Shame is almost a bad word in the modern zeitgeist. We hear people talking about it as if it’s an outdated emotional reaction to actions we don’t like, a relic of a former era. But then, at the same time, we see the ideas of deplatforming or cancelling used by all political and social groups to show disapproval of people in their own group. Shame by any other name would embarrass just as fully, to remix a word from Shakespeare.

Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

1 Corinthians 15:34

Paul actually begins his first letter to the church in Corinth by mentioning something he says was not to shame them, that Paul and his crew were toiling by their own hands to take care of their own need so as not to be accused of mistreating the church in Corinth. This was something they were not responsible for, and it wasn’t a way for Paul to demonstrate the wrongdoing of the Corinthian Christians. That’s not to say that it wasn’t useful in instructing them; indeed, he was mentioning that in order to teach them something.

However, by the time he gets to the passage above, the Corinthians need a hard teaching, one that can be only administered by shame. But shame only works within communities. Why should the disapproval of others change my behavior? Ah, but the disapproval of my own people will, if I am even a little conscientious, bring me to question my actions.

Shame is powerful! That’s why it must be dealt with appropriately! Coming from a Christian, it only works on Christians. If we want to bring about change, it must be done within the right context.

For those who do not yet know Jesus, repentance and grace are available. But one can feel guilt (personal responsibility for wrongdoing) without shame (the disapproval of the community).

Ethan Kirl