Public Shaming, Monica Lewinsky, and the Gospel


Referencing the great presidential scandal of 1998, Monica Lewinsky said, “I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.”  It has taken her over a decade to speak publicly about what has happened and what she experienced. Before we really understood stories going viral on the Internet and before social media had really taken its root, public shaming ripped apart Monica Lewinsky given her a new identity.

Now, with the growth of social media, the Internet is possibly best known for the spread of these shaming stories. Almost weekly we hear news of another story that I cannot imagine does anything but rip apart the identity of the person. And one shaming gets replaced with the next one. One moment it’s the story of a pastor caught in the scandal, the next week a political figure, the next moment the latest hollywood divorce… shame, shame, shame.

In a TED talk, she said:

I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, that woman. I was seen by many but actually known by few. And I get it: it was easy to forget that that woman was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken.

Isn’t this what shame does? It brands us.

We are “that person.” We are an addict. We are divorced. We are an alcoholic. Shame attacks us at the core of our identity, it seeks to make us lose all worth and value as we begin to believe we are nothing more than the sum of our terrible decisions. Shame attacks our reputation, our dignity, and our lives. And it doesn’t attack it in the minds of others, but even more in our own minds. In our own minds, shame brands us as less than human.

Shame happens whether or not there’s internet. And believe it or not, even in the earliest days on earth, humans reaction to shame has often been exposing a person’s shame instead of helping it be covered over.

After Noah and his family gets off the ark, there’s an interesting story that we tend to leave out of our children’s Bibles.

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father's nakedness.

When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.” - Genesis 9:20-27

Notice what happens, Noah is drunk and naked with his tent flapping open and Ham sees the whole scene. Noah absolutely had done wrong to get himself into this situation, but what was Ham doing here? Ham saw what would bring his father great shame and he told his brothers. If twitter had existed, Noah’s story would’ve gone viral with a tweet, “God’s chosen, Noah, got drunk and passed out naked. #fail”

But how did the other brothers react? Without even looking at their father’s nakedness, they walk backwards and cover what would bring Noah great shame. The scarring, reputation damaging, embarrassing, identity-threatening moment for Noah gets covered over by the love of his two sons.

There’s another public shaming that takes place in the Gospels. This shaming involves a good man who has everything taken from him. He’s humiliated, beaten, and tortured and placed in front of everybody to make a statement. Luke records that a crowd had gathered "for this spectacle.”

In the public shaming of Jesus, our identity is secured. No viral, shameful reputation that gets created for us. No deplorable, life-ruining identity that we’ve secured for ourselves. And no regret that we can’t seem to shake becomes who we are. As Jesus is shamed in front of an audience, our shame is covered over. His shame becomes our victory. His humiliation is our re-birth. When Jesus dies, the part of your story that your ashamed of dies too. The regret, the embarrassment, and the pain gets buried.

And as Jesus is resurrected, your shame stays buried. And from this point forward, the only shaming is the public shaming of the one who lost the fight. Instead of your shame, it’s the one who has repeatedly tried to accuse you and shame you time and time again.  And God literally disarms any shame that can be fired at you by triumphing over all guilt and shame in Jesus. (Colossians 2:15).

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