Ministering to the abused...

The one sure thing is that pastors who care for victims of child sexual abuse must not allow pity to ruin our pastoral care. Child sexual abuse permeates our congregations today, so we must grow in wisdom and compassion towards those who suffered these crimes. Such wisdom and compassion will always cause us to set our sights higher than ameliorating victims' shame and moving them toward self-acceptance. It may sound callous to say so, but Scripture doesn't trade in self-acceptance. The precious treasure we have to offer those weighed down by sin and shame is God's acceptance through the shed blood of His Son. Yet that is too often absent in the narratives of survivors.

After several days riding the wave of World Vision's flip-flopping on homosexual marriage, Christianity Today ended the week by running a "this is my life" piece by Jonathan Merritt, a writer for the Religious News Service. The piece is an account of the corruption by an older neighbor boy Merritt suffered in his childhood and the terrible fruit that corruption bore in his life. Merritt tells us he has lived with a deep and pervasive sense of shame, he has suffered the compromise of his male sexual identity, he has sinned homosexually, and he has been alienated from the Church.

CT took this excerpt from Merritt's forthcoming book, Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined, and the excerpt ran under the headline, "A Thread Called Grace: How I came to stop hiding and face the biggest secret of my early life." From the start of the homosexualist movement several decades ago now, this has been the narrative of those committed to normalizing homosexual sin: come out of the closet and be done with the shame. Thus CT ran Merritt's piece under the phrases "biggest secret" and "stop hiding."

Merritt tells a very sad story. CT, though, has its own reasons for promoting this story and we must see those reasons and resist being manipulated through our tears. Christianity Today has a larger purpose in providing subscribers this intimate view of one man's sexual suffering and clearly its purpose is not simply to promote Biblical compassion and love...

Readers may be inclined to resent scrutiny of Merritt's cri de coeur, but with 8,000 FB likes in just a couple of days, it's evident that CT and Merritt are not lacking support. So now, let me speak to our readers: if you possess even a small amount of Biblical discernment, reading Merritt's account will make it clear that our sons and daughters who "liked" this article are proof of our failure to equip them to think Biblically as they take their places on the battle lines of Christian witness within our postmodern culture.

Among postmoderns, accounts of victimhood are unimpeachable, particularly when the suffering is caused by fathers, pastors, and well-meaning church women—all of whom come in for their knocks in Merritt's story. Thus Merritt's account lacks a moral dimension beyond its condemnation of the ignorance and judgmentalism that, for so many years, left Merritt ostracised, alone in his shame. Merritt presents himself as the victim, first of the neighbor boy and then of the Church and Her faithful who demanded he put on and wear his mask. So what we learn is shame is evil, shame is bondage, shame is a cruel prison. Then, in the end, Merritt offers readers the catharsis of trading shame for shamelessness.

Notice I did not write of a catharsis leading into grace, mercy, and forgiveness, but instead a catharsis leading into "shamelessness." Merritt gives no account of forgiving as he has been forgiven, or of washing his own sin in the blood of Jesus Christ. He doesn't interpret any of his suffering as conviction of sin. He doesn't come out from under his guilt and shame by means of the forgiveness we all find under the Cross. He's simply ashamed of his victimhood and its fruit. And the healing he tells us he needs is to face it down, finally coming to the realization that everyone else is a victim, also. We're all victims. Thus all of us must take the step of bringing our victimhood out into the open where we'll finally experience the wonderful freedom to be who we really are; to know and be known.

Then, of course, comes the obligatory quote of Henri Nouwen who has made his name publishing books in the "wounded healer" genre. In an article commending homosexualist Republican Andrew Sullivan, Nouwen wrote, "there is a huge gap between my internalized homophobia and my increasing conviction that homosexuality is not a curse but a blessing for our society."1

Close friends with Roman Catholic Jean Vanier of the L'Arche communities, Nouwen is a hero of today's "Christian" homosexualist movement. Having suffered through a lifelong struggle with homosexual desire, Nouwen came to see, with Robert Schuller, that self-rejection was the greatest spiritual evil:

Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. ...Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved."

This is the seduction of postmoderns. Sin and guilt have been replaced by victimhood and shame. Postmoderns have been robbed of forgiveness and left with shamelessness—a shamelessness most promoted (as with Merritt) precisely at those places shame ought righfully to be most alive, most active, and most redemptive. Shame is a gift of God ordained by Him to assist us in forsaking wickedness and fleeing to the Cross. God's Law gives the gift of shame to the unbeliever so he may flee to Christ. Shame is much of the weight Christian felt as he ran from his village and family, covering his ears and crying out, "Life! Life! Eternal life!" Where do we hear such cries today?

Postmoderns don't know the language of sin and redemption. Sin has morphed into brokenness. Conversion and redemption have been replaced by self-disclosure's emotional and spiritual catharsis.

Why then did the Apostle Paul dispatch all of it by the simple statement, "of such were some of you?" Neither Merritt nor Wheaton's editors over at Christianity Today are about to let go of sexual predation and homosexual debauchery that easily. They refuse to settle for such a simple narrative of Christian repentance and faith as this found in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Church of Corinth:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1Corinthians 6:9-11)

This is no long drawn out emotional account of the sexual suffering and sin of the believers in decadent Corinth. In fact, nowhere in Scripture do we get any such account. The Holy Spirit did not consider such survivor accounts helpful, nor have church fathers across the centuries left us such narratives.

Consider Augustine. His autobiographical Confessions does not trade on his childhood suffering to explain his fornication. Surely there was such suffering. There's always such suffering behind later sin. Such suffering is the history of every woman and every man. It's always been this way. As I've pointed out before, my work as a pastor has been a constant stream of the confessions of sin and repentance by women and men who have suffered during their childhood just as Jonathan Merritt suffered. And much worse—fathers raping their own flesh-and-blood daughters throughout those daughters' childhood and adolescence, for example.

Let me say it again: victims often become predators. That's the nature of sin. It's addictive and it corrupts others. We call child molesters "corrupters of children." But we would do almost anything to keep from acknowledging the implications of our words: namely, that many of the children pedophiles and pederasts corrupt end up themselves corrupting others.

If you've spent time counseling victims of child sexual abuse, you know that often you have to help the victim with his or her own guilt. Some of these children became so acclimated to the abuse that they remember how they looked forward to the abuse, and even enjoyed it. Are we so bound up in the politically charged climate of our culture that we have no uniquely Christian place from which to minister to these souls? Are we so intimidated by our culture that we refuse to help victims experience the love and forgiveness of God for their own sin? Must we allow the pagan mantra that one must never "blame the victim" cause us to deny victims' moral agency that is so integral to their own grief and pain? Is our spiritual care for victims of molestation so tone-deaf that we can't recognize and communicate the distinction between saying a child "asked for it" and hearing an adult survivor's confession that he "came to anticipate and enjoy it?" Is not this too a part of the evil done to the victim by the child corruptor? Regularly, I've counselled souls whose own sexual sin was predated by the sexual sin of others against them, usually during their childhood. Is this any surprise and must it be responded to by pastoral obtuseness or denial of these victims' own guilt?

In connection with the suffering of children of divorce and their parents habit of sending them to psychologists to manage that pain, University of Chicago homosexual philosophy professor, Allan Bloom, made the simple observation that "psychologists are the sworn enemies of guilt." Since the publication of his classic Closing of the American Mind in 1987, I fear this duty of psychologists has been assumed by Evangelical and Reformed pastors. Guilt, sin, and judgment are gone. The certification of victimhood has replaced them. Confession of sin is dead. Forgiveness of sin is dead. Self-disclosure and self-love have replaced them.

The Substitutionary Atonement is dead. Christ Jesus turning aside the wrath of His Father is dead. The imputation of His righteousness is dead. Rather, we're promised self-acceptance through shared narratives of repentance for shame, leaving us all in a stinking pool of mutuality based on the very lowest sort of expectations.

We have succumbed to the moral influence view of the atonement: redemption comes through looking on Jesus, realizing his love for the unlovely, and coming away from that realization inspired to confess our own fears of rejection in such a way that other people feel free to confess their feelings of rejection, also, and then to see His love as we saw it ourselves. Sin isn't dealt with. God isn't wrathful against us. Judgment doesn't await, but God loves you just the way you are, and that's how you should love yourself and others.

We have the opposite in Augustine's Confessions in which Augustine bears the full weight of his own sexual sin, neither absolving himself of guilt through a personal narrative of childhood pain, nor pulling his readers into a sympathetic posture through telling of his moral anguish surrounding his sin. Instead his self-accusation is matter-of-fact:

In those days I lived with a woman, not my lawful wedded wife but a mistress whom I had chosen for no special reason but that my restless passions had alighted on her. But she was the only one and I was faithful to her. Living with her I found out by my own experience the difference between the restraint of the marriage alliance, contracted for the purpose of having children, and a bargain struck for lust, in which the birth of children is begrudged, though, if they come, we cannot help but love them. 2

We find a similar directness and honesty in Augustine's prayers of the time:

Give me chastity and continency—but not yet! 3

Why then no similar confessions or self-accusations in Mr. Merritt's narrative? Reading his account, we find that he views homosexual desire as simply the detritus of the victimhood of his childhood, to be managed as best he's able. Mr. Merritt's tack is simply to live with it and get on with life:

When people today ask me how I identify myself, I never quite know how to answer. It doesn't feel authentic to label the whole of my being by feelings and attractions, and my experience has been that those parts of me tend to be somewhat fluid. One day I may feel more one way than another, and the next I feel a little differently. I am far more than my feelings, so I don't answer that question. Not because I want to evade others but because I want to stay true to myself.

The essence of who I am is far more shaped, influenced, and guided by my spirituality than by my sexuality.

Mr. Merritt does not process his homosexual identity and desires by the simple past-tense statement of faith, "Of such was I." For Mr. Merritt, it is present tense followed by a yawn and a sigh: "Of such are some of us, but it doesn't really matter. We're not defined by our sexual sins. We are victims, but we refuse to allow shame to keep us in bondage any longer."

Now then, here are four Biblical steps for those who love and minister to victims of child sexual abuse.

First, see what you see. Survivors of sexual abuse are normally easy to recognize. For instance, If a high school or college age woman who recently left her childhood home recoils from male contact; if she is morbidly obese or highly sexualized; if she can't bear eye contact with men; you should assume she's been abused. Talk about it with your wife and work towards your wife or another older (Titus 2) woman of your church reaching out to her to the end that, in a year or two or three, she might feel safe and loved enough to open up and tell her story. The Apostle Paul wasn't obtuse. Do not be a blind watchmen or a shepherd with no understanding (Isaiah 56:10, 11).

Second, when a victim shares his story with you, don't keep his suffering at arm's length but cry with him. This is the command of Scripture:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. (Romans 12:15, 16a)

Victims of abuse are "the lowly" and we are not to avoid them out of fear of becoming tainted. When God sends victims of abuse into your congregation, see them for who they are and associate with these lowly ones. Have them over to dinner. Ask them questions without cornering or badgering them. Let them know you care and that you are very patient. Don't be overly intrusive. Don't threaten them—they've been threatened enough. Yet also realize that any probing is likely to be a threat to them. Their entire life is an attempt to avoid vulnerability and pain, so the slightest attempts at intimacy will likely be rebuffed for several years.

Third, when the story finally comes out and you've mourned with those who mourn, don't neglect to confront the predator. This is very difficult work that in itself could easily be the subject of an entire book. But simply put, both the healing of the victim and the protection of other potential victims from the predator require that an authority expose the predator. Yes, the victim will have innumerable reasons why the terrible secret must be kept; why this nasty work cannot and must not be done. Work through those reasons as best you can while not flinching in your commitment that the wickedness must be exposed. Whether explicitly or implicitly, the victim must never be granted veto-power over your fulfillment of this Biblical responsibility:

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:11-14)

And fourth, work diligently to listen to the victim such that you discover the ways he or she has been corrupted by their corrupter. He may have become fixed in homosexual desire because of the homosexual predations he suffered as a child. After being raped by her older brother, she may herself have seduced her younger brother or sister. He may be fantasizing about sex with another man while he is intimate with his wife. The list of possibilities is endless, but what is required of you is that you listen and probe for victims' sins. They are always present. Give permission to your beloved brother or sister in Christ to confess them so you may minister to them the forgiveness of sins through the shed blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. 

Membership in the fraternity of self-affirming victims is a paltry and squalid affair compared to the joy and peace we experience within the brotherhood of believers cleansed by His precious blood.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1John 1:9)

  • 1. Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey, p27.
  • 2. Saint Augustine, Confessions, translated by R.S. Pine-Coffin, p. 72.
  • 3. Ibid, Book VIII, Chapter 7.
Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.


Thank you for your work.

Thanks for this, both the analysis and observations on Merrit and CT, and the relating of your own experience and wisdom in this area. I think Clearnote should devote a conference to dealing with this issue; our churches are woefully unprepared to deal with the tsunami of sexually broken people. This is where our fields are white unto harvest.


You raise an excellent point. In a sense, we would not have this coming tsunami of sexually broken people if the church had preached the simple and yet powerful and uncompromised words of Scripture. I think most Christians assume that the ongoing and unmitigated moral degradation in the area of sex will simply amount to a great deal of licentiousness, and perhaps peer pressure and legal sanctions to prod people to at least outwardly acknowledge this behavior as normal. No doubt that will happen, but the end of that road is going to be an incredibly large number of people who have victimized themselves and others as they run out to play. I don't think many Christians understand that there will be many people physically and psychologically broken, so to speak, because of this type of sin.

Tim is right - you read a story like this, and because of the pervasive victim-hood of our culture, without even realizing it, you slip into that mode of thinking and analyzing. With this in mind, although I acknowledge that sexual sins have a particular "besetting" nature to them, you have to wonder if the poor track record of ministries to homosexuals (critics claim that no one is really changed, and that there is a high recrudescence toward that sin) is due in part to confusing a change of mind with a tale of victim-hood, so that what we are calling a conversion is nothing so.

It strikes me that our constant struggle is to remember the Gospel as we attempt to minister.....not just the liberal churches, but those that consider themselves to be Biblical in doctrine.

It also strikes me that even in children's ministry--I help with the youth group and children's programs where I am--I get occasional "hints" that someone needs to say something. Not surprising, since if I remember the numbers right, about a quarter of minors get sexually abused at some point--that abuse being defined as anything from an inappropriate touch to rape.

It's interesting that some 'support groups' for people who have been through childhood sexual abuse, say, make a point of referring to themselves as 'survivors' and /not/ as 'victims' - because they want to make it clear to people that if they think of themselves as 'victims', then they are surrendering to whatever it was that happened. Fair observation?

Ex-gay ministries (and most parachurch ministries for that matter) are cesspools of poor doctrine. One reason is that they are an intersection of people from all church and non-church backgrounds, and thus fall to the lowest common denominators of faith. Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, atheist, nobody will be offended. Every pathogen that Pastor Bayly describes is present there. I have wondered what a uniquely Reformed answer to same sex attraction would look like. You won't find it at ex-gay ministries, but you may find it in some churches. In other words, it is to be found in the properly functioning, intentionally relational, relationally salient, doctrinally orthodox, communion serving, right preaching, church disciplining church.

Thanks for the encouragement, men. It is helpful.

We'll consider your suggestion, dear brother Ken. You're right that these fields are white/ripe for the harvest of the Gospel. All sexual issues are.

Todd, I agree completely. The Church should stop salving its conscience by turning over ministry it deems difficult to experts, whether psychologists or parachurch organizations, whether campus evangelization and discipleship or counseling the victims of child abuse, working with those suffering temtations to same-sex intimacy, or confronting and exposing predators.

One problem is that such work is so very costly in time and money, and people willing to give money to GRACE are unwilling to give money to Christ the Word or Clearnote Church, Bloomington. Two weeks ago our two churches spent several thousand dollars holding a tall-steeple Presbyterian church in a major metropolitan area accountable for covering up sexual abuse. Try to imagine any fundraising letter from Christ the Word or Clearnote that would fly among those whose commitments are to parachurch Evangelicalism.

We do this work constantly and year after year. It's very costly in both time and money. This is the reason most churches and sessions farm it out to rich parachurch organizations like my friend, Ken Sande's, Peacemakers (yes, I know Ken has left) and my friends Duncan Rankin and Diane Langberg's GRACE.

We've made two long trips in the past three weeks to do this work. David and I were together on one of those trips. You can imagine how grateful we are to our sessions for their support of this work.

But much more, you can imagine the deep appreciation and love the victims have for elders and churches who will listen and cry with them, then work to vindicate and protect them.


"The Church should stop salving its conscience by turning over ministry it deems difficult to can imagine the deep appreciation and love the victims have for elders and churches who will listen and cry with them, then work to vindicate and protect them."
These are precisely the reasons why Clearnote should consider teaching other churches and sessions in how to do this work. Perhaps you can fill the gaps left by modern seminary training. And its likely that a conference on the topic would be a money-loser -- perhaps poorly attended too. But there can't much more issues that are as presssing as teaching the men of the church to do their duty. If you build it, I would come (and twist some others' arms as well). Keep up the good work.

Tim, could you talk a little bit more about:

Must we allow the pagan mantra that one must never "blame the victim" cause us to deny victims' moral agency...

I don't see a whole lot of abuse survivors struggling to cope with their enjoyment of being raped and assaulted. But I do see a whole lot of survivors who believe that the somehow deserved or asked for their abuse.

I don't think that I'm following your point.

>>I don't see a whole lot of abuse survivors struggling to cope with their enjoyment of being raped and assaulted.

Pastoral care is a dying art, today—an art, not a science. Read Gregory's Pastoral Care, Baxter's pastoral handbooks, Thielicke's expositions of the parables titled The Waiting Father, etc. When we give ourselves to the terribly weighty and difficult work of pastoral care, we find we have to do with immortal souls whose hearts are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Almost my entire point of this post is to call our attention to the simple truth that victims themselves become sinners, both at the time of their abuse and years and decades later. I'm guessing most of us will accept me saying "years and decades later," but no one wants me to say"at the time of their abuse."

Nevertheless, it's true and pastors, elders, deacons, and Titus 2 women must not recoil from what the souls under our care say to us. Rather, most often we are the first people who truly listen and hear, and why should we listen to their pain and refuse to listen to their confessions of sin?

There's always guilt, and not just false guilt, but real and true and helpful guilt, also. Look for it with an open mind and heart and you'll find it.

As I said above, corrupters of children corrupt children, not just the adults those children become years later. Evil begets evil. Evil is leaven which corrupts the entire loaf. As Donne says, our sin "becomes their door."

So, for instance, (and this is purely a hypothetical) the younger brother whose older sister molests him, the next day after his suffering himself turns around and molests his younger brother. Then that younger brother molests his younger sister. Then that younger sister seduces her older sister. They are victims, and they become predators. Shall we not help them to confess their sin and hear the words of mercy, that Christ Jesus came to save sinners like them?

Normally, when we speak with a man or woman whose spouse committed adultery, the innocent party confesses sin that contributed to the adultery. Of course, this doesn't mean he or she isn't a victim and doesn't have the right (and often, the duty) of divorce. Rather, it means evil is multifaceted and complicated and nefarious and ingrown and seductive and polymorphously perverse.

It takes hard work of wise older Christians to care for souls in such a way that those souls are free to open their hearts and to receive discerning care instead of trite phrases.

So, to sum up, yes. Numerous times I have been privileged to share and help to heal the burden of guilt borne by victims of the most terrible sins who themselves were corrupted by those sins in such a way that they ended up becoming worse sinners themselves. Not worse than their predator (although in a few cases, that did happen), but rather worse sinners than they had been before they were abused.

With love,

Another area where all the talk of victimhood needs to stop: your country's race relations (and those in my home country, as well). It denies the moral agency of the people affected to blame their current problems on the slavery, ugly as it was, of the past.

I completely agree with Tim's last comment. 

When we have the privilege of helping those who have been sinned against sexually, they always find it helpful when we talk about their own sin. All kinds of things get confused in their hearts: shame, guilt, vengeance, justice. When we tell them they are sinners, they begin to separate what is different. Their own sin needs the blood of Christ. Their sense of justice needs vindication (from God and the civil and ecclesiastical authorities). As long as we never talk about their own sinful responses and sinful additions to the sins of others, they can never see clearly enough to taste the sweet grace of God.

Hello dear Uncle, I don't wander over here too often any more, but now that I have, I am afraid I am going to have to pick yet another fight with you. I do not believe that shame is ever a good thing; it does not lead us to repentance, and I explain why in a blog post responding to at least part of this post. It may sound like a case of semantics, but I believe that it is not helpful to use the words Shame and Guilt interchangeably, as you do here, and that the more we understand the difference between the two, the better off for everyone.

>>it is not helpful to use the words Shame and Guilt interchangeably, as you do here

Hello dear niece,

Thank you for dropping by. Allow me a brief response.

The words 'guilt' and 'shame' mean different things. Please show me above where I said the two were the same thing. I don't see it.

According to God, two of the worst conditions a soul can descend to is to lose the ability to see one's shame and to have no fear of God. Concerning shamelessness, in Zephaniah 3:5 God declares "the unjust knows no shame,"  and in Philippians 3:19 He tells us the wicked "glory in their shame."

In fact, the inability to see one's shame goes hand in hand with the absence of the fear of God:



Of course, life would be intolerable for those who know the fear of God and accurately see their shame if they knew nothing of the shed blood of Jesus Christ which is able to turn aside God the Father Almighty's wrath against us.

In your blog post linked above, you explain me to your readers as "my ultra-conservative uncle." Maybe I'm quibbling over words, but really I'm not ultra-conservative. I'm simply a boringly normal orthodox Christian.

In your blog post linked above, you also wrote of your desire to "introduce a more helpful language about shame and guilt into this conversation, which I believe applies whether one is religious or not."

No true explanation of guilt and shame can spread the distance between both the Christian and the irreligious or pagan man. There is no release from guilt and shame absent the Cross of Jesus Christ. Other releases are false. They are only increased bondage to Satan. When the Substitutionary Atonement purchased by the death of God's Precious Son Who went to the Cross at His Father's command is not offered to sinful woman and man, there is no hope of any even slight release from sin and guilt, and thus there is no peace. 


Only the blood of Jesus Christ, the Sinless One, God's Spotless Lamb, is able to turn aside the wrath of His Father. Aside from the Blood of Jesus Christ, we have no hope now or eternally.

Christians holding firmly to the Substitutionary Atonement (Isaiah 53: "the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all") are the only peacemakers between God and man. It is for this reason that God commands us:

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2Corinthians 5:18-21)


Sorry to leave you hanging on this one. I got hit hard with allergies, and then a cold perched itself atop of them; out flat for a few days.

That’s weird, the email of your comment was only half of what the comment is on the blog… I am just seeing it now. Anyway…

Yes, I totally get Zephaniah… have been “hanging out” with him these last couple of days on the couch. It seems like Josiah’s reforms were not happening fast enough for him, and that there were still lots of people in Judah abusing their powers… leaders, judges, prophets, priests… devouring the powerless, using their positions to their own advantage and excluding the weak and helpless from the bounty of the land, making unjust rulings that made life harder for those who needed a hand up most of all. When I read that all the Senate Republicans voted to deny just wages to women in our country, or of the unimaginable torture “political” prisoners in North Korea suffer, or when I read Half the Sky, just to name a few things, then this deep feeling wells up, and I utter in chorus with Zephaniah, “The wicked know no shame!” Or in other, more current language, “How dare they!” But for which German has even a stronger, better expression, “Bodenlose Unverschämtheit!” Bottomless shamelessness, a phrase that wells up more often than I would like to admit, especially when I am driving. How dare “they” act outside the moral/social parameters that seem obvious and objective, and usually have me right smack in the middle of them. What is wrong with them, that they do not share this same moral compass? How dare they show such blatant disrespect for the fundamental principles for the flourishing of life on our planet, established by the Creator? (and sometimes, “how dare they disrespect me!”) What happened to their radar? Have they no fear of consequences? And believe me, I want God to come crashing down on those living on the “hubris” side of the “shame/hubris” core every bit as much as Zephaniah did.

But I was starting at the other end of things. I was starting with my own inner world of emotions. And what I found there, several years ago, but many years after becoming a Christian, were these two distinct things going on, which I described in my post. The one emotion, which was not necessarily attached to behavior that crossed any divinely ordained boundaries, but more often than not also arbitrary social taboos, invariably led to hiding, discouragement, fear, self-loathing, destructive patterns of retreat and a victim mentality. This deep, pervasive and paralyzing feeling, and the fear of this feeling, also made it difficult to accept true guilt, not only in the legal definition, but also in the way I described in my post, an emotion of remorse and truly feeling empathy with the person/s on the other end of my actions. I cannot emphasize enough how life changing it has been for me to recognize this distinction and to know, that in as much as shame, in wanting to hide and find ANYTHING to cover itself (even the Bible!) kills vulnerability and empathy, vulnerability and empathy also kill shame. Not only does Christ free us to live this way, but He is our ultimate example of this kind of shamelessness: a life conquering shame, and death, and condemnation through vulnerability, empathy, and sacrificial love. Unfortunately, my experience has been that shame-cultures still dominate in many churches and Christian families, and that there are still many “prophets” that try to shame the world into turning to God. I’ve been trying to think back over my life, and to the best of my memory, I can think of no time when this particular feeling, that I along with some sociologists (but by far not all) have termed shame, has led me to a closer relationship with God or my fellow humans. Only when I courageously take the counterintuitive course and do the exact opposite of what this emotion incites me to do, am I able to overcome it, and as a result, find myself in a deeper, more authentic relationship with God, with myself and with the people with whom I share my life. And yes, it is Christ that gives me this courage.

I find the terms shame/hubris and guilt/grace to be terms that helpfully label these emotions I have identified in my own life, and I am glad that more and more people are talking about them in this way. I make no claims to force these definitions on the biblical authors, and have no illusions that the many different words that are translated to the one english word, shame, will line up one to one with how I have delineated them. (although, the classic grk. usage of aidos does support the shame/hubris link. {Colin/Brown}). I do think that the Bible records the histories of people who lived according to one or the other of these cores, and for me, Saul and David illustrate the two principles splendidly. But there are many others. Zacchaeus overcame his own shame and found his way through to true empathy and recompense not because Jesus dragged him before the moral police and waved a finger at him, but because Jesus invited himself into Zacchaeus’ home, openly embracing him socially… all the while not moving God’s boundaries of justice. And the fig leaves deserve a blog post all of their own.

So, I don’t doubt that you do distinguish between shame and guilt, but I don’t follow you here, and it is not helpful to me, when you say, “Sin and guilt have been replaced by victimhood and shame.” Postmoderns have been robbed of forgiveness and left with shamelessness—a shamelessness most promoted (as with Merritt) precisely at those places shame ought righfully to be most alive, most active, and most redemptive. Shame is a gift of God ordained by Him to assist us in forsaking wickedness and fleeing to the Cross.”

Surely that excruciating, emotional alarm we feel when we trip, or dare come close to, a social or moral live-wire, has been corrupted along with everything else in the universe, and has been, in as many cases as not, the very thing that holds people in bondage to oppressive social orders! It seems to me, that Jesus traded in this live-wire of shame, that is meant to corral us within the boundaries of the law, for a compass to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves instead. That is a whole new adventure!

I am sorry if you are offended by my calling you “ultra-conservative.” I chose that term, because it was much softer than what I first wrote! :-) Of course you see yourself in the center of orthodoxy… I guess it is a trait we humans all have, to see ourselves in the center of the moral universe, and not to any one side of it. I think the readers of my blog will understand it to mean...way to the right of lee. Actually, I do mean more than that, but it is yet another blog post that has had trouble finding its way out of my brain. If you would like me to replace it with your term, I will.

On a more personal note, when I was sorting through the family pictures at 1515, I came across a great picture of you and Peter sitting on the couch and beaming. It was the only picture that brought tears to my eyes, as I thought about how important both of these men have been to me in my life. I can’t remember whose box I put it in, but I’ll send you the photo I took of it, if you’d like.

>>I can’t remember whose box I put it in, but I’ll send you the photo I took of it, if you’d like.

Dear Lee,

More later, but for now...

I'd love a copy! Peter has been used by God in my life like almost no other men. He brings tears to my eyes, too.

With affection,

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