We have all seen it done, and, no doubt, we have done it ourselves. I know I have. And I repent. I hope you repent, too. What I am referring to was even a problem over 3,600 years ago. Moses describes meting out punishment to someone found guilty of wrongdoing. He writes –
He may beat him forty times but no more so that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these, and your brother is not degraded in your eyes. Deuteronomy 25:3
Someone who has done wrong is to be punished and corrected, but he/she is not to be degraded or humiliated. The wrongdoer is to be beaten but not beaten to the point of being humiliated and disgraced in the eyes of the community. The Hebrew behind the word ‘degraded’ carries the cluster of ideas’ to be light (in weight), be cursed, be disgraced.’ The basic idea is that correcting what is wrong and punishing guilt is meant to straighten someone out and bring them to an accurate understanding and a healthy attitude. Punishment is not meant to disgrace, humiliate, or shame someone. Correcting wrong and punishing guilt removes a present problem, but creating shame generates a future issue.
Every day I read blogs where readers are invited to leave comments. The comments begin on a healthy note, but it does not take long before someone makes someone else angry by what they wrote. Those commenting go from trying to correct the wrongheaded thinking of the other to attempting to shame and degrade the other person for the opinion they hold. The language and mood of correction are much different from the language and mood of shaming. Correction says you are wrong for thinking as you do. Shaming says that you are an idiot for thinking as you do. Correction addresses itself to the content of your thinking. Shaming attacks the character of the one doing the thinking.
The Law of God forbids us from shaming and disgracing the one needing correction. Shaming doesn’t result in correction; it results in corruption. We make an enemy. Correcting wrong and punishing guilt removes a present problem but creating shame generates a future problem. Shaming someone makes them an enemy and enemies want revenge. I know that when someone disagrees with me and seeks to correct me, I can feel stung, and my ego feels threatened. But when someone seeks to shame me, my ego is under attack, and I want to attack back. I want revenge! I want to humiliate and disgrace and shame them. Do you want to make an enemy? Do you want to have future problems? Then treat someone like they are a fool and seek to shame and humiliate them with your clever and cutting words. Your clever and cutting words do not persuade others of your intellect, only of your arrogance. Your clever and cutting words do not win an argument. They create enemies.
When someone is shamed and rejects the correction that is being offered, we think they are being thick-headed when actually we are the ones at fault for not understanding basic human nature. If I hit my thumb with a hammer, my whole body will curl around it to protect it from further harm. When someone hits my ego with a hammer, my whole being wraps around it to protect it and then I want to hammer the one who hammered me. We hear about surgeries where things are going fine and then an artery is nicked and there is a massive amount of unexpected blood loss. Your ego is the artery of your soul, and when it gets nicked, intentionally or otherwise, there is a massive loss of self-worth, and things go to another level. You can see it when you read blog comments and read the first nasty response where someone nicked someone else’s artery, someone drew blood, and you know what is coming. Your clever and cutting words do not sew up the case. They nick an artery.
The Law of God forbids us from nicking the ego of any man or woman. And yet it happens all the time in the Church. It is not just that I disagree with your opinion. It is that I think you’re an idiot for holding that opinion. I think that you are, take your pick – Anti-Science, Anti-Reason, Anti-God, Anti-Gospel. I think that you are a tool and a fool. Why is there so much division and spite in the Body of Christ? It is not because we think this or that about any number of things. It is because we’ve nicked so many arteries with our clever and cutting words and there is a massive bleeding out in the Church.
I heard that the devil has been in Tahiti for the last few years on vacation because he’s gotten the Church to do his job. He doesn’t let a good crisis go to waste. It is one thing to be condemned by the devil, it is another thing to be condemned by a fellow Christian. I expect the devil to try and nick my ego-artery and go for the eog-jugular, but not my fellow Christian. It is worse to be blind-sided by a friend than to be blitzed by the enemy. I expect the enemy to be my enemy. I do not expect my friend to be my enemy. The last few years have seen many friends become enemies in the Church. Moses said not to beat someone who is guilty with more than forty stripes. We left that number in the rearview mirror a long time ago. We continually seek to disgrace, and shame, and humiliate one another with our oh-so-clever words. I hear that the devil is going to extend his vacation.
In the 70’s, we used to sing a song entitled “We Are One in The Spirit.” In the second verse is the line: “And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.” I always felt awkward singing those words, yet I certainly have a much greater understanding of their intent and meaning almost fifty years later. We need to start singing those lines again to be reminded of God’s heart for the Church. May we guard each person’s dignity and save each person’s pride.