This was written by “Conflicted,” not myself. He is my partner in crime in this horrible mess that is the book, “Fumbling Through Our Faith.” I sincerely respect him, not only as a Christian, pastor, but also a decent reasonable human being. Enjoy. More to come.
Shame, Shame, Shame on All of Us
Guilt is a fantastic motivator. If you want someone to do what you want them to do, just guilt them into it. Parents have really turned this into an art-form. But more than parents, our christian culture has perfected this motivational tactic.
Growing up in a Christian school I have been able to see the power of guilt and shame first hand. Throughout school there was a focus and emphasis on spirituality. But with each encouragement towards God there was an equal, if not greater, discouragement from the world. And the way that we discourage people from partaking of the delicious fruit of the world is by laying out a black and white value system that allows us to know when we have strayed from the path of righteousness. Lining this path is an electrical fence of guilt that gives those that stray off a little zap of shame whenever they veer from the path of holiness. And if you pee on that fence, it will hurt your wiener (I don’t know what that means, metaphorically, so don’t ask).
In school we were taught about the perils of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. If anyone were to challenge the negative effects of secular music they would be told that, while it may not be explicitly mentioned in the Bible, it most certainly is a slippery slope that leads to far worse sins. Anyone in the schools past who had dabbled in any of these sins was used as a cautionary tale.
Let me say that the motivation for this type of guilt was pure. The leadership of the church and school did not want any of the students to leave the school non-saved or untouched by the Holy Spirit. Because of this a higher value that was placed on students who followed the path those students who veered from the path were labeled bad eggs, and were either written off or treated as a mission field.
The church and the school were linked and so the youth group had a major presence at the school. Every year the school would have a “Spiritual Emphasis Week” where a special speaker was brought in for the purpose of igniting a spark of spiritual passion among the students. In addition to that week the church youth group would have a retreat once a year where we all would go to a retreat center for a weekend. There, again, would be a special guest speaker who would invariably work us up into a frenzy. During both of these weeks the response from the students was always very positive. There were “altar” calls at every service and we all would go running down to the altar, promising to stop listening to secular music or stop masturbating or, for the really bad eggs, to stop drinking and smoking. Of course, the most popular altar call theme was also the most generic… turn your hearts back to God… re-ignite the flame of passion for God.
After these events you would throw away all of your secular music, stop masturbating for a week (that’s as far as I could get, anyway… I was a teenage boy, that’s what we do), and lift your hands during every worship song. This NEVER lasted. Not most of the time, at least…. but, mostly NEVER! The leadership had to realize this, but I guess the hope was that it would eventually stick. Everyone had their standard time frames for spiritual fading. The good kids (like me), who were more committed youth group members, always lasted longer, but the mission field kids would only last a couple of weeks; then they were right back to their backsliding ways.
Looking back, it seemed like a noble pursuit. Try to take the years that the church/school leadership had influence and shock and awe us with spirituality. The idea was that after high school all of the things we heard and experienced would sustain us through those sketchy college years and then beyond.
Lately, I have been catching up with a few of my old friends and I am finding that what happened in the majority of cases is that at some point after high school there was a realization that their experiences had been motivated by guilt and shame. Their altar experiences were driven by a message of guilt: “If you don’t turn your lives around, you will live an empty and shallow life,”and, “If you don’t stop listening to that devil music, you’re going to start biting the heads off of bats”. As you can imagine, the reaction to this realization has not brought them into the church.
We use guilt and shame as a motivator because it is the only thing we can do to try to make people do what we want them to do. As a parent, if my kids don’t want to hang out with me I know that I can guilt them into hanging out with me. As a pastor I know that I can preach a message about how God’s heart breaks whenever you tell a lie or how you are driving a nail into Jesus’ hand whenever you look at porn on the internet. I know I can make you do what I think is right by using some form of guilt as a motivator.
Every person on this earth has two things in common: we all feel shame and we don’t like to feel shame.
I realized a couple of interesting things last week. Shame was the first negative emotion Adam and Eve ever felt. As soon as they sinned, they covered their junk. The first effect of sin was shame. Secondly, in Hebrews 12 Paul says that “Jesus scorned the shame of the cross”. I knew about these things before, but never connected them. I would suspect that the cross was the most shameful death a person could experience. I can’t imagine being beaten in front of a massive crowd of people, then being nailed to a cross with my “slightly-less-than-average-sized” manhood exposed for the world to see. That would probably hurt me more than having the shit beaten out of me.
Jesus experienced the highest concentration of shame so that He could break the bondage that shame has over all of us.
You can disagree with my theology if you like… but one thing you cannot disagree with is that guilt and shame are always bad… always. Christian or not, guilt and shame are counter-productive to what you are trying to accomplish. Guilt always drives a wedge between you and the person you are making feel guilty. So while you are trying to make them do what you think is best for them – what you think is best for your relationship with them – it only helps drive the two of you apart.
Unfortunately, the church is the worst offender. I think that the fact that we have created our own “culture” only perpetuates the guilt that we dish out so easily. If you don’t like or support Christian music, Christian literature, Christian dating websites, Christian clothing… and on and on and on and on… you are made to feel guilty for it. For many so-called “Christians”… if I don’t vote Republican then I might as well be performing abortions, myself.
The church is driving people away from itself by using guilt and shame as a motivation for a relationship with God. And we all do it. My church, your church… it’s all of us. I’m not exactly sure what we do to fix it, but I think it starts with trying to stop using guilt as a motivator in our own relationships.
By the way, if you post a negative comment to this blog I will probably commit suicide… and that shit will be on you! 🙂