Shame. It says, “There is something fundamentally wrong with me.” It is the lie at the very root of our identity. If I did something wrong, I can apologize and make amends. But if I am fundamentally wrong, what hope do I have?
Our greatest need is to be loved, to belong, to be accepted as we are. Shame says the exact opposite – that we do not fit in, are not acceptable as is and, fundamentally, are not lovable. Shame is the fundamental lie that keeps us separate, and it wreaks havoc in self-hatred and self-rejection.
Jesus never shames us. Neither does He give us permission to shame each other. Brene Brown has done paradigm-shifting work on shame, and one particular finding about men and shame is earth-shattering.
“When looking at the traits associated with masculinity in the US, the researchers identified the following: winning, emotional control, risk-taking, violence, dominance, playboy, self-reliance, primacy of work, power over women, disdain for homosexuality, and pursuit of status. Understanding these lists and what they mean is critically important to understanding shame…” says Brene Brown.
Isn’t that a shock? “For men,” Brown says, “there’s a cultural message that promotes homophobic cruelty. If you want to be masculine in our culture, it’s not enough to be straight – you must also show an outward disgust for the gay community.”
This is a very serious situation. Shame has been foisted into various groups throughout history. Minority ethnic groups. Women. Children. LGBTQ. Especially vulnerable today in our highly aggressive culture are teenagers, and parents have a keen responsibility to protect their children from shame, to counter the shame they will face from the outside world, and to help them refrain from inflicting shame themselves. LGBTQ teens are the most vulnerable, not only from their own often unexpected self-discoveries, but from the learned disdain for homosexuality they face day after day. Parents cannot always ward off the disdain from without, but they can provide an oasis of life and belonging that makes a world of difference. However unsure you may be about many aspects of this issue, your task of offering support and safety to your teen is undeniable.
As shocked as some parents may be to hear their child is gay, it is important to take care that your reaction never communicates shame, on your part or theirs. To single out homosexuality heaps piles of shame on a situation already challenging in a variety of ways does something Jesus never told us to do. If you believe homosexuality is intrinsically harmful and sinful, then you can let the conviction come from God from within; Shame is not the same as conviction. (If God does not convict someone’s homosexuality, why should we?)
God Himself does not shame us. Even when He changes our behavior, He never does it in a way that says we are unlovable and unworthy. He points out our need for Him, in no uncertain terms – a need based on our human depravity in a fallen world, not any particular behavior we find heinous. Throughout all of it, He goes out is His way to tell us we are His beloved. It is time to let go of how we categorize our disapproval, and instead let God do the convicting.