your life brings shame upon us. To spare our own shame, we need to put you down.”
If perhaps our eyes have been opened to this wrongful tendency, we no longer take the mantle of shame upon ourselves, but we place it on them instead. “We accept you and love you, and we will stand by you and help you through this. But, boy, should you be ashamed of yourself! Shame on you!” As we stand in judgement over them, making sure they’re sufficiently contrite, we preach about a God who forgives them and accepts them exactly as they are, no matter what they’ve done. It’s all very confusing for them, and they’re not likely to respond the way we had hoped, so after a while we put them out of their misery, shuffling them off to a farm in the country.
While these serious problems continue to plague the Church, it seems to me that it has become more prevalent these days to discard shame altogether. “Hey, don’t worry about it,” we say. “So you sinned; no big deal. To be honest, we’re not even sure anymore if that’s actually even a sin.” We’ve come a long way from the barbaric days when we’d kick someone out of the church for getting a DUI, or ship a pregnant teen off to a girl’s home. There is no longer any shame associated with sin. It’s practically a badge of our humanness. Having an affair? Go ahead and make it public knowledge; no one’s going to call you on it. And if they do, they’re just being judgmental. Have a bit too much to drink last night? That’s okay, go ahead and upload those pictures to Facebook; it’d be hypocritical to act like it didn’t happen. There is no shame in just being who you are; no reason to keep anything hidden from view.
Rather than placing shame on the community around the sinner, rather than heaping shame on the sinner themselves, and rather than throwing shame out the window, we should place the shame where it belongs: on the sin. Sin is shameful. We obviously should not sweep sin under the rug so we don’t have to look at it, but we shouldn’t drag it out into public view either. Ephesians 5:12 says, “It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret.” (NLT) Those ungodly deeds are shameful, and shining a spotlight on them is shameful also. They should be acknowledged in the proper circles, and dealt with discretely. Shame should be removed by dealing with the sin, but not ignoring the shame, increasing the shame, or pretending it isn’t there.