A few weeks before the Unashamed campus conference, some of us pastors and campus missionaries were in Wheaton College for our intensives. On the second week of the program, Dr. Scott Moreau, leading missiologist and professor of Intercultural Communication, taught us about shame-based cultures.

We had a group discussion and a lecture about honor and shame. During the break, I asked him, “Why does it seem like a trend among writers these days? There are so many materials about shame and vulnerability coming out.”

His response was simple: because researchers started studying it in the 90’s and significant results are now available.

A few months before that conversation, I found myself researching on shame. I listened to TED Talks podcasts, and even some sermons about the topic.

My research and personal study on it only proved that shame is very real today among students! And because it’s real, we would like to take this discussion a little further. Presented below are some cases about shame and the way it affects people. As you read through this, it is our hope that this would help you better engage your community and campuses, and make disciples.

The Case of Shame & Identity

One of the points of Pastor CJ Nunag during the first session of Unashamed was that shame makes you rely on public opinion, outward appearance, and group pressure for your identity.

This is similar to how Dr. Scott Moreau put it, “Shame is a reaction to other people’s criticism of self or in-group, an acute personal chagrin at our failure to live up to our obligations and the expectations others have of us. It is not limited to our actions, but affects our person.”

Furthermore, authors Harvey and Gilbert present to us a picture of the effect of shame: “Shame wants to rewrite your story. It wants to redefine your identity and give you a little paper nametag.”

While guilt makes one say, “I did something bad,” shame crushes one’s identity. It sounds like this: “I am bad.”

The lesson: Help them follow God by reminding them that they are a new creation in Christ.

When we deal with someone from a shame-based culture like the Philippines, or someone simply suffering from shame, it is good to remember that while a student may already know that his or her sins have been forgiven, he or she may still go home carrying the same identity.

As campus missionaries and leaders, our goal then must be to make students realize and embrace God’s truth: our shame has been taken away, we are a new creation.

The Case of Shame & Suicide

Although it is not proven to be a direct cause for some suicidal attempts, considerable connections between shame and suicide have been found through the years. In this case, death is not just a way of escaping the pains of shame, but also the search for honor in the absence of shame.

Simone Fullagar explains the connection this way: “The finality of death figures not as a fearful event, but rather death is just a place where the forces of affect no longer reign. Suicide is the fantasy of laying to rest tumultuous emotions of affective forces generated through a relation to self that is governed by particular expectations about identity.”

The lesson: Help them follow God and journey with them as God renews their mind.

According to Dr. Scott Moreau, “Shame is removed and honor restored only when a person does what the society expects of him or her in the situation, including committing suicide if necessary.”

If escaping shame is what some students are after, then talking only about a justice-focused gospel may not be enough to minister to them. The justice-focused gospel sounds something like this: “God has given His son Jesus to pay the penalty of your sin so you can be forgiven.”

For someone who operates in a shame-based mentality, having his/her guilt taken away is one thing; but it’s another thing to have his/her shame taken away.

Have you ever preached the gospel to a student whose response sounded something like this: “I appreciate what God has done for me through Jesus, but my shame is too great for God.”

Whether we like it or not, there are students who, rather than looking at themselves as the ‘sinner’, have evolved to thinking they have become the ‘sin’ itself. They have united themselves with the sin that they’ve committed in the past, and couldn’t separate themselves from their identity when they were living in their former life of sin.

Even if the student you ministered to has already gone through One2One and Victory Weekend, even if the student has already learned about his/her new identity in Christ, the shame he/she feels goes back to the problem of identity crisis. For this, we need to reaffirm their new identity in Christ according to God’s truth.

For this case, let’s take the response of Paul. Let’s help these brothers and sisters not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of their minds. (Romans 12:2) Consistent renewing is especially needed when they have spent years living in old and worldly mindsets. It also means we have to be patient with them in the process.

The Case of Shame and Community 

When we minister in a shame-based culture, we need to understand that their standard of honor and shame is dependent on the community they are a part of. Jayson Georges explains that community dictates one’s primary identity and even their sense of ethics. So if community to them is their worldly peers, then this means that their shame is based on how peers would react. If their community dictates that a certain action “is okay,” then they will do what that community approves of.

In this case, it is possible that a student may already be going to a youth service and discipleship group, but their patronized community still is their high school peers (whose values are influenced mostly by media). Because of this, her actions may be based on what is considered acceptable by her high school peers, and not what she is hearing from the person who is discipling her.

The lesson: Help them find people to fellowship with from the church community.

We have been putting an emphasis in making our students belong to a church community. Let’s keep doing it. When a person is of the world, he/she allows the world to define what shame and honor is in his/her life.

In belonging to the community of believers, we are helping them get out of that cycle and get in to God’s truth. As the student grows in Jesus and in the community, our hope is that that student would also all the more grow in God’s Word, and let the Bible define his honor and shame.

Two practical things we also can keep doing: give honor to the things a student does that are honorable in God’s sight, and point out the sinful patterns that are shameful in His sight.

The Case of Shame & Vulnerability

Shame researcher and TED Talks speaker Brene Brown teaches about shame in connection with vulnerability. She explains that while vulnerability allows yourself to be exposed, shame prevents you from doing so. And while it remains unexposed, it grows destructively. According to her, ”Shame needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”

It’s interesting that what we see now how the world of research has long been confirmed by the Word of truth. This is why James 5: 16 tells us to, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Paul was okay to be vulnerable for he knew that by it, God’s power is manifested.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12: 9-10

Most importantly, being vulnerable to God is okay.

“…For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful. If you return to him, he will not continue to turn his face from you.”

2 Chronicles 30:9 (NLT)

The lesson: Help them follow God by reminding them of God’s grace and love for us, even in our weakness.

Let’s remind our students that it is okay to be vulnerable. As we continue to disciple them, let us nurture that culture where they realize that:

  1. It is okay to be vulnerable with God, asking for His strength when we are weak, or repenting when we sin.
  2. It is okay to be vulnerable with one another as long as they help us grow in Christ.

The reason for this is because even though we are fully known  and exposed to God, His love never changes.

Putting It All Together

Let’s end by going back to the beginning.

Adam and Eve were crowned with glory and honor as God entrusted to them the authority to rule over creation. They were not ashamed even if they were naked. In the fall, this divine honor was forfeited, and this became the start of mankind’s pursuit of self-earned honor—the need to be affirmed, the desire to have more Instagram likes or more followers.  All these could possibly lead us to a solution if we take the approach of looking at it in a shame and honor perspective.

This generation’s desires are no different from other generations: we are all in the pursuit of honor, because the issue of shame is real. But the good news is that the solution to shame, since the beginning of time, is still the same: the gospel.

It is when we give our lives to Jesus that God takes away our shame by removing our old status of orphans full of shame. He redeemed us through Jesus to be adopted as His sons and daughters of the Most High (Galatians 4:5). In that way, we become pure and honorable.

“We who find our honor solely in following Jesus are freed from the games of social manipulation, status construction, and face management. And we who embrace the shame of the cross with Christ are assured by His Spirit of eternal resurrection glory.” (Jayson Georges, Why has nobody told me this before? The gospel the world is waiting for, Jan/Feb 2015, Missions Frontiers)


Works Cited:

Scott Moreau, Scott. Honor and Justice in Cross-cultural Communication, Wheaton College, July 2017

Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert, How Shame Assaults Your Identity, Nov 2016, Crosswalk.com

Simone P. Fullagar, Wasted Lives: the Social Dynamics of Shame and Youth Suicide, Sep 2003

Jayson Georges, Ministering to those from Shame Honor Cultures, Dec 2016

Brene Brown, How Vulnerability Holds the Key to Emotional Intimacy, Nov 2012, spiritualityhealth.com