There is a problem with the church today -- a problem that runs deep and wide and long. It's created a chasm actually and an exodus. It's a problem sourced by a history of church practices and traditions that serve to verify its authenticity as real and overt. It's a problem all right. And that problem is shaming, specifically the shaming of people, both Christian and otherwise.
Shaming them into becoming better Christians (or at the very least, a Christian). Shaming them for their sins. Shaming them for their choices. Shaming them for not living up to a certain standard. Shaming them for not upholding expectations. Shaming people for reasons even I can't conjure up. Shaming in the name of faith and religion. Shaming for the sake of shaming. Friends, shaming people into making choices or following up on decisions or acting on their conscience or into living for Jesus is no way for the church to conduct its mandate.
I recently read an article by the Naked Pastor that was written in regards to a hoax that has been circulating around the Internet. The hoax is about the fictional pastor Jeremiah Steepek who dresses up as a homeless man and then attends the church he will be pastoring, prior to ever showing face to the congregation formally.
In the said hoax, Pastor Steepek goes around trying to connect with various parishioners, failing to get anyone to talk to him, let alone help him with his troubles. At the end of his charade, he reveals himself to be their new pastor from the pulpit and proceeds to shame the congregation into crying and feeling horrible for their actions toward him. You can read more about it here.
At first when I read the article, I personified the pastor as the homeless man. I saw the "homeless man" as the story. What I identified with was the problem we have in our society of not seeing people as God sees them: beautiful and precious and lovely. A work of God made even in His own image.
But after considering a wise friend of mine's perspective, another angle emerged. And that angle was the shaming that occurred in that church as a fall out of the rejection some of the congregation had towards this pastor-cum-homeless person.
The author of the above article, David Hayward, says this:
The church's number one tool to get what it wants is shame. I have been the victim of shaming so many times I can't even count. I have used it so many times I can't even count. When I think back on the times I've been shamed I get angry. When I think back on the times I've used it I feel remorse. It's the church's primary language. We grow up with it in our families, our schools, our jobs and our churches. Shame is used against us every single day of our lives so persistently and sometimes so subtly that we don't even realize it anymore.
Shame is a motivator, but not permanently, and not in significant and meaningful ways. It gets something done now, but it destroys hope and character in the long term. Love is the best motivator. If it isn't out of love, then it's not a healthy motivation.
I am a teacher of kindergarten students. There are many times in the day when my students disappoint me for reasons based on the fact that they are four-and-five-year-olds. They are busy. They don't always pay attention to everything I say. And sometimes they outwardly ignore it. If I was to use shaming as an instructional tactic, not only would I be out of a job, I would permanently damage these children in ways I cannot even word right in an article of this length. I would destroy the goodwill I have set as a foundation of our classroom interactions and I would undermine my role with them as a nurturing support in the place of their parents.
As a teacher, I am mindful to always err on the side of gentleness when dealing with students. Do I do it one hundred per cent of the time? No. But it is the underlying goal in my mind as I go about my day. To create an atmosphere of respect, understanding and possibility -- always working within a Vygotskian theoretical framework that promotes positive, achievable growth. Here's Vygotsky's mantra: "Show me what you can do, and then I'll help you get a little better at it."
Would that the church as an establishment would follow a little advice of this themselves.
What we need as a church is to see God for who he really is, not for the interpretations we have of him. God is a Father -- a perfect, loving, understanding, gracious, accepting, committed father unlike this world has ever known.
When I think of myself as a parent, I know that each day I get up in the morning I give my best self to my four precious children. I don't wake up dreaming of ways to shame them into following what I want them to do. I don't dream up ways of how I am going to coerce them into doing what I say. And I don't try to conjure up as many ideas as I can for how I can make their lives miserable. I strive to not be that parent.
No. I love them. I admire them. I am proud of them. And I would die for them if need be.
And so would God. So did he.
And if we can see God that way -- as Love personified, than we ought also to see his people -- the church in the same manner. We must see the church as God sees them. For the church is His Beloved. They are his Bride. He loves us in ways we can not even begin to understand. And as a Father, we are His children. The depths and heights of that great love and mercy and grace and compassion for us can never, ever be underestimated.
It is time we started loving people the way God does.
There is a beautiful passage of scripture that we recite often at weddings about love. But friends, this passage ought to be the pulse of our hearts as Christians. I Corinthians 13 :4- 8
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
That's God's kind of love. Unfailing. And while using shame as a means to move people will fail and miserably, using love to inspire gives the church a better chance of making an impact. That's because Love wins. Every time.
So why do we as the backbone of the church still see Him as One who wants to make our lives miserable? Why must the church backbone be the primary voice behind this message? And why can't we stop using shame as our primary motivational tool to motivate people and start living the love we know God is?