In yet another attempt at trapping Jesus in something he said, the Scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. The story is recorded in John 8:1-11, where we are told that she was caught in the very act. I doubt that they gave her time to dress and make herself presentable before dragging her off to this impromptu court date. There she stands partially dressed and alone with the shame of her immorality on display.
Jesus, aware of the injustice of the situation, responds with grace by saying “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). All her accusers, perhaps including her partner in adultery, slink away to avoid further confrontation with Jesus.
The woman still stands alone, but Jesus offers her hope by saying, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”
Jesus used the truth as the antidote to shame.
What is the truth that proved to be the antidote? That truth was that, with the exception of Jesus, everyone involved in this sordid event were sinners, not just the woman. Jesus acknowledged this truth and then gave the woman the opportunity to change and be different.
Jesus tells us that truth is the path to freedom (John 8:32). As with the woman caught in adultery, acknowledging sin is the first step to finding freedom from it. Ignoring the sin does a disservice to everyone involved.
While we love this story and the freedom it should bring, in some churches shame maintains a prominent role in the church culture. People trapped in such a church are afraid to speak the truth and hide in their shame. In this culture, shame is used as a weapon to force people into a superficial perfection. Everyone feels the pressure to give the appearance of having it all together. In such an environment, real growth is difficult.
A shame-based church culture can also pressure people into conformity to a false sense of unity. Unity is different than uniformity. We are not called to uniformity. We are not called to be all the same and see things the same way. God made us all different and we need each other to be different, including our opinions on how things should be. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12 that for the church to be healthy all the gifts of all the believers must be operating together.
If there are questions that cannot be asked or if there are people that are above questioning, then truth is not operational. When people who raise questions or make suggestions are labeled as trouble-makers, then truth is not operational. When people are asked to suppress their gifts for the sake of “unity” then the truth is not operational. When people, whether they stay or go, are shamed into silence, then truth is not operational.
No-one enjoys being confronted on sin or shortcomings. No-one likes to hear that the way he is behaving or leading is not perfect or is not having the desired result. Even though it may be uncomfortable, we must strive to maintain a culture where it is mandatory that truth wins out. It is incumbent upon church leaders to create this culture of openness and honesty. If you are a leader and you are not asking for this type of feedback, then you need to do some honest assessment.
Let the truth win out. Shame has no power when the truth of the Gospel is shined upon it.