We Need More Shame in Christianity

As I do with most new patients, I asked him how he had heard about my practice. He gave the current most common answer, saying he had found me online. He told me that he had read several reviews and visited my office website and that he liked my approach and the values I expressed. I mentioned that my approach and values stemmed from my faith, from the belief that I should treat others as I would want to be treated.

“I figured you were a Christian based on your views,” he smiled, proud that he had deduced correctly (I do not make any specific faith references on my office website.) He went on to tell me that he was a Christian and that he attended one of the large churches in the area. He shared that both he and his girlfriend really liked the church. As evidence of his faith and commitment to the church he told me that he had already signed up to attend the church's upcoming men’s retreat.

As we finished our introductory chat my attention turned to the history form I have all patients complete at their first visit. It has questions about past illness and current conditions, previous surgeries and hospitalizations, medications and allergies and family medical history. At the bottom of the page is a section for the “social history”, questions about habits such as smoking and alcohol use, as well as work history and sexual history. I noticed that he had checked the box indicating he had a normal sex life. I asked him if he and his girlfriend were intimate.

He understood the implications of my question. He knew his sex life did not line up with the beliefs and values he had proclaimed to me just a few moments earlier.

“Well, we all have things that we need to work on,” he offered in explanation.

“Indeed we do,” I replied, “but this is a thing the Bible is pretty clear about. If you are Christians who are committed to one another, why not get married?”

“We have talked about it,” he answered, seemingly implying that it was acceptable to ignore Scripture and engage in sin for short periods of time. It appeared that in his thinking having a plan to change his behavior at some point in the future meant that his heart was in the right place. Although such reasoning is easily deconstructed I did not think it appropriate to put him more on the spot. 

Although our conversation was not lengthy I found myself thinking about it many times in the weeks that followed. What struck me was not that he was living according to his own rules (I see this on a daily basis) but that he was shamelessly living in contradiction to his boldly stated beliefs. He was not at all bothered by the blatant hypocrisy he displayed. It appeared that in his version of Christianity actions were irrelevant and that all that mattered was his words and intentions. His thinking seemed to be that all his faith required of him was to admit that his behavior was wrong. Feeling badly about his behavior was not needed, shame was irrelevant and changing his behavior was not even a consideration. 

Sadly, I am beginning to realize that this young patient is representative of what passes for Christianity today. The teachings of Orthodox Christianity about the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the need for us to repent of our sinful behavior (actions done contrary to God’s will) are being cast aside for a new type of Christianity. This new religion emphasizes love and acceptance for each person “right where they are.” In this new version of Christianity there is typically no need for guilt and shame. Guilt and shame are only appropriate for the really “bad” sins like murder, not for the sins that “everybody” does.

The problem with this new form of Christianity is that it is not Christianity at all. If the essential components of the faith are set aside what remains is empty and valueless.

I have no interest at all in this cubic zirconia version of the faith. I do not want to be accepted just as I am, for I am an anxious, selfish, short-tempered person who frequently is ignorant of the feelings of others. I do not want to waste one millisecond defending my faults or justifying my sins. I want to be better, to be different. I want to be transformed. I understand that every sin is terrible, and that is why Jesus died. Because I believe this I cannot continue to live in sin. 

Because I hate the bad that I do I have consistently prayed for help in changing. God has heard my prayers. The greatest testimony I can share is not the sermons I preach or the good deeds that I do. The greatest testimony is the change wrought in my life by God as I have refused to accept my shortcomings and instead confessed them, and with his help, addressed them. It was shame and sadness over my tendency towards anger that began the process of casting my anger aside. It has taken years, but I have changed. It is a blessing to know that when my longest tenured employee talks about how I used to lose my temper my nurse of the last two years says she can’t believe I  was ever like that.  Shame brought blessing and change.

Grief over our sin is important. I can't help but wonder- if we Christians showed more concern for our own sins than we did for the sins of others, if we hated our sins enough to forego excuses and cast them aside, could we have a greater impact on our world?