Shame, and why I absolutely hate it

All six of them stood before us, that day, all in a row. We all knew what was coming and it wasn’t good.

I hated these moments and had witnessed them one-too-many times. I never understood why the congregants allowed this archaic practice to take place.  Were all of them too fearful to stand up and do something about it? Well to be honest, I’m sure that some of them enjoyed it. It must have added to the already colorful conversations found in some of the prevalent gossip circles in this church. I, on the other hand, viewed it as a demeaning act that added to the pain of people who were already suffering. Although I was young and hadn’t yet immersed myself in the study of human behavior, I was not ignorant to how this abuse of power was simply a tactic used by the pastor to manipulate and control unruly church members. I sometimes wondered if the church leadership was unaware of the emotional and psychological damage that this practice caused. Furthermore, it rarely resulted in a positive outcome. In most instances, those placed in front of the congregation would walk away from the church and distance themselves from any form of Christianity for years to come. Some never returned.

As the six stood in front of us, I wanted to shout, “Run! You don’t have to do this!” However, I never mustered the gall to do it. Before, I could act, the pastor began to speak. He called each of them by name, one-by-one, announcing to everyone that those before us were being placed on church discipline. Without batting an eye, he disclosed their transgressions and explained why their sentence was warranted. As was custom, they were told that they could no longer participate as members of the church until they proved themselves faithful to the Lord once again.

My emotional state regressed, as he led a pious prayer for the newly sentenced. I was taken back to the time when I first read, “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. My reaction to the book was anger and frustration, much like what I felt in this moment. The denomination, at large, had an elevated view of their “holiness standards” so, I assume that this served not only as punishment for the transgressor, but also as a warning for those who might be tempted to follow suit. Truthfully, the fear of public shaming kept many from making poor choices. Nevertheless, it was done at the expense of the dignity of every parishioner.

I wanted to cry and hug my friends (some who were still teenagers) who had to endure this spiritual flogging. If only there was a way to perform spiritual CPR, I would have done it. It was evident that a piece of them died that day. I also found myself wondering if anybody had even spent time to inquire what led to their decision. After all, I could see similar patters of behavior in the lives of people that I knew that were hurting. I also knew these people personally, and I could see that they were only trying to self-medicate. Shame tends to drive, otherwise strong people, into unhealthy patterns of behavior. It tends to cause us to feel naked and exposed. At times, it influences us to reach to, whatever is closest to us, to cover ourselves. Many times, those things cause us more harm than good. This can cause the shame to increase and drive us to even more erratic behavior. In retrospect, I can see that this diabolic ritual, clothed as a necessary path towards holiness, added shame-upon-shame. It was psychological torture that ate at the human psyche. Regardless of how it was packaged, it was held the spirit of an anti-christ. Christ covers, defends, and gives his life for us when we are at our worst. Satan is like a broken-record full of never-ending accusations. The album is scratched and keep replaying the most hurtful things that you can ever imagine.

In case you haven’t noticed, I absolutely hate shame.

For years I was held prisoner by the thought of what the perception of others about me might be. As a pastor I felt as if I lived in a glass house where everyone was constantly sizing me up to see if I met their expectations. As a child raised in fundamentalism, I walked away from the denomination that I was raised in and became a token sermon illustration for a reprobate child. In addition, I knew that I failed to meet the spiritual expectations of both my parents. As a man, I felt marred by my inability to meet the cultural expectations of masculinity. Finally, as a child of the Living God, I was disappointed with my spiritual performance. I was unable to look in the mirror with out filling marred, blemished, and dirty. I felt so much shame.

Thankfully, I had an encounter with grace. Grace, in an ever-so-loving way, slapped me upside the head and filled me in on the part of the gospel that I had failed to grasp. Grace reminded me that I am fully loved and accepted in Jesus regardless of who I am, the things that I’ve done, and the things that I’ve chosen not to do. Grace reminded me that I didn’t earn this love. Rather, it is gift from God. Grace reminded me that in Christ, I don’t have to live in shame. Instead, I can live boldly and point to past failures as the place where I encountered Christ. When others reject me, I can stand knowing that I am fully complete with or without their acceptance. I have all I need in Christ. He has brought me all the hope, healing, and encouragement that I will ever need.

Today I have a different take on shame. I refuse to be bound by it and I choose to set people free from it. I’m at a point where if I saw anyone try to publicly shame someone, I’d do whatever it takes to silence that person. So, whether you are a zealot trying to prove a point, a parent who lacks parenting skills and resorts to shaming your kids on social media, or a xenophobe who dislikes those who are different than you, rest assured that my tolerance is the same as that of an exasperated whistle-blower.

With that said I place two challenges before you.

  1. Surrender any personal shame that you carry and choose to love yourself unconditionally.

Simply put, if God loves you, then you ought to love you too.

  1. Stand up for injustice and love everybody always (Yes, I stole the last part from Bob Goff. Check out his books if you haven’t already.)

Two words: Speak up! I want to shoot myself in the foot for not speaking up for my           friends in the past. I can’t believe that I allowed fear from allowing me to do what               was right. In the end, there was nothing for me to fear, there was only a sect for me           to lose, and what was lost really didn’t add value to my life to begin with.

Unapologetically yours,

John Eli Garay


John Eli is a transformational life coach who has spent over 15 years mentoring individuals in life skills, career transitions, and through organizational change. His resume includes pastoral care, behavioral health, and higher-education advising. From an early age, John recognized that God created him to bring hope, healing and encouragement to others. He is currently walking out his purpose by helping others confront, and work through, any negative self-talk that keeps them from living life to the fullest. His ministry includes blogging, speaking, and personal development coaching. He currently lives in Chandler, Arizona with his wife, mini-schnauzer and an antique piano whom he calls, “Betty.”

To schedule a coaching session with John Eli click here.

Published by John Eli

I am a self-awareness coach (coach for humans), life strategist, blogger and speaker. I’ve spent over 21 years mentoring individuals in life skills, career transitions, relationships, and life recovery. My resume includes pastoral care, behavioral health, and higher education. From an early age, I realized that God created me to bring hope, healing and encouragement to others. I am currently living out my purpose by creating a space where people can rediscover and become all that they were created to be. I currently live in the beautiful state of Arizona with my wife, two dogs, and an antique piano whom I call, “Betty.”

41 thoughts on “Shame, and why I absolutely hate it

  1. Romans 13:10 (HCSB)
    Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.

    Galatians 5:22-26 (HCSB)
    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

    Romans 10:10-11 (HCSB)
    One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.
    Now the Scripture says, Everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame,

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post, John, and thanks for sharing. Though I have attend fundamentalist churches, none were on the level of the one you attended. How galling that a pastor would line up people in such a way and give them the “Scarlet Letter” treatment you described. Even more amazing, however, is the weakness of Christians who just take it … who remain in churches such as that and have no backbone. When I have encountered serious problems in churches, I never hesitated leaving. And if the pastor wanted to know why, I never hesitated giving him the reason as bluntly as possible.

    Thanks again, John, for powerful post.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great post! Some of my favorite words in the bible are, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…” So if it is finished, if Jesus has already despised the shame on our behalf, then we have no business picking it up or trying to inflict it on others.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Thank you for sharing your experience and the edifying message behind it. I especially liked the “I can live boldly and point to the past failures as the place I encounter Christ’, how true. Remembering this, changes one’s perspective when trials of any kind come into our lives in a fury blaze. Also like the broken record analogy, I agree it’s time to trash the old unspiritual self for the grace Jesus Christ gives us. His love is the answer and free to whoever chooses to accept.
    TY again. May peace follow you always and blessings as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love that you write: “Simply put, if God loves you, then you ought to love you too.” I grew up in church, and while none of my churches had a public shaming ritual, I still grew up with so much shame because I was taught that God loved me even though I was a sinner and undeserving of his love. As an adult, I found self-love to be a spiritual practice all on its own because I have never felt so much love for others and so much appreciation for God’s creations since I started to love myself. Thank you for sharing, John.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by. Honestly, I’m still working on absorbing this truth into my life. I have to constantly remind myself that it’s OK to love myself. But by the grace of God, I am growing in this truth…. and I’m so grateful for this. Blessings. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I wanted to celebrate my freedom after writing this. However, I’m actually going through a grieving process thinking about everyone who was abandoned and hurt by this processes. I wonder if those areas of my heart will ever heal. Perhaps they will be the thorn in my side for the rest of my journey here…. a reminder of what should not be done.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yesss John! This story is still so unbelievable to me as the day you told me about it. I have a book recommendation for you. Short & easy read that talks about how central to the Gospel the idea is that Jesus took on our shame when he died as well. I’ll message you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Awesome again. Shame is taught and embedded in schools, churches even at jobs. Until we start speaking up and out about it we will continue the patterns. Thank you for sharing this John! Awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow! Publically announcing their sin while they were still teenagers. Intense! Sometimes some common sense should be applied. Thanks for writing about this. It helps people to think through a very complicated thing.


    1. Unfortunately, the desire to control others sometimes surpasses common sense. There are so many Christians who live trying to Lord over people instead of pointing them to Jesus is Lord… and the awesome thing about Jesus… is that his way is grace.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well said!
        There was a guy in the college ministry I was a part of in college who actually got under the table when we were praying to see if my eyes were shut. He then shut his eyes real hard to show me he saw. True story! Lol!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I only saw this play out one time in a church that I began to see as cult-like–it was horrible to behold, and I got out of there fast. What is the Bible passage pastors like this use to justify these “shaming/shunnings”–or IS there one??

    Grace is the better way. My life changed, improved dramatically as I sat under the teaching of Pastor Joseph Prince (Singapore’s, New Creation Church). He’s often criticized by old-school Bible teachers as preaching a “radical grace”–but Jesus Himself was a radical, turning the religious culture upside down. Pastor Prince backs up all his grace messages with the Bible–he’s very knowledgeable about it, and the original Greek and Hebrew language. The testimonies he receives are the proof in the pudding–people who’ve lived in bondage to various sins have gotten free when they catch the revelation that “we are the righteousness of God, IN CHRIST”–not on our own efforts, but through Him and the power of His Holy Spirit.

    Sorry, I went off on a joyful grace tangent! May God bless you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

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