Why do they shame?

It’s Monday Grace!

Why is shame such a part of the performance system? You know what I mean. Certain actions make a person unacceptable. Those who do them are supposed to feel that rejection, that disgrace. Certain lifestyles, choices, histories, are said to be shameful. The church, particularly the performance-based church, wants people to feel the shame that goes with these choices.

But it isn’t enough for the church to use shame as a deterrent. Some seem to use shame as an anchor to hold others in their place. If you have been divorced. If you had a baby without a husband. If you made a wrong decision at some point in life, the system labels you and keeps you in that place. You are made to feel unworthy of acceptance.

Shame is a tool. It establishes and supports a type of hierarchy within the church. It allows classifications of people. Some are superior, some are striving, but others may never be fully acceptable no matter how hard they try. Yes, the one who overcomes his or her shame by working within the system may be put in front as an example to others, but their success usually serves only to bring more shame. If they can do it, why can’t you? And the one touted as the success may never be allowed to forget the path that brought them to the present time. In other words, they will continue to be the person who made the bad choice and had to go through the approved process to be accepted.

The performance system shames some to help others feel better about themselves. Jesus told of the prayer of the Pharisee who thanked God that he was better than others. He spoke of how he kept the rules while others did not. Next to him was a repentant tax-collector. The Pharisee referred to the broken man and lifted himself up.

I suspect that the performance system needs shame. It needs to have a lower class, some unacceptable ones, to use as negative examples and to motivate the striving ones to work harder and stay in obedience to the system. Most of us grew up hearing our parents refer to someone and tell us that we didn’t want “to grow up like that.” Just as the success story is important to motivate upward, so is the failure.

But who is shamed in the system? The weak, the hurting, the downtrodden, the disgraced. It isn’t the system leaders who are shamed, not usually. The pastor and elders often get by with gross sins and incompetence. The denominational leader is rarely exposed and shamed. No, only those who cannot fight back, who have little or no political power. Otherwise the system itself is shamed, and that cannot be allowed.

What if I were to suggest that shame is a lie? There is no shame in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, shame is a sham.

Okay, I love to play with words. We really don’t know the origin of the word, sham. The best guess of the scholars is that it is actually a pronunciation of the word, shame. How sham came to mean a falsehood, a scam or a trick, no one really knows. But I have a suggestion.

I can just imagine a situation where someone played a trick on Mama. They sold her something that didn’t work. When she learned of their deception, she said, “Well, that’s a shame! That person should be ashamed of his self.” If she was from a certain part of the country, she might pronounce shame as sham.

However we explain it, the words are connected. Shame is a sham. Believers do not live in shame, either for what they have done in the past or for what they have done today. There may still be consequences for sin, but guilt and shame were taken to the cross by Jesus. We may participate in things that reveal our flesh and make us look like we have forgotten who we are in Christ, but there is no shame attached to us.

There is another word intricately attached to shame: disgrace. Think about that. The performance system would have us think that there are believers who do not have the benefit of grace, who have been removed from grace because of their actions or decisions. They are dis-graced. Most of us would interpret that as losing our salvation.

But, no, you will not be kicked out of God’s grace by a stupid decision. You may suffer consequences and the decision may be truly stupid when you finally count the cost, but you will still be under grace. Grace is not license or freedom to sin. Grace is the power of God overcoming sin in your life. Grace is the fact of Christ’s work applied to your life. Grace is what God has done and is doing for you. You might feel like you have lost grace as you walk in sin, but grace is something you and I cannot remove and cannot lose. Grace is God’s business.

So, shame is a sham. The performance system uses it to manipulate and compare. It needs it to make others feel good about themselves. But it is all a lie, a trick. They should be ashamed of themselves!


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7 responses to “Why do they shame?

  1. Mark

    I think it resembles a caste system. There are the aristocrats, the artisans and the untouchables. Because the levels are unenforceable through any sort of societal means, the methodology is to keep people in the system through alternatively praising them for being part of the system, but then making sure they know their place by appropriate shaming. People are rewarded for becoming more enmeshed and identified with the group, but then punished when they don’t understand the unwritten rules of the caste system.

  2. Batya Ahul

    Hi Pastor Dave😊,
    Thank you for your now twice weekly message, they are such a comfort to me & I’m sure so many others in these tough times.

    This post reminds me of a “trendy” New Frontiers church I attended 20 or so years ago in my 20’s. We would occasionally hold services at a pub (bar),services would be cancelled if there was a significant football match on a Sunday evening, there was no clear leadership or even structure with the attempt of trying to be relevant/fashionable…….

    One member was a young man who was a recovering Heroin addict. He became the church’s poster boy for what God could do (which was amazing). But he was continually labelled “an ex heroin addict who had been miraculously saved by the church”, this was the identity the church gave him which he never really escaped from.

    And sadly in the end the pull of his previous addiction was too great & he began using again. I think the church did try to help but he walked away.
    I think in the end the pressure was too great from both the church & the drug, the identity of being an addict was easier than the expectations of being the miracle Christian poster boy ex heroin user.
    But I know God loves him just as much as he does me.

    • Karen

      The church probably did believe they “miraculously saved him.” That is the draw of legalistic churches – what THEY have done, giving no credit to God.

      In order for the church to keep up their narcissistic pat on the back, you are right, they had to keep that man in the caste system.

      I think 12 step programs are shame based. How does one recover if stuck in the past? How about accomplishments and goals as the focus instead.

  3. I am stunned by this post. I think I need to read it every day. Wow. Just wow! Thank you!!!

    • Batya Ahul

      Hi Linda Lee,
      I’m so glad that your daughter, granddaughter & husband are well, praise God.
      Myself & my family are well, work in ITU is difficult & very sad but it does look like we’re passing the peak now & this is reflected in the amount of patients we have.
      Thank you to all who have prayed for health workers safety.
      Several weeks ago one of my nursing colleagues became a ventilated patient in ITU with Coronavirus- he died last week.
      He had teenager children ☹️, why him & not me only the Lord knows.
      On Friday evening the most beautiful double rainbow 🌈 🌈 appeared in front of my house, over the hospital I work in and I believe St Thomas’ hospital in London.
      I saw a rainbow like this after my father had died and my narcissistic family imploded on itself & Various other difficult things happened in a short space of time. I truly believe the rainbow was a sign from God Just saying that He is in charge and his will, will be done in the end

  4. Karen

    Today is 173 days since a suicide attempt. On November 14, 2019 I did not even know why I was ending my life other than I felt I had no purpose. Now connected to a godly, very helpful therapist the light is beginning to shine on truth. I have C-PTSD.
    I come from a background of unprecedented childhood trauma of torture and trafficking by both parents, their colleagues and friends, and a church and all its leaders!
    I have been married to a narcissist nearly 18 years. Since the suicide attempt, I discovered he is now and has been cheating on me probably most of those years.
    Our marriage had problems long ago and I foolishly went to the legalistic church for help who ordered me to preserve the marriage, be obedient, and made me feel it was my fault- I was not doing something or should be doing something I was not.
    The church handed my husband our entire finances as the “godly leader” of the house about 15 years ago after I sought financial counsel. He was under NO accountability!
    Slowly and deliberately without me noticing, my husband put everything in his name, hid bank accounts, credit cards, and put me in a position to beg for money. We are in nearly unrecoverable debt.
    Today, still cheating on me, I cannot escape because of the extraordinary debt, purposeful disrepair of our house, and due to isolation, no contacts to leave. (I tried unsuccessfully twice but short term help makes things worse when you return).
    My therapist encouraged me to find a church and start making new connections so I did. I was met with shame for my SIN of anxiety, depression, anger, grief, and other “emotional” issues.
    Instead of being empowered, encouraged, and helped toward healing, I was met with accusations of my “emotional” sin, not reading my bible enough or the right way, concern for spiritual oppression, and questioning God. I was shamed for having flashbacks! I was discouraged from journaling because I was “dwelling on the past” which is apparently not godly behavior.
    I was sinking quickly toward suicide again as the church forced their ‘help” on me and took control of my life because I was not “capable.” I abruptly left in March when one of the “spiritual” team helpers crossed my boundaries yet again and contacted my therapist without my knowledge expressing her “concerns.” She inappropriately shared confidential emails and communication without my knowledge or permission. She contacted others without my permission sharing private information. She scolded me constantly.
    What I have since learned on my own is that God knows what I went and am going through. God is big and strong enough to allow me to question Him. He grieves my tears.
    I am finding instance after instance in the bible of God’s love and compassion for those who experience weakness, worry, anxiety, fear, sadness and more.
    In 1 Kings 19 God sent an angel to Elijah who wanted his life to end. The angel demanded no more of Elijah than to rest, eat, and drink. The God of grace, full of love, and sympathetic to Elijah, did not shame, accuse, or question him. Why does the church believe they can do it better than God?
    God is with us even when we don’t see Him or feel His presence. He wants us give our burdens to Him, no judgement. The church demands perfection completely overlooking sanctification.
    I will be hard pressed to enter through another church door, but I know God made and loves me, flaws and all.

  5. Cecelia K

    This isn’t completely related to this article, but this is the closest one I found without digging real deep and scrolling through a lot of articles. Although it’s not church-related, it is related to the performance system. I am now getting a glimpse of what that feels like, but at work.

    I’ve worked at the same company doing the same job for eight years, and I have loved it here. It has been a great company to work for. The owners are so good to us, they are super sweet people, and they demonstrate respect and compassion to their employees; but still, they Are business owners, and they do have to keep an eye on the bottom line, of course.

    A year or two into my time with them, I got an employee evaluation. The gist of it was that the quality of my work was superb, but I needed to work on my speed. I was too slow. Back then, I was dealing with a lot of drama in my personal life, so my mind would wander a lot, and it was hard for me to focus, but eventually, after my BF and I broke up, and thanks to Pastor Dave’s Narcissistic Friday posts, I gradually healed and put that all behind me and was focusing more easily at work. I thought I was doing fine, since no one had said anything else to me.

    Fast-forward to a few months ago, when I got another evaluation and got the same note. So this time, it wasn’t an inability to focus; I think now, it was due to my detail-oriented nature and trying to make the product as close to perfect as possible. So I tried to relax my standards a bit and not be so picky. Eventually, though, I lapsed back into my old habits, I think in part maybe because they hired more people, so I thought maybe I wouldn’t have to be in such a rush anymore. I was wrong.

    I just had another evaluation a few days ago and was told not just that i am too slow, but that my productivity numbers are Way behind the others in my department. I was crushed and embarrassed, and I felt that my efforts to make our product as high-quality as possible were unappreciated. All that mattered was how fast I worked and how many I could churn out in the least amount of time. I defended myself and questioned the others’ quality of work. My manager admitted he didn’t know how the quality of their work compares to mine; they don’t track that, but he said he doesn’t think my level of quality is so high that it merits me being as slow as I am. I also resented that none of the other things I do (that can’t be quantified but are still business-related) didn’t seem to matter. In other words, it’s not how productive I’m being overall that counts; it’s how many products I am physically putting out that counts.

    So thankfully, I still have my job, but now I know I am under the microscope, and I am once again relaxing my standards. Although I am recognizing now, that a lot of the details that I like to add or take away from our product are really not essential, the feeling that I am just making the product “good enough” does not sit well with me. However, I understand that it’s not about what I want but what the owners want.

    Anyway, I have been struggling a lot with this for the last few days, and last night, God opened my eyes to what being under a performance system feels like. I realize your performance at work is always important, but whereas before I felt like I was putting forth my best effort most of the time (yes, there have been days when I slacked off and wasn’t as diligent as I should have been) because I like working here and like the owners and Wanted to give them my best, it has now started to feel like I’m putting forth a different kind of best effort (my best to be fast, not high-quality) but out of fear, not love. Fear of losing my job, fear of being shamed for not measuring up.

    It gave me a new appreciation for God’s unconditional love. And a former co-worker / friend reminded me to just keep giving God my best for His glory and not worrying about man’s praise or criticism. I need to give the owners what they want and ask God to bless my efforts.

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