Shame Culture and Suicide

Shame Culture and Suicide September 11, 2019

She wasn’t even 21 when she left this world.

We first met almost a decade before at the youth group I was forced to attend in the early days of my teenage rebellion before I moved a thousand miles away.

When I think of her, I remember a beautiful, wild, curly-haired girl on the beach with a scrunchy on her arm and the Sublime sun on her shirt. I remember one of the few people during a hard time in my life, who seemed to really see me and care.

The last time I saw her was a over a year before, shortly after moving back to Houston. She seemed happy; we spent the night talking about the dreams we had for the future while reminiscing about the old days when we were just dumb kids.

Months later, she found herself unexpectedly pregnant. She was still so young and didn’t know how she could support a child on her own. Let’s be real, this world isn’t exactly kind to young single mothers and abortion seemed like her only real choice.

She had grown up around the church and after the abortion, she struggled to get the words of pro-life Christian ideology out of her mind. Accusations that she had murdered her baby filled her with a hurt and shame.

One evening, she decided she couldn’t take it anymore and swallowed a bottle of pills.

She was done with life.

But life didn’t listen, the attempt was unsuccessful and after a few days in the hospital, she was released.

But she couldn’t get rid of the pain and the deep shame that overwhelmed her.

Not long after she returned home, she waited until she was home alone, found her parents’ gun, and shot herself in the chest.

As she bled out, the pain in her heart faded with her pulse.

And when my beautiful friend lost her life, the world lost a wonderful human.

At the funeral, a woman from the church that we used to attend as kids spoke about the tragedy of suicide.

Tragic, she said, not because my friend was in so much pain that she couldn’t see another way out, but because, according to this woman, my friend’s decision to end her life separated her from god eternally.

Shame, condemnation, and damnation – the ways of conservative Christianity.

It’s an ideology that kills.

This week is Suicide Prevention week and with that, we need to also acknowledge the American Church’s role.

It’s no secret shame culture kills, just look at the tragic rates of suicide among LGBTQ+ youth from Christian families.

And part of the thing is, it’s not hard to figure out that Christian shame culture in no way resembles the ways of Jesus.

I mean, look at how Jesus responded to religious shame culture during his day.

Look at how he treated the woman caught in an affair as explored in Not Your White Jesus.

“There was that time when Jesus was in the middle of teaching in a temple court and some religious folk (surprise, surprise) dragged in a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. (John 8:1–11). Like the actual act. Jesus was asked by these guys what to do with the (probably naked) lady; she straight up broke the law, which clearly said that she should have rocks thrown at her until she dies . . . because that’s old school justice . . . but no need to fling rocks at the guy. He is totally fine. It’s her fault, right?

Now when the woman was brought over, Jesus sat down and drew in the sand, which I think is awesome. I really wish we knew what he drew or wrote. But I suspect that what he drew wasn’t really the point. He showed serious respect by deliberately not staring at the naked, terrified, and publicly humiliated woman who was probably having the worst day of her life.

Like the badass that he was, Jesus said something along the lines of, “Any of you who are perfect, go ahead and throw a rock.”

Clearly no one could say they were perfect, so they all awkwardly left and the woman – who I am sure regardless still was having the worst day of her life – was saved.

This woman was definitely guilty of doing something not very cool. But shaming her while sparing the guy is definitely not cool either, and obviously stoning someone to death (even if it is in your laws) is incredibly messed up.

Y’all, not only did Jesus get her off the hook of with the whole rock-death drama, he showed her respect by drawing in the sand instead of staring at her in shame.”

If Jesus himself completely rejected shame culture during his own day, how do you think he’d respond today? How should those who claim him as their savior respond?

Shame culture has to stop and like Jesus stepped in and saved a life, we need to do the same today.


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