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Shame and the Church
October 16

I don't think I’ve ever heard anyone say anything positive about shame. I’ve heard experts talk about the trauma that is inflicted on children when they are recipients of shame-based punishment. I’ve heard of others who do whatever it takes to hide from the eyes of the world, because they have been told to be ashamed of their bodies or themselves. There are therapists who have devoted their careers to helping others recover from lives that have been crippled by shame. I don't think I’ve ever heard anyone say anything positive about shame.

This past Sunday, for the second time, I was able to be a part of Atlanta’s Pride parade in support of our LGBTQIA+ community. The rain didn’t dampen the energy or crowd, but what stood out to me this year happened during my time at the Lutheran booth in Piedmont Park. In addition to our presence in the parade, we also had a booth in the park where we had the opportunity to connect with folks for a little longer than a hug, handshake, or high five that might occur during the parade.  

Like last year, I wore the black shirt (that my kids lovingly call “the funeral shirt”) and placed a small piece of plastic into the collar. This simple shirt, with its small piece of plastic, can be very powerful. There were some who saw it during the parade and reached out with joy and happiness, because it represented that the church was there, and the church was there for them. But there were some who saw the shirt and had a very different reaction.  

For the most part, I sat in a chair at the booth and hoped to make eye contact with others as they passed by. The last thing I wanted to do was to act like a used car salesman and force a conversation on anyone. Thankfully I was able to talk to a lot of folks and many of them had similar stories. I used to go to church, but I was asked to leave…  But the most heartbreaking interactions were no longer than a moment. They would look towards the booth, maybe they saw my shirt, and look away as quickly as possible. Too often the expression I saw on their face was shame and it broke my heart. I’m trying to think of anything more tragic than someone feeling ashamed of who they are, even worse, that they feel this way because of the church.  

Does God have anything to say about shame?

In the first story of the Bible, Adam and Eve are ashamed of their actions and God gives them clothing so that they feel less shame. During his ministry, Jesus connects with many who are told to be ashamed of who they are. Women, foreigners, those with diseases; whereas the church had told them to be ashamed of who they are, Jesus freed them of this.  

Hopefully the church is still committed to this same work. Hopefully the church is helping those who have been crippled by shame instead of adding to it. Hopefully the church is the place where healing can begin, that those who worry that God doesn’t love them, are hearing from the church that God does loves them.

We have a lot of work to do, but I can’t think of more worthwhile work to dedicate our lives to. Thank you for being a part of this work too.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Chris 

Last Published: October 17, 2019 11:04 AM