I’m not the cartoonist that David Hayward is, so I have to steal. David posted a ‘toon today with tips on how to silence a dog (or a person) in response to Christianity Today‘s Shame-a-Thon TwitterChat, about which I knew nothing until I read David’s post. But the record is there, so everyone can go back and read at least some of what was said.
The television show M*A*S*H was a sometimes biting commentary on the Vietnam war, but was set in Korea about 2 decades earlier. They never mentioned Vietnam and could defend against accusations of attacking US government policy with that. But nobody was fooled, and it was impossible not to make the connection. I can’t say for certain that CT’s Twitter chat was sparked by the growing swell of online chatter about the Tony Jones situation, but it’s impossible not to connect the dots if you know they’re there.
In introducing the chat, part of what CT said was,
Beyond this package examining how fame and shame relate to the gospel, we at CT feel called to address Christian involvement in online shaming. Christians, too, can get wrapped up in an accusatory, reactionary, defensive mentality designed to “call out” and “expose” the people we interact with online.…
And yet, social media remains a powerful tool for tough conversations, for considering others’ opinions and recognizing our own blind spots. How can we be open to critical discourse without resorting to shame-based campaigns against one another? How can we launch conversations designed at building up and honoring the Body of Christ, rather than bringing people down?
My main concern is that some of the sentiment around “propriety” can be a plea for ignorance. Christians should never be seeking a position of plausible deniability or willful ignorance, attempting to ignore the facts or decline to hear them for fear that you will not like them or that they will somehow implicate you or make you culpable for having received some bit of knowledge. So I’ve been critical of I’ve been critical of Doug Pagitt and Emergent leaders like Brian McLaren and others for ignoring evidence about Tony Jones’ Narcissistic Personality Disorder and his shoddy theologizing of his behavior in their attempts to control the narrative or shut down the story completely. And I’ve been critical of Rachel Held Evans for propping up their narrative.
So is my criticism shameful?
I think that’s what CT would have me believe. But Jesus also called people out for their behavior, particularly in cases of injustice against the poor or the weak. While I throw up a little in the back of my mouth at Mark Driscoll’s idea of the Jesus-Manly-Man, it’s still true to say that this get-along-at-all-costs attitude is not the one that Jesus had. He called out his own people, and did it publicly in many cases. And I have to think that even Rachel would have to agree with the motivation behind my criticism here, or else she’s not considering her retweets very carefully.
This is how a conversation about shame can do exactly what it’s talking about not doing, and why someone suggested a #shameCT conversation in response to #CTshame. As I commented on David’s post,
There’s a big difference between shaming and sharing info that is shameful. Some people should be ashamed, but in most cases, shaming is targeted toward people who should not be. Shaming is a tool of the powerful, while shameful info is the possession of the victim. Let them do with it as they will, and if others are ashamed of it, there’s likely good reason. Shaming is silencing the victim, compounding the shame of being a victim. #Reprehensible.
Remember, silence is a tool of narrative control. Using shame to silence is a victimizing tool of the powerful. Unsettling and unseating leaders with shameful stories of abuses and retelling them is the only tool available to the victims of their abuses. The shame brought upon the church for this is not the fault of the victim: the shame falls upon the church itself for continuing to choose ignorance and follow abusive leaders. If it’s shameful for people to talk about what you’re doing, the solution isn’t to make them stop talking, it’s to stop doing shameful acts.
This getting-along thing that pretends that the church will look better if we cover each other is in no way Christlike. By my observation, the church is all too willing to cover the sins of its leaders while railing against those of its non-members. It seems to me we’d do better to flip that around: expose corrupt leaders and get along with sinners. Isn’t that the way Jesus did it?