The term “honor-shame” sound odd to you. It doesn’t seem to fit with American culture. Or you might think of the Asian nations where both honor and shame are given a special emphasis in language, in the arts, and in business and even political life. They seem very different to us. We treat honor and shame in a distinctly different fashion.
Or do we?
Going way back to the 30s, American culture began an experiment to see if we might remove shame. This was most notably the beginning of the modern sexual revolution and the Frankfort School. While it is easy to blame the Freudian Marxists of that “school” (think-tank is the term we would use today) the growing affluence of the 20th century gave us Hollywood. The booming drug culture opened new doors. We as a nation changed and it wasn’t always at the hands of the so-called “cultural elites.”
Christianity is (among other things) about honor and shame. Christ removes the shame of sin. He gives the honor of access to the Father and the rewards that come with an honored position. It is not honor without shame but honor received by dealing with shame.
America’s most recent experiment seems to be exactly the opposite. We are attempting to be an amoral culture. If there is no sin then there is no righteousness. If neither of these exist then there is neither honor nor shame. “Do what you will, nobody has the right to judge you.” “There is nothing worth dying for.” It’s the Daily Devotional that inundates our lives.
So now we are ashamed of nothing? Hardly. Our nation regularly shames smoking, racial intolerance, sexual intolerance, nationalism and patriotism, Christianity, and hypocrisy. Many of these have been a part of evangelical piety for centuries. We’re not so separate as we might assume. Our culture has inherited the old Wesleyan piety as well as the modern progressive piety. And an odd-tasting recipe it is.
But our nation has lost its way. Duh. There is no significant moral voice that all would listen to. In the 1800s, it was pastors and evangelists. Even in the 20th century the words and works of Billy Graham held some sway as he personally tore down a racial divide as a crusade and spoke against public sin. At least a few listened.
We are now stuck with learning our morality from school, from TV, and from music. Those are the new evangelists to the culture. The proclaim what they believe should be The New American Piety. People listen. But even that depends upon which school, which TV, and which music. America has become a strange mix of iron and clay, of worldviews that never meet.
Today we, oddly enough, are shaming sexual immorality. Unfortunately, the pragmatic is taking priority over the moral choice. Do we vote for candidate “M” because it will stop candidate “J”? Or should office-holders “F” and “C” be forced out of office should “M” be forced out? Is our morality taking second-place to our pragmatism? Or does the “no perfect candidate” approach allow us the comfort of voting or supporting whomever we see on the ballot? Are there no other options on the table?
Do we our find honor in winning or honor in making the positive moral choice? Is our only dishonor the loss of an election? Is the loss of the culture war a greater dishonor? Is there honor in allowing time to heal the wounds and sins of a man who was, forty years ago, a pig? Do we allow for repentance or are we unforgiving? Will we treat our opposition with the same courtesy?
These questions are well-suited to both sides. The shame on our nation is clear. But we want to deal with shame and not wallow in it. Thus, the question seems to be “What will resolve our shame?” That is not a political question. It is not a culture-war question. It is not even a public morality question. It is an entirely spiritual question. We evangelicals know exactly where the change needs to take place. We also know that the honor to be garnered will not be resolved during an election cycle. And it won’t happen quickly. But to our shame it’s the question we don’t want to even ask let alone answer.
The pastor must be the first to ask the question and to ask it repeatedly. The fellowship will follow. The nation may or may not follow. That depends upon whether the question ever gets outside the four walls of the facility. It would be a shame if it didn’t and an honor if it did.