Respond to shame that is contagent!?

A blog by Rob Hoegee, who researched shame, the influence, the reaction, the options...

schedule 29 sept 2022
bookmark_border Pastoraat

In the individual West, we would characterize shame as an intensely painful feeling or as an intensely painful experience of realizing that we are flawed and therefore not worthy of being accepted. Shame is private and personal. It's about the mistake or the negative thing I've done, not so much about the mistake itself. It causes a lack of self-confidence. In collective cultures, shame is the negative assessment of another individual, one's own group, or another group. This shame is highly contagious, as everyone in the group feels the dishonor of the person or group. Even those who haven't done anything 'wrong'. Therefore, everyone strives to maintain the social status of the group and to avoid putting shame on his or her group or family.

Cross Culture Nieuwegein is an intercultural church and therefore has to deal with these different forms of shame. As a church, she feels called to respond responsibly and to play a role in the recovery of shame. Therefore, a study has been carried out into how she can respond in a culturally-anthropological and biblical-theological way to shame of people from a collective culture. A number of practical insights and handles for intercultural churches followed:


* Communicate what you consider honorable and shameful as a church. In collective cultures, each group or community has an (unwritten) code of conduct about what is honorable and what is not. People act on this. Anticipate this.

* As a church, give new honor to those who are ashamed. An ashamed person will wait for the other person's initiative to restore the shame. Honor must be given. Take this role as a church.

* Do not confront the shamed person's behavior at first, but show interest and be aware of possible underlying shame. An important Arabic proverb states what you should keep in mind: “To reveal one's shame is to put one to shame”. If shame is not visible, it does not have to be shameful for the person. Therefore, after shame, people will be able to fade into the background so that others do not see the shame. Another reaction is to emphasize one's own honour, so that shame is covered with that honour. "


* The cross reveals that God is a God who willingly gives up His status and honor, so as to include the disfellowshipped and honor the shamed. Because of the Fall, the honor of man has been exchanged for shame. The sin of shame is an unjust claim of honor to disguise shame. Jesus was willing to die instead of accepting false cultural norms of sin and shame, thereby enabling true glory from God.

* God wants his family on earth (the Church) to be the arena where honor is restored, confirmed and expressed; free from the mechanisms of the culture where status is pursued. Repentance is a step away from false cultural standards so that God's glory can be received. Repentance brings a person into a relationship with the right Person in the right group. The church therefore has a key position in the plan of redemption.


* There are several aspects that often return to shame. Learn to recognize these aspects. However, shame is too complex for a general roadmap to respond to.

* How to respond to shame depends very much on whether the person sees the church as a new community/family or not. When this is the case, it is good to look for similar reparative responses as in the original culture.

I don't know what your first reaction is to someone who is contagious, but with shame, isolation and avoidance will be counterproductive and shame-enhancing and not a solution. So where a culture's automatic response is to avoid the shamed for fear of contagion, we as a church have a calling to seek out and embrace the shamed. We don't have to be afraid of being infected, because the new honor we have and communicate through Jesus is stronger than the power of shame!

Would you like to know more about the research I conducted? Please contact