Last week we talked a bit about the danger of jumping to conclusions over what other people are doing when we may not know the whole story. Just because someone is looking at their phone doesn’t mean they’re admiring their selfies. They just might be reading a book. We all have things going on in the background that others don’t know about. Paul makes the point that we’re all in this together.
Paul extends that point this week. It’s a pretty harsh story that Paul finds himself in the middle of.
It is not entirely clear exactly what it going on since we don’t have letters FROM the Corinthians, only Paul’s response TO the Corinthians but it. appears that in the main the trouble is that Paul wrote a letter that jammed someone up in the community located at Corinth. Someone did something wrong and Paul called them out publicly for it. And now the entire community has ganged up on this person and won’t let it go, whatever *it* might be. They’re making a concerted effort to publicly shame this person to punish them for whatever transgression they have committed.
Public shaming is important and dangerous, all at the same time. There are things that people do and say that can be downright foolish, foolish being a generous way to put it. And sometimes people do things that are much worse that simply foolish. People say and do racist things. People say and do sexist things. People say and do other evil things. These kinds of behaviors do need to be noted and called out.
But there should probably be some limits on how far that public shaming goes. Here’s an example of a public shaming that went too far.
In late 2013 Justine Sacco, 30 years old and a senior director of corporate communications for a media and internet company was travelling to visit family, flying from JFK Airport in New York to Cape Town, Africa via Heathrow Airport in London. She decided to share the indignities of travel with her Twitter followers, all 170 of them. To keep that in perspective, in the Twitterverse that’s akin to having no followers. I’m not a big Twitter user but even I have over 500 followers.
Before she left Heathrow Airport she posted one last tweet that was intended to be ironically funny but came across to some as racist. By the time she landed in Cape Town 11 hours later she’d literally become Twitter public enemy #1 and had lost her job because her post had gone viral generating 10s of thousands of responses.
(Here’s the link to the full story. Some interesting dynamics there that we don’t have time enough to get into. Like how a person with only 170 followers says something that goes viral.
Anyways, there’s no question her Tweet was foolish and someone in her position should have known better. Sarcasm, snark, and irony don’t translate well electronically. But hate mail to the extent she’s lost her job before she knows what is going on? Death threats? The public shaming went too far.
Shaming others can feel righteous and powerful but you have to question its effectiveness. Righteous indignation can feel good. The guy primarily responsible for outing Justine Sacco’s errant tweet called the opportunity to post it, “Delicious”. But often times the shaming says a whole lot more about the person doing the shaming rather than the person being shamed. If not done carefully and well, shaming someone says more about our need to lash out when we’ve been wronged in some way. Shaming someone can be a dangerous path to tread, often with unintended consequences.
At some point there must also be forgiveness. Sometimes we may recoil at the idea of forgiving someone. Understandably so. But we’re not asked to forgive only the comfortable sins and hold on to the rest. We’re commanded to forgive others. Not because I say so. Not because the Bible says so. But because Jesus says so.
When considering forgiveness it is usually helpful to ask ourselves the question, “Have I ever said something that came out very differently than you intended?” Or, “Have I ever done something that was misinterpreted?” That’s a bit of perspective that is worth holding onto. I’m not suggesting that we give people a pass on bad behavior, no, not at all. I AM suggesting we consider if we’ve been in that same position at some point and how did it turn out? Do we respond better to shame or to forgiveness?
Which begs the question, why is thinking about forgiveness over shaming such a big deal? Well, aside from the fact Jesus commands us to forgive others and Jesus taught his disciples the prayer we use every week. You know the one, that part where we pray to be forgiven in the same way we have forgiven others. Aside from all these things there is an immediate and practical side to this.
It’s like this. I’m not sure what I think about Satan or the devil. I’m reasonably certain Satan isn’t the red guy with the horns and pitchfork that rules over hell which is located in the center of the earth.
On the other hand, I’m equally certain there are forces at work in the world that try to encourage us toward our baser tendencies. Like our desire as a culture to publicly shame others, for example. That ganging up on someone to public shame them has at its core the crowd thinking mentality where we jump in and jump on. For some reason it is easy to be drawn into the group think of ganging up on someone but that rarely has a good outcome.
Our defense to being drawn into the vortex of shame is to use forgiveness. Acknowledge the wrong that we’ve done, like in our confession, and acknowledge the wrong done to us. Acknowledge the wrongs, the sins, the trespasses and then forgiveness. Accepting forgiveness and extending forgiveness.
That may not be easy. It may be difficult to accept forgiveness for the things we’ve done. It may be difficult to extend forgiveness for the things done to us. Our need for retribution and righteous indignation will always work on us to detract us from forgiveness.
But peace never comes from retribution or righteous indignation. Peace comes from confession. Peace comes from forgiveness. Peace comes from the love of God in Christ.