I think we have a tendency to shame people into repentance. Perhaps we do it without knowing, or perhaps it’s done purposefully, hoping that their shame will really bring about change.
I’ve been thinking about people who fall dramatically, especially people of the church. And a lot of times, the thing that seems to be missing is grace. Instead, there’s a lot of stares, gossip, rumors, and of course, shame. So much so, that the “offenders” often have to leave the community altogether because they feel they can’t show their face. There was a church that experienced an “accident.” It led to the church’s members standing outside and picketing and protesting their current leader, bringing attention to the mistakes of their leader. Or what about countless stories of young women who make a mistake and get pregnant, and instead of receiving support and grace, their met with stares and coldness, magnifying the mistake she has made. There are too many stories where the mistake is highlighted to make the “offender” feel deeply ashamed.
Perhaps it’s in our nature to focus on bringing shame. As kids, we were often made to feel embarrassed about certain things so that we’ll never do it again. Like peeing in your bed when you’re 12. (uh… not that this has happened to me…) Or getting caught picking your nose. Or things more serious like being caught with a collection of porn or 12 mistresses coming forward to let the whole world know they had relations with you. Or, from personal experience, coming home with a C on your report card…
But the question is, does it really work? By that I mean, does it really lead the people to change? A huge part of me says no. Of course there are people who feel so ashamed that they move on stronger and wiser. But, for the most part, it seems that more people simply just walk away from the church and from God saying that they don’t need to have judgmental eyes on them and making them feel more guilty than they already feel. They don’t need to add insult to injury, and if God’s people behave this way, how much better is God?
I bring this up, because I read John 8 for devotion. The way the Pharisees reacted to the adulterous women isn’t that far off from the way stereotypical (stereotypical in the eyes of non-church goers) react to someone who has fallen. This woman is dragged out into the courtyard at dawn in front of a group of men ready to cast their judgment (and by judgment, I mean stones) on her. Perhaps we don’t physically drag someone out into the public, but I know many people who have felt that their personal mistakes and stories are dragged out in public for everyone to see/hear and throw figurative stones at them. (Perhaps, those figurative stones are more damaging than physically throwing stones. Because, you know, the stones are meant to kill you. And once you’re dead… you don’t really have to worry about anything.)
So here she is. Standing in front of angry men, thirsty for blood and her fate lies within the hands of one person. Is she looking up? Is she so ashamed that she can’t even face her accusers? And how deafening was the silence, when Jesus was writing in the sand? Did she look over to Jesus to see what was taking him so long?
After everyone clears, Jesus asks, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She looks around, and probably without comprehending what just occurred, she responds “No one, sir.” And Jesus tells her “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” I like to believe that Jesus’ response had more of an impact in repentance and change than what the Pharisees tried to do.
The horror stories we hear from people who left church out of embarrassment and shame… how much of a positive impact did the church have on their lives? What if their church responded in the manner Jesus did?
That’s the powerful thing about grace. It finds us where we are. And it alters our life. Sure, shame and embarrassment often work in leading us into change, but it’s the kindness and grace of God that truly leads us to repentance.
Of course, people then can take this idea of grace and abuse it and cheapen it, by saying things like, “it’s okay. I’ll be forgiven anyway.” But the truth about grace is, once we encounter it, we have no option but to change. The grace of God is a transforming grace. And too often, it seems to be missing in the people of God.
Yea, it’s always easier and quicker to judge. But I think, we as followers of Christ, are called to take the narrow path, which, in this case, is to avoid the quick and easier route of judgment, and instead show the kind of grace that Jesus showed that woman.
Always easier said than done, no?