As I write this column on a dreary January afternoon, I am fighting the near-palpable urge to check Twitter. Over the weekend, I wrote a satirical piece for a third-party religion website. With bated breath I wait for the retweets and favorites—indicated when another Twitter user “stars” your tweet—to arrive. I recognize in this the desire not so much to be loved as to be liked, to be approved of, even if that approval is given by nothing more than a silly yellow smiley face.
Facebook has undoubtedly fueled our “like” culture, since it runs on users thumbs-upping each other. But Facebook also simply reflects a deep human instinct to be esteemed by others. Anthropologists and missiologists call this instinct the search for honor, its counterpart, shame. This month’s cover story, from executive editor Andy Crouch, provides a fascinating window into how honor and shame play out in traditional Eastern cultures—and how those dynamics are showing up in the West. From the Hunger Games to the rise of online bullying, Western culture is increasingly an arena where honor and shame (or “fame and shame,” as Andy calls it) duke it out.
Such dynamics inform how we address sexuality in the public square. Take note of Open Question. As more of us are invited to the wedding ceremonies of gay and lesbian couples, we rightly wonder how to reflect the truth about marriage (explained well by pastor Matt Chandler) and the love of Christ. Many of us fear that refusing to attend such a wedding would shame the couple or exclude them from traditional church life. As Eve Tushnet writes in Open Question, “A decision not to attend a same-sex wedding takes place in the same universe as gay-bashing, bullying, and the long grind of contempt toward gay men and women.” Many of us wonder if marking “no” on the RSVP will lump us in with the bullies.
How to live faithfully as Christians in a fame–shame culture? Reading the New Testament again through a lens attuned to honor and shame (with help from ministry leaders like InterVarsity’s Joe Ho) answers this powerfully. “The remedy for shame is not becoming famous,” writes Crouch. “It is not even being affirmed. It is being incorporated into a community with new, different, and better standards for honor.”
For saved sinners like me, God offers something far better than being liked and included. When he “placed his seal of approval” on Jesus (John 6:27), he did the same for all who are incorporated into his Son’s death and resurrection. A thumbs-up is temporary; that seal of approval, eternal.
Katelyn Beaty is managing editor of CT magazine. You can follower her on Twitter @KatelynBeaty.
To contribute: Give online at ChristianityToday.com/donate or send checks (US dollars only) to: Christianity Today, Attn: Donor Relations, Box CT0315, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188. Christianity Today International is a 501(c)(3) organization.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.