Webinar— “Guilt–Shame–Fear”: Assessing the Cultural Model

Free Zoom Webinar: “Guilt–Shame–Fear: Assessing the Cultural Model,” by Jayson Georges

Wednesday, April 22 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time

The paradigm of guilt, shame, and fear cultures has become a popular topic in mission conversations. The presenter Jayson Georges published The 3D Gospel and TheCultureTest.com in 2014, and now reflects on the cultural paradigm. This free webinar explores the strengths and weaknesses, uses and abuses, as well as history and future of this threefold cultural model. Where does the concept come from? How do the three cultural types relate and interact? What about critiques of oversimplification? Should there be a 4th cultural model? We’ll discuss these issues and more. The webinar will be 30-40 minutes in length.

Register in Advance

For security reasons, you must register in advance for the webinar, using your name and email, at this address: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_gLoQ1XFmSVeZdkycf38Zog

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar, either in your web browser or the Zoom App. 

Previous Webinar: “Honor and Shame in Romans,” by Jackson Wu.

Over 200 people joined last week’s webinar. Because we had issues with sound quality, Jackson Wu re-recorded the entire webinar, with slideshow images and clear sound. You can view and download the webinar video here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/7u9mj4xdrr2zun2/Honor%20and%20Shame%20in%20Romans%20%28Webinar%2C%2015%20April%202020%29%20.mp4?dl=0. This is a great biblical examination of honor and shame, with an emphasis on the ethical and communal applications in Romans 9-16.    


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Coronavirus in Shame Contexts

A recent NYT article “Stigma Hampers Iraqi Efforts to Fight the Coronovirus” examines how the dynamics of shame are affecting Iraq during this pandemic. This article is a fresh reminder of how pervasive and influential the power of shame is in collectivistic societies. For me, this article was insightful at a cultural level, but also evoked in me a compassion for the people of Iraq.

Iraqi funeral (photo by Ivor Prickett for NYT)

If you work/live in an honor-shame context, you should read this article in order to better anticipate how people around you may respond to the health crisis. In short, people may prioritize social status over physical health, often in unanticipated ways. For most people, “Honor > Life.” People respond to crises in different ways. So you should not assume other people and cultures will have the same response.

In my estimation, the need to understand shame dynamics in the face of coronavirus will become increasingly important in the upcoming months. Until now, the countries hardest hit by coronavirus have been developed nations, which are more individualistic. In the near future, the virus may spread through developing contexts, which tend to be more collectivistic and honor-shame oriented. I won’t explain the causation or correlation here, but will just state this point: What is happening now in Iraq, will likely happen more and more.

Here are four of the shame-issues from the article.

1. The Shame of Sickness

People resist testing because they do not want their neighbors to learn they are sick. The stigma of illness is so deep, people avoid testing altogether.  The father of a family told health workers, “Please don’t park in front of our house. I feel ashamed in front of the neighbors. This is so difficult for my reputation.”

In many religious contexts, people equate sickness with sin (cf. John 9). They assume that sickness is a divine punishment. And naturally, people will avoid such “sinners.” In this way, coronavirus has a layer of religion-sanctioned shame.

2. Burial Concerns

Burial practices are (unexplainably) significant in collectivistic contexts. Where, when, and how a person gets buried is the ultimate expression of their status in the community. Iraqi culture requires family to immediately cleanse and bury the deceased body, preferably within 24 hours. But what happens in a pandemic when bodies are abandoned, lost, or buried in mass graves? Well, they are “forgotten” by their family because their death cannot be properly commemorated. Such post-mortem desecration of the corpse is the ultimate disgrace. So, people opt to die in their home to ensure a proper burial, rather than go to a hospital and risk an improper burial.

3. Fear of Isolation

In collectivistic contexts, people don’t want to be quarantined alone. People in Western cultures are used to being alone and enjoy privacy. But in many cultures people live with an extended family in a small space. So solitude and privacy are not only foreign, but dreadful. The constant company of other people provides security and familiarity; spending 14 days in solitude seems horrendous.

4. Protecting Family Honor

The risk of sickness and quarantine risks the family honor. If a man gets sick, he is no longer able to protect his wife and children, especially if he is quarantined away from the home. A similar logic applies to women. Some families fear that a sick female relative will be removed from the house and thus be sexually vulnerable. The surest way to preserve the family honor is to keep everyone together, regardless of health risks.


These social values hamper efforts to fight the epidemic. But, expecting people to jettison their ingrained cultural values for public safety is not a realistic solution. The power of shame simply runs too deep. There must be ways to help people preserve their health and their honor, lest they be forced to choose one over the other.

Posted in Culture, News

Webinar: “Honor & Shame in Romans”

Free Zoom Webinar: “Honor & Shame in Romans,” by Jackson Wu

Wednesday, April 15 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time

Since the Reformation, Christians have read Romans with an emphasis on individual forgiveness and justification. However, the motifs of honor and shame play a central role in Paul’s letter. Based on Jackson Wu’s latest book Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes, this free webinar explains how honor and shame shapes Paul’s message and mission.

Register in Advance

For security reasons, you must register in advance for the webinar, using your name and email, at this address: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN__yWb8_tdSy-HyGNvGjV9UA . After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar, either in your web browser or the Zoom App. If you register and then cannot attend, please unregister so another person can attend.

Miss the Patronage Webinar?

I was unable to record the webinar, but most of the resources I presented are available free at: http://honorshame.com/patronage/. Also, the audio recordings of many terrific conference presentations on patronage are available at: http://honorshame.com/patsym-presentations/

Sorry to those who registered for the Patronage webinar, but could not join because it reached capacity. Since then, I have upgraded my Zoom account, from 100 to 500 attenders. Hopefully this won’t happen again. And so, feel free to share widely about this upcoming webinar “Honor and Shame in Romans.”


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The Ladder of Ascent

The Ladder of Ascent is a spiritual treatise about monastic asceticism. An Egyptian monk named John Climacus (“the Ladder”) wrote this book around 600AD as a spiritual guide for other monks. The book presents 30 “steps” toward spiritual maturity, and focuses on the monastic virtues of humility, renunciation, and purity. More than 500 ancient manuscripts The Ladder exist today, an testament to its popularity on medieval Christianity. 

The language of honor and shame runs throughout the 129-page book, available in English here. I will make a few observations here.

The goals of the monastic life and ascetic practices were renunciation from the world and communion with God. Renunciation of the world involved foregoing physical pleasures (food, sleep, sex, etc.). However, for St. John, the real snare of the world was social status and honor. Pursuing God meant renouncing any sense of honor or recognition, at all costs. In fact, he admonishes Christians to seek dishonor, derision, insults, and slander as opportunities to learn humility.

Let us pay close attention to ourselves so that we are not deceived into thinking that we are following the straight and narrow way when in actual fact we are keeping to the wide and broad way. The following will show you what the narrow way means: mortification of the stomach, all-night standing, water in moderation, short rations of bread, the purifying draught of dishonor, sneers, derision, insults, the cutting out of one’s own will, patience in annoyances, unmurmuring endurance of scorn, disregard of insults, and the habit, when wronged, of bearing it sturdily; when slandered, of not being indignant; when humiliated, not to be angry; when condemned, to be humble. Blessed are they who follow the way we have just described, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. (2:8)

While the pursuit of humility is right and encouraging, the author John repeatedly conflates humility with humiliation. The author states that a good abbot should publicly and constantly humiliate monks under his leadership to teach them humility. For example, the author recounts the story of a respected abbot who assigned a new monk to grovel and petition (as a “crazy fool”) at the monastic gate for seven years. This taught the new monk to live without any form of recognition or respect from other humans, thus purifying his soul to hear only the voice of God. This is John 5:44 and 12:43 to the extreme!

In relation to honor and shame, the most extended section is Step 22, titled, “On the many forms of vainglory.” The monk, with great insight, unpacks the corrupting influence of vainglory in our behavior. We humans are addicted to flattery and praise.  I was struck how the insights of this person–a monk living in the desert 1,500 years ago—may speak to people today. The passage is cited at length below.

  1. The sun shines on all alike, and vainglory beams on all activities. For instance, I am vainglorious when I fast, and when I relax the fast in order to be unnoticed I am again vainglorious over my prudence. When well-dressed I am quite overcome by vainglory, and when I put on poor clothes I am vainglorious again. When I talk I am defeated, and when I am silent I am again defeated by it. However I throw this prickly-pear, a spike stands upright.
  2. A vainglorious person is a believing idolater; he apparently honours God, but he wants to please not God but men.
  3. Every lover of self-display is vainglorious. The fast of the vainglorious person is without reward and his prayer is futile, because he does both for the praise of men.
  4. A vainglorious ascetic is cheated both ways: he exhausts his body, and he gets no reward.
  5. Who will not laugh at the vainglorious worker, standing for psalmody and moved by this passion now to laughter and then to tears for all to see?
  1. God often hides from our eyes even those perfections that we have obtained. But he who praises us or, rather, misleads us, opens our eyes by his praise, and as soon as our eyes are opened, our treasure vanishes.
  2. The flatterer is a servant of devils, a guide to pride, a destroyer of contrition, a ruiner of virtues, a misleader. Those who honour you deceive you, says the prophet.1
  3. People of high spirit bear offence nobly and gladly, but only holy people and saints can pass through praise without harm.
  4. I have seen people mourning who, on being praised, flared up in anger; and as at a public gathering one passion gave place to another.
  5. Who among men knows the thoughts of a man, except the spirit of the man within him?2 And so let those who try to praise us to our face be silent and ashamed.
  6. When you hear that your neighbour or friend has abused you behind your back or even to your face, then show love and praise him.
  7. It is a great work to shake from the soul the praise of men, but to reject the praise of demons is greater.
  8. It is not he who depreciates himself who shows humility (for who will not put up with himself?) but he who maintains the same love for the very man who reproaches him.
  9. I have noticed the demon of vainglory suggesting thoughts to one brother, while he reveals them to another, and he incites the latter to tell the former what is in his heart, and then praises him as a thought reader. And sometimes, unholy creature that he is, he even touches the bodily members and produces palpitations.
  10. Do not take any notice of him when he suggests that you should accept a bishopric, or abbacy, or doctorate; for it is difficult to drive away a dog from a butcher’s counter.
  11. Whenever he sees that any have acquired in some slight measure a contemplative attitude, he immediately urges them to leave the desert for the world, saying: ‘Go away in order to save the souls which are perishing.’
  12. Ethiopians have one kind of face, and statues another; so too the vainglory of those living in a community takes a different form from that of those living in a desert.
  13. Vainglory incites monks given to levity to anticipate the arrival of lay guests and to go out of the cloister to meet them. It makes them fall at their feet and, though full of pride, it feigns humility. It checks manner and voice, and keeps an eye on the hands of visitors in order to receive something from them. It calls them lords and patrons, graced with godly life. To those sitting at table it suggests abstinence, and it rebukes subordinates mercilessly. It stirs those who are slack at standing in psalmody to make an effort; those who have no voice become good singers and the sleepy wake up. It flatters the conductor, and begs to be given first place in the choir; it calls him father and master as long as the guests are still there.
  14. Vainglory makes those who are preferred, proud, and those who are slighted, resentful.
  15. Vainglory is often the cause of dishonour instead of honour, because it brings great shame to its enraged disciples.
  16. Vainglory makes quick-tempered people meek before men.
  17. It has great ambition for natural gifts, and through them often hurls its wretched slaves to destruction.
  18. I have seen a demon injure and chase off his own brother. For just when a brother had lost his temper, secular visitors suddenly arrived; and the wretched fellow resold himself to vain-glory. He could not serve two passions at the same time.
  19. He who has sold himself to vainglory leads a double life. Outwardly he lives with monks, but in mind and thought he is in the world.
  20. If we ardently desire to please the Heavenly King, we should be eager to taste the glory that is above. He who has tasted that will despise all earthly glory. For I should be surprised if anyone could despise the latter unless he had tasted the former.

  1. There is a glory that comes from the Lord, for He says: Those who glorify Me, I will glorify. And there is a glory that dogs us through diabolic intrigue, for it is said: Woe, when all men shall speak well of you.6 You may be sure that it is the first kind of glory when you regard it as harmful and avoid it in every possible way, and hide your manner of life wherever you go. But the other you will know when you do something, however trifling, hoping that you will be observed by men.7
  2. Abominable vainglory suggests that we should pretend to have some virtue that we do not possess, spurring us on by the text: Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works.8
  3. The Lord often brings the vainglorious to a state of humility through the dishonour that befalls them.
  4. The beginning of the conquest of vainglory is the custody of the mouth and love of being dishonoured; the middle stage is a beating back of all known acts of vainglory; and the end (if there is an end to an abyss) consists in trying to behave in the presence of others so that we are humbled without feeling it.
  5. Do not hide your sins with the idea of removing a cause of stumbling from your neighbour; although perhaps it will not be advisable to use this remedy in every case, but it will depend on the nature of one’s sins.
  6. When we invite glory, or when it comes to us from others uninvited, or when out of vainglory we decide upon a certain course of action, we should remember our mourning and should think of the holy fear with which we stood before God in solitary prayer; and in this way we shall certainly put shameless vainglory out of countenance—if we are really concerned to attain true prayer. If this is insufficient, then let us briefly recollect our death. And if this is also ineffective, at least let us fear the shame that follows honour. For he who exalts himself will be humbled1 not only there, but certainly here as well.
  7. When our praisers, or rather our seducers, begin to praise us, let us briefly call to mind the multitude of our sins, and we shall find ourselves unworthy of what is said or done in our honour.
  8. No doubt there are certain prayers of some vainglorious people that deserve to be heard by God; but the Lord has a habit of anticipating their prayers and petitions so that their conceit should not be increased because their prayers have succeeded.
  9. Simpler people are not much infected with the poison of vainglory, because vainglory is a loss of simplicity and an insincere way of life.
  10. It often happens that when a worm becomes fully grown it gets wings and rises up on high. So too when vainglory increases it gives birth to pride, the origin and consummation of all evils.
  11. He who is without this sickness is near to salvation, but he who is not free from it is far from the glory of the Saints.

This is the twenty-second step. He who is not caught by vain-glory will never fall into that mad pride which is so hateful to God.

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Webinar: “Intro to Patronage”

Free Zoom Webinar: “Introduction to Patronage,” by Jayson Georges

Wednesday, April 8 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time

Patronage governs many relationship in honor-shame cultures. But regrettably, Western culture and theology rarely notices this prominent cultural reality. Based on Jayson’s latest book, Ministering in Patronage Cultures, this free webinar will explain cultural issues, theological concepts, and missional implications. 

Register in Advance

For security reasons, you must register in advance for the webinar, using your name and email, at this address: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_x2h-e4gnShiUfP7tD25amg. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar, either in your web browser or the Zoom App. If you register and then cannot attend, please unregister so another person can attend.

The previous webinar reached capacity, and many others wanted to attend. So, here is a recording for that webinar, “How to Teach Honor and Shame”: https://www.dropbox.com/s/1t29h1huy5fyoym/webinar%20recording.mp4?dl=0. It starts about 1 minute in, and there is a minute break in the middle. I plan to offer this webinar again in a few weeks.




Posted in Uncategorized

Servant Leadership in Hierarchical Cultures

Guest Julyan Lidstone has served with OM in the Middle East. This post is from his book Give Up the Purple: A Call for Servant Leadership in Hierarchical Cultures (Langham Global Library, 2019).

So often we see gifted, zealous leaders able to gather groups of new believers, but after an initial burst of enthusiasm the group stagnates and then suffers an acrimonious split.  The fundamental problem is that the leader understands his position to be a source of personal honour, and so he seeks to defend his status with controlling, domineering behaviour.  He (and it usually is ‘he’) takes offense at personal criticism, is afraid to admit weakness, and feels threatened by promising younger leaders.  Since the pursuit of honour is a zero-sum game, other churches are seen as rivals.  He is operating out of the patron-client paradigm, in which he as patron is responsible to care and provide for his flock like a father, and in turn his clients owe him a debt of loyalty, praise and service.  Although patron-client relationships can be life-giving and upbuilding, it seems they are often marred by exploitation and manipulation.  The toxic result is fatal for church life and growth.

Having served as a church planter among Middle Easterners for most of my life this pattern deeply concerned me, and became the focus of my Masters studies as I wanted to find an answer rooted in Scripture, not in Western social sciences and leadership theory.  I knew telling leaders from the Global South to become democratic, consultative Westerners would set them up for failure.  I believed that Biblical principles would be more widely applicable, speaking to both the West and the East, as both struggle with the problems caused by dysfunctional leaders. 

The key insight came when I realised that although Jesus and Paul were functioning in highly authoritarian, honour driven societies, they both succeeded in modelling effective servant leadership.  Throughout Jesus’ ministry he consistently upended the normal understanding of honour, culminating in his willingly accepting death on a cross.  Crucifixion was the punishment for slaves, with the mocking and humiliation being an essential part of the spectacle.  Three days later he was vindicated by his glorious resurrection.

Paul showed what it meant to live out this principle of cruciform ministry with disgrace leading to honour.  When the ‘super apostles’ hijacked the church in Corinth he could have confronted them by matching their proud boasts with equivalent boasts of his own, but instead chose to boast of his weakness and shameful sufferings (2 Cor 11:21 – 12:10). By doing this he didn’t lose his spiritual authority, but instead God honoured him and two chapters later warns the Corinthians that he was coming with God-given authority to build up or tear down (2 Cor 13:10).  If he had tried to outboast the boasters, then the culture of boasting and pride would have stood intact; by embracing the cross of weakness and shame he was able to transform the culture with Kingdom values. 

Since our understanding of authority and honour is shaped by our earliest family experiences, it is so deep-seated that a few lessons will not suffice to change it.  Even though the disciples had lived with Christ for 3 years, they were still arguing about who was the greatest the night before he died!  Nevertheless, Jesus and Paul show us how highly relational mentoring could transform them into genuine servant leaders.  They demonstrate how a godly patron can profoundly shape and influence his clients to embrace his mission.

A Pakistani Christian leader wrote in his review, “The leadership in the church in Pakistan has been badly affected by the authoritarian style. Sadly, hardly any literature is available that can break the long-lived endemic trend of this authoritarian leadership style.”


Posted in leadership, Ministry Tagged with: , ,

Webinar: “How to Teach Honor and Shame”

Free Zoom Webinar: “How to Teach Honor and Shame,” by Jayson Georges

Thursday, April 2 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time

Note: Sorry, but his webinar is already at capacity (100 people). Such an interest was not expected. I do plan to record the session, and perhaps do a repeat webinar in the future.    

Honor and shame are important topics, but often they are new concepts for people. How can we effectively introduce honor and shame to other people, especially to equip them for ministry? This webinar will provide practical suggestions and learning activities for ministry instructors/trainers. To help ministry leaders and teachers better teach honor and shame to other people, Jayson Georges will host this free, 1-hour webinar, discussing some methodological ideas and tips. Jayson has taught honor-shame many times, from seminary courses to short-term missions training, in various countries. 

Please note, this webinar is not about honor and shame, but about how to teach honor and shame to others. If you plan to teach honor-shame to others (in any setting), this is time is designed for you.  

Register in Advance

For security reasons, you must register in advance for the webinar, using your name and email, at this address: https://us04web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_8vIaYY-YRyKnLoLrrvJfmg. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar, either in your web browser or the Zoom App. 

I know there are many resources/events online these days. But I’m going a bit stir crazy, and I’ve been pondering this idea for a while, so now’s the time!


Posted in Uncategorized

Fame-Shame Culture and Social Media

Guest Ally McGeever is the Young Women’s Engagement and Development Officer in Dublin, Ireland. This post summarizes her recent presentation as the Irish Bible Institute. 

How is fame different to honor? Both are defined by what others think of you, but fame is not conditional on others thinking highly of you, nor do those with the opinions have to be in community or relationship with you.

In this post, I want to explore how fame culture has evolved over time, and particularly how it has recently changed our relationship with shame under the influence of social media.

Fame culture has changed because of social media

If we think of fame through the 1970s-90s they hold generations of celebrities that were known about by many but not known personally by most. This exclusive celebrity culture revolved around idealised examples of ‘perfect humans’, much like the historic fame culture preserved for heroes and royalty.

Today the most famous people in the world are Youtubers, bloggers and Instagramers. They are not nearly as ubiquitously known as the celebrities of previous generations, but their fans know them much more personally. Fame has evolved from a pedestal of surreal idealism, to a relatable, constant presence that feigns connection. We have replaced the want for a king with the want to know (Niemark, 2019); fans have become followers. The most famous people today no longer promote an unattainable brand of perfectionism to be idolised, but a brand of authenticity and relatability. They are marketing a sense of relationship by sharing everything about their life, from what they had for breakfast to announcing that they are pregnant. The market is built on the optional one-way nature of public social media accounts, allowing followers to be in someone’s personal life without the interaction that risks shame. The direction of fame has changed, from looking up to looking in.

The reason for this sudden shift in fame culture is a direct consequence of social media. But it is also reflective of, and reactive to, how honor culture has changed in recent decades.

Social media replaces community with audience

In the past, honor could be (simplistically) defined by how well the people in your community thought of you. With the rise of individualism and independence, our communities have become smaller, reducing the size of our honor feedback network. This can cause significant anxiety because it disrupts the risk of shame. What was once the fear of one in 20 people thinking badly of you in a larger co-dependent community, can now be one in four in the small network of relationships of a relatively independent lifestyle. One way to reduce this risk is to broaden your social feedback network by supplementing (or even replacing) your community with an audience, listening to the feedback of many people who are not necessarily in relationship with you, instead of being reliant on the feedback from a small group of people who know you. Social media offers us an audience to replace community, and a convenient array metrics too quantify honor/shame feedback (likes, comments, shares, etc). Replacing community with audience has replaced the role honor with fame and the practice of relationship with performance.

There are several consequences to this:

  1. We lose connection from community members that are not part of the audience we are measuring honor (now fame) feedback from. This has particularly eroded the important role of intergenerational feedback as the social media platforms have different age demographics. Many people have relationships with relatives and friends who are not on social media to feedback to us in the metrics we pay attention to.
  2. We increase connection with audience members who know us, but are not in active community or relationship with us (eg. Past college friends, friends of friends).
  3. And we connect to audience members who do not know us at all.

Social media increases our risk of shame

Ironically, the consequence of these three factors is an increased risk of shame because you are taking feedback from people who know you less and therefore can judge you more. Here are just a few ways that replacing community with audience increases the risk of shame on social media:

  • Anonymity: by not having to risk ‘losing face’, anonymous and pseudonym accounts can shame others more freely, harshly and irrationally without being accountable to taking any feedback upon themselves.
  • Trolls: social media space has allowed individuals to strategically search out and antagonise individuals that hold opposing views, craving attention by provoking anger, hurt and/or fear in another
  • Not face to face: with the removal of facial expressions and body language that may enhance empathy, it is easier to call each other out and shame one another on social media than in real life
  • Instant/ reactive: social media encourages a very reactive space, reducing capacity for reflection and careful responses. This can perpetuate reactive shaming in a perishable environment, compared to the more measured criticism that might come from a long-term personal relationship.
  • Poor monitoring authority: shaming can happen more easily due to little to no fear of consequence due to the administrative barriers and low effectiveness of reporting offensive behaviour
  • Cancel/outrage culture: these cultures refer to single-topic ‘relationships’ where an individual’s merit or worth is shamed through public call out to the extent of social obliteration (that can have significant personal and professional fallout) according to the trends in values of the social media populous (read more about the impact of this in Russel, 2016).

The different forms of social media shame are diverse, some highly justified and consistent with the values of real life society, others exclusive to virtual etiquette and others seemingly trivial but still effective in evoking feelings of deep personal shame. The specific risks will be determined by the audience demographics and personal brand of each account. Here are just a few examples of topical social media shame risks:

  • Coffee—To much bemusement, the subject of coffee has become a multi-faceted flash point for social media shame. One can unwittingly provoke shame feedback by sharing a post where they are holding a disposable cup, intergenerational shaming can be provoked by the perception older people have of irresponsible spending habits of millennials, and a thriving online community of ‘coffee snobs’ can call you out for your poor taste in the type of coffee you drink. In short, caffeinated social media posts are high risk these days.
  • Travel—The value systems of tourism are also dynamic, complex and high risk for shame feedback. One can be shamed for not traveling enough, for traveling too much and damaging the environment, for traveling in a way that is perceived as culturally insensitive or socially unjust, or traveling in a way that is perceived as unoriginal and too mainstream.
  • Global crises—There is a constant threat of shame and guilt being perpetuated on social media in relation to environmental and human right crises, with the social media audience highlighting the unconscious ways one is perpetuating these disasters and personalising one’s responsibility for our unjust and endangered world.

 Shame ‘immunity’ through the personal brand

In this high risk environment, social media makes us deeply aware of the space between how we see ourselves and how others see us. One way to respond to the high shame environment is to create shame ‘immunity’ through the personal brand (Rosario, 2015). This means you can maintain your honor and avoid shame by curating the perfect presentation of yourself by selectively sharing content that perpetuates positive fame and minimises exposure to shame. This is a direct reaction to replacing community with audience, becoming more performative in our behaviour, and less authentically relational. The cost is reduced connection with self and others as you must live up to your personal brand in the overlap of virtual and physical social spaces, and interact with others who are also presenting a brand instead of authentic self. This results in less authenticity, reduced depth of relationship and rising social anxiety.

Further Reading:

Reflection Questions:

  • How would you communicate the Gospel message to a culture that no longer wants a king/hero, but wants to know someone personally free from risk of shame?
  • What challenges could the personal branding phenomenon pose in our faith community, relationships and personal prayer life?
  • Compare and contrast how ministry can serve desires for both community and audience?
Posted in Culture, Relationships Tagged with: ,

Cancelled: 2020 Honor-Shame Conference

The 2020 Honor-Shame Conference has been cancelled because of the coronavirus threat. We are sad about this, but there are obviously other pressing issues these days. 

People who registered should have received refund information from Werner Mischke at Mission ONE. You can email conference@honorshame.com if you have related questions. 

We do hope to organize further events to gather people around the topic of honor and shame. But nothing is planned at this point. 

Peace and grace to you these days




Posted in Uncategorized

Highest Honour

This post is excerpted from the new devotional book Highest Honour: 60 Days Toward Honouring God With Your Whole Lifeby Kenosi Molato and S. E. Freeman.

To give God the highest honour, is to give him first place. It means that there is no thing more important in your life than pleasing Him. It is to have no thing or person that is above God. To have anything above God in your life is to have another ‘god’ – an idol, and that is breaking the very first of God’s 10 commandments (Exodus 20). Nothing is more important than giving God the Highest Honour in your life.

Part of making choices which honour God, is first learning what is honourable before God. We can get busy doing ‘good things’ but if it is not what God wants us to do, then we will not be actually loving, obeying, pleasing and honouring Him in the way He wants us to.

What is it that honours God and would please Him? Our culture might tell us certain things are right to do, but we must find out what God says is right to do – what honours Him. To not do what pleases God is sinning against God. When we sin against God we dishonour Him.

When we choose to please people over God, or desire people’s approval over God’s approval, or are more concerned about what people think and how they will treat us over what God thinks, we are sinning against God.

It makes God’s heart sad when His children are not doing what pleases Him and what He knows is for our good.

When we honour God, God says He will reward us with honour. But if we don’t honour God, He says we will get shame and disgrace from Him like a curse.

God has already given us a position of great honour by being counted ‘in Christ’, as part of being born again into His family, in the position of a ‘son’. We have been saved from the greatest curse of eternal shame and separation from God, and been given the great gift of Christ living in and through us. But we all know that when we are born into our earthly family we are expected to live in such a way that is consistent with the honour of our families and our family name. How much more, when we are born again into our spiritual everlasting family – forever as God’s children, must we make every effort to be sure to live according to God’s family honour and the honour of His name.

In fact, we don’t desire to honour God to try to gain a position in His family, but because we already have been given a great position we didn’t deserve, through Christ. We want to allow Christ, who is the perfectly honourable One, who now lives within us, to live out through us. We want to enjoy the blessings and favour of that honour we have been given to the maximum, and not bring shame on God’s name and on His family and thus on ourselves, and bring sadness to God’s Heart.

The first step to always enjoying that honour and making sure we honour God and His name and family, is humility.


Posted in Bible, Missiology, Spirituality

The First Missions Book on Honor & Shame

In 1975, missions professor Lowell Noble self-published the book Naked and Not Ashamed: An Anthropological, Biblical, and Psychological Study of Shame. To my knowledge, this was the first work of evangelical missiology that addressed honor and shame. This post recounts the book’s history.

When I first started researching honor and shame about 10 years ago, someone gave me a faded photocopy of this book. I was impressed by the author’s insight and foresight. The book is more practical than academic. And even more admirable than Noble’s clear insights was his determination to self-publish. In 1975, he paid in advance to print the books, then self-mailed individual copies from his house.

Noble never lived overseas himself (obit here). However, through teaching sociology and anthropology to mission students he came to see the importance of honor and shame, in both theology and global cultures. His book recounts Scriptural verses and themes related to honor and shame. Noble noted the preponderance of shame language in the Bible, especially compared to the lack of guilt language. Then he summarized the dynamics of honor and shame in various countries. 

I suspect that Noble’s book may have passed through history unnoticed, but for a fortunate occurrence. The legendary Kenneth Pike, professor of linguistics at The University of Michigan and president of SIL, acquired the book and recognized its importance. (I suspect Noble and Pike were acquaintances, as they were teaching in Michigan 45 miles from one another.) Within a year of the book’s initial publication, Pike published a positive book review in Christianity Today (November 19, 1976), titled “On Guilt and Shame”.

My favorite line from Pike’s review: “And the Scripture? Lots of it, to show that in past ages God’s direct appeal was often to people to come to him for relief of shame—now, and forever.”

Considering the headlines of today, some 43 years later, I conclude with Pike’s own conclusion linking shame and presidential impeachment:

“The recent American scene should make it clear, I would add, that wide-spread perversion is little condemned—but that shame opens the way for dismissal even from high office. (Shades of the Watergate exit from our political Eden, with a flaming judicial sword preventing a return even to Washington!) This, in turn, allows for more open discussion about the moral will of God and his penalties—in the form of shame—for despising it.”

Posted in News, Uncategorized Tagged with: ,

Honor-Shame has Gone Global!

Dr. Chris Flanders is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University, and author of About Face: Rethinking Face for 21st-Century Mission. As an organizer for the upcoming Honor-Shame Conference, he shares some reflections on the state of honor-shame studies in this guest post.

Honor-shame has gone global! Well, actually, I’ve always believed and taught that honor and shame are universal experiences that transcend cultures. So technically, honor-shame has always been a global issue. There really is no such thing as “honor culture” or “shame culture,” for these are universal dimensions of all cultures.

The same is true in the area of Face and Facework Studies, my particular area of research. We now know that “face” is not something that Asian cultures do, but rather is something that human cultures do. Cultures simply do “face” differently. But all do face. Likewise, honor and shame are universal dimensions of all cultures, though they certainly differ from culture to culture and era to era. Though global and similar in certain respects, they have unique characteristics that arise out of specific cultures.

If you have paid attention to the honor-shame conversation in recent years, you will likely have noticed that honor and shame are showing up everywhere! Just as we now speak of  global Christianity”, so too it is time to embrace global honor and shame.

Early 20th century anthropology brought honor-shame issues to the attention of the Western world, due to the pioneering work of Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. They focused primarily on the Asian-Pacific (e.g., Japan, Oceania). Later in the 60’s and 70’s, anthropologists expanded this paradigm to the Middle East and Southern Europe. Honor-shame cultures and honor-shame cultural dynamics were generally considered to be exotic, often primitive, and definitely non-Western.

When Christians became aware of this important area, application was either in biblical studies (seeing how this shed light onto our understanding of the Bible) or in Asian and Middle Eastern contexts. Eugene Nida mentioned shame and guilt in his 1954 work Customs and Cultures; Anthropology for Christian Missions. There were sporadic mentions of shame throughout the 1960’s in the missions journal Practical Anthropology. Overall, however, there were only a few early missions writings that took honor-shame into consideration. These, however, are limited and did not provide a robust discussion on these topics. When in the 1990’s, the missions community began earnestly discussing issues involving honor and shame, it existed primarily in helping Bible readers see honor-shame issues in scripture and applying honor-shame insights to Asian and Middle Eastern contexts. With a few notable but rare exceptions, missions writers and scholars did not engage these issues as central.

That has changed. Since about 2010, there has been a growing number of books, blogs, dissertations, and conference presentations that are tackling the complex and important issues of honor and shame. And, in just the past 3-4 years, this has turned into an explosion of interest yielding entire issues of journals devoted to the topic, published books, and conferences that deal with honor and shame.

There’s a growing awareness of how honor-shame is truly a global conversation. Now, researchers and writers tackle honor-shame issues in North American, Europe, Latin and South American, and African. The breadth of the issues that missions thinkers, researchers, and practitioners are now applying the honor-shame lens is as impressive as the volume!

For example, in the upcoming Honor-Shame Conference, various workshops will deal with honor and shame from the following cultural perspectives:

  • Northern and Southern European culture
  • Native American/Inuit cultures
  • Sub-Saharan Africa cultures
  • North American cultures

Traditionally we have viewed honor-shame as a missiological issues. But, just like the geographical expansion, so too is the honor-shame conversation growing in the different types of approaches and areas of application. These include:

  • Theological perspectives
  • Hermeneutical perspectives
  • Pastoral/counseling perspectives
  • Biblical perspectives
  • Historical perspectives

And of course, plenty of people continue looking at the issue from the more traditional Middle Eastern, Asian, and Southern European contexts. But it’s not enough. We need more. We need people from every culture and corner of the globe to join this global conversation.

What do I take away from this growing trend to broaden the honor-shame conversation? I wonder if this is a kairos moment for honor-shame and the global church? If so, we should ask the following questions: 1) What is God telling us in this moment regarding honor and shame? 2) How will we respond to this moment?

The honor-shame conversation is “growing up.” It will be exciting to see where God takes this. I pray you’ll join us and become a part of this global broadening of the honor-shame conversation.


Posted in Uncategorized

Does God Really Remove our Shame?

The Bible says that God removes our shame. “I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth” (Zeph 3:19). Both Paul and Peter quote Isaiah 28:16: “Whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6). Christ replaces our shame with honor.

But here is the problem—this does not seem not true. My shame is not gone; I experience it every day!

I know that I have been adopted as a child of God, gifted with the Holy Spirit, seated with Christ, and endowed with God’s own glory. And, yet, the voices of inadequacy or deficiency continue to echo throughout my soul. As Job says, “But even when I am innocent, I cannot lift up my head. I am so ashamed because of all the troubles I have” (10:15).

So, then, what does it mean to say, “God removes my shame?” If Jesus takes my shame, why do I still have shame? For me, personally, this issue is exaggerated by the fact that I write and teach on the very topic. I feel shame for feeling shame because I have written so much about shame, yet still affected by shame. If my head knows so much about shame, why do I, as a believer in Jesus, continue to live under the shadow of shame? I have been wrestling with this topic, both biblically and personally, for the last year. And I suspect that I am not the only Christian who experiences shame.

Most Christian authors offer two basic answers to our problem of shame: “Just don’t worry about the opinions of others!” and “Shame can be good for moral development!” Though I agree with these points, they have become pat answers that do not resolve the issue. Christians need a fuller, more nuanced understanding of shame.

So I will address this issue in my plenary presentation at the Honor-Shame Conference, titled “Saving Ourselves from Shame.” I aim to develop a biblical view of shame for the Christian life, sharing theological reflections and practical strategies for experiencing God’s salvation as a believer.

Join us at the Honor-Shame Conference (June 2020, Wheaton College) to learn and grow together.


Posted in Uncategorized

Honor-Shame Conference—Speakers and Opportunities

The Honor-Shame Conference, June 8–10, 2020 at Wheaton College is gathering numerous practitioners and scholars to explore how honor and shame influence the gospel, the Church, and various disciplines, including theology, missiology, pastoral ministry, and counseling.

Overlapping ministry contexts and dialog between disciplines

In our globalized world we are grappling with complex ministry dynamics. The Honor-Shame Conference is designed to facilitate dialog and learning across contexts and disciplines. Are you planning to join the conversation? Download the 2-page PDF for detailed information on all the presentations.

Learn more at honorshame-conference.com. | Register here.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with:

Shame and Transgender Issues

I live in the Middle East, so we hardly ever hear conversations about transgenderism or sexual identity. So during a recent visit to the U.S., I observed how transgenderism and sexual identity have grown more prominent in cultural conversations.

To help myself understand the issues, I read Mark Yarhouse’s Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture (IVP Academic 2015). The book had more scientific research than expected, and yet was very helpful. Yarhouse explains the transgender experience and sets forth a Christian response. The issue of shame surfaced throughout the book. Here are some of the salient insights.  

The Issue

Developing children look into the world and compare themselves to others. They try to see, “Who am I like? Who am I unlike? What group do I belong to?” But gender dysphoric people feel different on the inside. People say they are a boy, but all their internal feelings make them feel like they are not part of that group. They do not see themselves in terms of preferences and personal choices, but in terms of identity—I am not one of these people (pp. 71-72).

These involuntary feelings of gender difference create massive shame—“There is something wrong with me. I am not normal.” Naturally people hide this feeling, and feel like they have to “hide and cover themselves.”

People with gender dysphoria are mostly seeking community and identity—Who am I? Where do I belong? They are not seeking wild sexual fantasies or to ignore all social conventions. They want what all people want—a communal identity.

The Common Church Response

The churches’ response is often reductionistic—“That is sinful and you are being disobedient to feel that way. You must accept traditional gender roles of your birth sex. This will bring joy and peace. If not, you are sinning.” The message here is “you a shameful abomination.” Yarhouse says, “This is the formula for shame” and the reason why people turn away from the church (p. 46).

People then turn to the transgender community to fight that experience of shame. People accept them for who they “truly are.” People then say, “I am transgender” (identity) and “I’m part of the transgender community.” This group finally allows the gender dysphoric person to be with other similar people, often for the first time. Here they feel normal, not strange. At this point such people have little interest in Christianity. 

So, if this is the common course of events, what are other approaches?

Other Responses

Yarhouse plots three main frameworks to transgender issues, and explains how Christians need to integrate the best of each approach.

  1. Integrity Framework—The maleness and femaleness of our bodies is sacred, and we must conform to God’s designation (Gen 2:21-24). We cannot deny the integrity of our sex. This approach upholds truth and holiness.
  2. Disability Framework—Gender dysphoria is a mental health issue, like PTSD or bi-polarism. This is a result of living in a broken world after the fall. This approach provides compassion and empathy.
  3. Diversity Framework—Any gender identity is to be honored and celebrated—this is just who you are, the way you were born. People have the right to define and express themselves. This approach offers identity and community.

Christians should offer people with transgender feelings (1) sacred truth, (2) genuine compassion, and (3) communal identity. Culture wars have polarized the issue, and so people assume that any offer of community and identity (Diversity Framework) compromises sacred truth (Integrity Framework).

Yarhouse says, “Any attempt at intervention in adolescence and adulthood would benefit from reflecting a meaning-making structure that informs identity and locates the person within a broader community of support. This community would function as a kind of kinship network (family) that affirms their worth and insists on navigating the terrain together, even when decisions may be quite complex and challenging to all involved” (p 124). A sense of tangible, communal honor is essential to overcome the years of feeling shameful and help move towards wholeness.

So instead of insisting people behave according to traditional gender roles, “a missional church focuses on first being in relationship (belong) and then moves toward an opportunity to live one’s testimony to an unbelieving culture (believe)” (p 147). Then in the context of that relationship people grow in their relationship with Christ (become/behave). 


Yarhouse often repeats gender dysphoria is complex and varies person to person, so avoids offering a uniform solution or comprehensive model for pastoral care. But even so, Christians benefit from better understanding the topic and having an integrated framework that informs our Christian engagement. Towards that end, I benefited from Yarhouse’s book (though I was surprised by his degree of openness for gender reassignment surgery for Christians).

Overall, Understanding Gender Dysphoria does a good job of unpacking the human aspect of transgender issues, especially the pivotal role of shame, identity, and community. 

After writing and scheduling this post, I learned about this new book Affirming God’s Image: Addressing the Transgender Question with Science and Scripture by J. Alan Branch, so wanted to mention it as well for those interested.


Posted in Shame Tagged with: , ,

Honorable Sexuality

Guest Sean Christensen (M.Div., Columbia International University) is a missionary with World Team and serves as a Bible professor in Haiti since 2009.  His article “The Six Phases of a Man’s Life” (in English and Haitian Creole) has been accessed over 4,000 times.

In today’s post-Christian West, as in first century Graeco-Roman society, Christians find themselves swimming upstream and pastors and parents struggle to guide their flock against an ever-increasing current that embraces unbiblical sexual practices.  How do you teach that something society has made legal remains shameful in God’s eyes?  Additionally, in many cultures where Western missionaries work, the sexual mores of the society have not yet been significantly impacted by biblical values.  Missionaries become disillusioned when yet another young Christian disciple engages in premarital sex and still another church leader commits adultery.  In both contexts, merely reciting God’s prohibitions is not very convincing; rather focusing on God’s honor codes that define honorable sexuality could be a missing and highly persuasive element in our discipleship efforts.*

Paul does this when he admonishes the Thessalonian church: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1Th. 4.3-5).  The moral contrast between honorable self-control and shameful passionate lust is built upon the presence or absence of a relationship with God.  Those who don’t know God live by lustful passions, but those who know God also know how to possess their vessels in sanctification and honor (KJV).  What makes sexual purity honorable?

Sexual purity honors God

The intimacy of sex is compared to the intimate presence of the Holy Spirit.  There is an order to the Gospel:  accept the offer of an exclusive covenant relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ and God will fill you with His own Spirit as a guarantee of complete salvation and the inheritance of an eternal home in heaven (1Cor. 6.15-19; Eph. 1.14).  In the same way, sexual intimacy follows, never precedes, the covenant of marriage.  Also, in this relationship with God, our bodies belong to him.  “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body…You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1Cor. 6.13, 19-20).

Sexual purity honors others

Paul continues, “that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter” (1Th. 4.6). Obviously, sexual exploitation produces shame (see 2 Samuel 13), but even mutually consensual sexual immorality is shameful because all disobedience to God is inherently shameful (Philippians 3.19).  Instead, believers are to honor others in every way, just as Paul instructed Timothy: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1Tim. 5.1-2).

Sexual purity honors your own body

“Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1Cor. 6.18).  King Solomon honored his bride for her self-respecting virginity: “You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain” (SS 4.12).  He also gave his sons the wise counsel his father, David, had given him: “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public square? …For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths” (Prov. 5.15-16, 21).

Christians honor God through honorable sexual practices. God esteems Christians by giving them an honorable identity in Christ.  One way that Christians express their identity is by keeping God’s honorable sexual code.  When believers grasp this facet of the Gospel, then their minds are renewed, their consciences are sensitized and the social pressures to commit sexual sin are minimized.

* In many societies, people engage in premarital sex for reasons besides mere passion—girls proving their attractiveness or fertility; men proving their conquest or their virility; pressures from friends, even from parents; boasting about the number of women a man has lain with and the number of children he has produced; women who want children but not a husband.  Here, the biblical teaching to trust God and to find your esteem in Christ can also help the believer to mature.



Posted in ethics Tagged with:

On Becoming “Like Jesus”

Shame is feeling different, being unlike others (as explained in previous post).

But there is good news—God makes us like himself, in his own image, conformed to the image of his son. This erases the shame of difference.

In the Beginning . . .

In the beginning, God made people like himself.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; . . . So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them” (Gen 1:28).

We are like God. We reflect his image. So others are to see God in us. The exact nature of image Dei  has been debated, but the basic truth is we are, in some amazing way, “like” God—the Creator, Savior, the embodiment of Glory. For people who always feel different, we must remember that in our core we are “like God.” This common likeness allows for connection and relationship. We belong in the same group as God.

We are like God in that we co-rule over creation and reflect his glory. We are not the same in essence but in purpose and function, so we therefore share a common identity as “rulers of the world.” Humans display the glory of God, just like God himself. We share a mission with God—to make his glory known in the entire world. We “image” God by bearing and displaying his glory in all of creation. The glory of God makes us “like God.” When we reflect God’s glory, we are like God. People are to look at us and see God. We represent God and bear his image.

Humans then turned from this vocation of imaging God’s glory and sought out another glory. (This is called “sin” in the biblical story.) Our ability to image and manifest God’s glory became warped. We were no longer fully “like God.” As we redefined our purpose, we came different than God. We now have a different purpose and different identity. Instead of ruling creation like God, we are ruled by sin.

The sin of the fall is highly ironic in this regard. “When you eat of it the fruit, you will be like God.” Humans were already like God! And eating the fruit was actually how they become unlike God (not in essence, but in function and identity).

Becoming Like Jesus

But God has restored his likeness in humanity through Jesus—the face of God’s glory.  Jesus is the image of God, the person with divine power and authority to rule. God is making a new creation and beginning with a New Adam. Jesus is the image of God (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15), the form of God (Phil 2:6), an exact representation that radiates his glory (Heb 1:3). Jesus truly images God because he radiates divine glory and defeats God’s foes.

So now we can be “like God” by becoming “like Jesus.” Our vocation/identity is to be like Jesus.

The baseline source for our experience of shame is not difference from other people, but difference from Jesus. Jesus becomes our yardstick. He is the standard by which we measure all differences. We are not to be like other people; we are to be like Jesus.

This then affects our social identity in profound ways. Humans always group with similar people. But what makes us like others? What is the unifying characteristic between me and someone else? Is it ethnicity, gender, social class, professional interests? Or, do I observe how someone looks like Jesus because they share a common identity/vocation of reflecting God’s glory? The church is people who look “like us,” not physically or socially, but spiritually. We Christians look alike because we all look like Jesus. We are conformed to his image. We have a family resemblance because Jesus is the source for our entire family; we share Jesus’ resurrection DNA. Our “Jesus-likeness” overrides all socio-cultural similarities (Gal 3:28). We are of the same group as other Christians because we all look like Jesus. This is the beauty and glory of the Church.

In simple terms—as we like Jesus, he likes us, and we become more like him. Our core identity resides in how we reflect God’s image (by ruling over sin, death and Satan) and how we conform to Jesus (by sacrificially loving others).

Dying with Jesus

A key aspect of New Testament salvation is our transformation into Jesus’ glory. We are starting to become like the resurrected, glorified Jesus. Our bodies get conformed to his eschatological glory. This is not some mere beautiful physical appearance, but the spiritual right to gloriously rule over God’s creation (especially the foes of sin and death).

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom 8:29)

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)

He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. (Phil 3:21)

How do we become “like Jesus”? Paul talks about imitating and conforming to Jesus. In these passages he is referring specifically to Jesus’ life-giving self-sacrifice—the very facet of his life that makes him the face of God’s glory. The cross was the moment when God’s glory was fully revealed. People become like Jesus in death (Phil 3:10). This takes two forms—enduring persecution and self-sacrificial giving.

Likeness Through Endurance

We become like Jesus as we endure persecution for Jesus’ sake (1 Thess 1:6; 1 Thess 2:14; 1 Pet 2:21). Trials and sufferings make us like Jesus. Notice the irony. Persecution is the violent force oppressors use to differentiate, exclude, and disgrace. But this very persecution is the cruciform means of becoming “like Jesus” and united with his family. Social difference (persecution) leads to spiritual likeness (Christ-conformity). Human shame becomes divine glory (cf. Matt 5:3-11). The differences we experience in this world become proof of Christ-likeness. 

We look like Jesus and bear God’s glorious image most when we bear a cross. This is a radical subversion of shame. God does not erase difference and disgrace for believers, but makes it the very means of becoming like God as victors over sin and death.

Likeness Through Sacrificial Love

In a similar way, we imitate Christ when we sacrifice personal interests for the edification of the church. Paul’s admonition, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” ( 1 Cor 11:1) refers not to seeking one’s advantage, but it refers to the salvation of others and God’s glory (1 Cor 10:14-33).

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph 5:1)

Paul’s instruction to imitate God is not general, but specifically refers to the cruciform life. We imitate Jesus by taking up our cross and giving ourselves up for others. Here is another irony—we become like Jesus in his resurrection glory only as we voluntarily lower ourselves before others.  


Difference creates a sense of shame. Our hearts yearn to be “like” others. So create social groups based on commonality and likeness. Such a group identity functions to mask shame and to bequeath honor (albeit temporarily).

For the sake of his glory, God creates us “like him” and “in his image.” We can now become like Jesus, the very image of God. The cross erases and redefines all social differences, giving us a new likeness, and thus a connection to his united body.


Posted in Jesus, Jesus Christ, Sin, Spirituality, Theology, Uncategorized Tagged with: ,

Shame is “Difference”

Shame is being different. We feel ashamed when we feel unlike others.

I know it sounds simple and even trite, but this insight summarizes our experience of shame in some profound ways.

Feeling Different, Being Unlike

Our differences make us feel displaced. I am not “normal,” so I do not belong.  Something differentiates me (or “us”) from other people. This difference becomes a barrier distancing us from other people. We should remain distinct from others.

Commonality is the essence of any group. The members of any group are defined by a similar characteristic. For example, cars are vehicles with four wheels and a motor. But defining social groups is more complicated. “Americans” are _______. “Men” are ________. “Smart people” are ___________. People fill the blanks in differently, but there is always some notion that all the people in such a group are “alike” in some measure. Groups are defined by commonality. So if we are not “like” the group, then we are not part of that group. That is shame—feeling different, being unlike, and so not a member of the group.  

The reality is that everyone feels different in some capacity. We’re all little strange in our unique ways. We feel different for some reason. Those differences make us “unlike others,” so we assume we are “unliked by others.”

Our difference can be external. You feel different because, for example, your skin not the regular color tone, your height is shorter, you speech has a lisp, or your arm has a disability. Other people can easily recognize these visible differences. External differences cannot be hidden, so learn to live with and accept them.

But we also feel shame for internal differences. These traits are not readily apparent. Perhaps you have a reading problem, can’t remember peoples’ names, struggle with anxiety, or feel sexually abnormal. Something on the inside, which only you know about, makes you feel different. In my estimation, these internal differences create the most shame. They become consuming. We expend great effort to hide these issues from other people, pushing ourselves into a world of isolation. Our social energies focus on hiding these differences from other people. We don’t want other people to see how we are different, because then our internal anxieties of shame will be public realties of disgrace.

Take a moment to reflect—what “differences” cause you shame?

We feel the shame of difference and search for people who are “like” us. We want some sort of group identity and the corresponding status. We identify with people who have the same blood as us, root for the same sports team, possess the same passport, and have the same physical appearance. We find (many, many) ways to be “like” other people. This is a core aspect of group identity and honor.

Schizophrenia of Western Culture

Western culture is utterly schizophrenic on this issue of likeness and difference. On the one hand, everyone is encouraged to be “different.” You are supposed to define yourself, pursue your dreams, and follow your heart. This is individualism to the extreme. The modern identity discards the shackles of all expectations. Not only do we now pick our own gender to define ourselves, but we can create an entirely new category of gender. We should not be like anyone else, and we should never conform to any external expectation of uniformity. We define ourselves by our differences. Everyone wants to be and feel unique.

But at the same time, the greatest sin in this cultural moment is making people “feel different.” We should never other-ize people or make them feel unique. Don’t ask someone, “Where are you from?” because that suggests they are not from here, not one of “us.” A microaggression makes people feel different, which is the new definition of oppression and abuse.

In a nutshell, the Western person wants to “be different,” but never “feel different.” No wonder there is a crisis of identity.


Shame says, “You are different. You don’t conform. So shame on you!” The solution in modern counseling and recent Christian books about shame is basically, “to turn off that voice, ignore it, and just be yourself.”

However, I believe there is a deeper, more biblical solution to shame. If shame is feeling unlike others, we overcome shame by becoming “like Jesus.” We must conform to his image, as the next post will explain.


Posted in Culture, Spirituality Tagged with: ,

Workshops for the 2020 Honor-Shame Conference

A highlight of the first Honor-Shame Conference (2017) was the many diverse and insightful workshops. And yet, the workshops slated for the 2020 Honor-Shame Conference (June, Wheaton College) looks even more promising. I’ve already got “choice anxiety”! The full list of 40+ presenters and their topics is below. Which ones seem interesting to you?

Visit HonorShame-Conference.com to learn more. Register early to qualify for the all-inclusive early-bird rate of just $339!

Workshops for 2020 Honor-Shame Conference

  1. Erik Aasland, missionary, trainer, professor: “Understanding Honor-Shame in Cultural Context”
  2. Cameron D. Armstrong, IMB missionary; teacher at Bucharest Baptist Theological Institute; author, Listening Between the Lines: Thinking Missiologically about Romanian Culture: “Shame is Mightier than the Sword”
  3. Gerry Breshears, Professor of Systematic Theology and Chair of the Division of Biblical and Theological Studies at Western Seminary: “Abrahamic Aspects of Righteousness: Seven Cultural Dimensions”
  4. Yi-Sang Patrick Chan, Langham Scholar; PhD candidate at Fuller Seminary: “Guilt and Shame: Chinese Indigenous Psychology and Empirical Hermeneutics”
  5. David Dicken, crisis counselor, Crisis Text Line, and certified teacher at National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Honor, Shame, and Suicide”
  6. Duane Elmer, director of the PhD program in educational studies and the G. W. Aldeen Chair of International Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School: [workshop title to be announced]
  7. John Ferch, Associate Pastor, Hope Church, St. Louis, Missouri: “Honor-Shame in Relational Leadership Development Among the Inuit”
  8. Audrey Frank, fellow at The Truth Collective; author, The Face of Honor and Shame in the Muslim World: [workshop title to be announced]
  9. Sam George, Director of Global Diaspora Institute at Wheaton College and global catalyst for Diasporas for the Lausanne Movement: “Gospel for Hybrid Diaspora Cultures: How Children of Immigrants Handle Guilt and Shame”
  10. Nijay Gupta, Associate Professor of New Testament at Portland Seminary, “From Victims and Pariahs to Warriors and Heroes: Paul’s Use of Warfare Metaphors to Shape Christian Social Identity”
  11. Robert E. Haynes, Director, Education & Leadership at World Methodist Evangelism: “Why Simply ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’ Doesn’t Work Anymore: Evangelism in Western Honor-Shame Contexts”
  12. Cathy Hine, mission practitioner, co-founder of When Women Speak: “Writing My Own Ending: The Power of Story to Overcome Shame”
  13. Sunny Hong, intercultural consultant with SIL International and Wycliffe Bible Translators: “Honor and Shame in the Book of Ruth in Light of Diaspora Ministry”
  14. Alan Howell, Visiting Professor of Missions at Harding University: “Honor-Shame in an African Folk Islamic Context: Mozambique”
  15. Mary James, Pioneers church planter in Arabian Peninsula ’92–’18; conference organizer, trainer: “Ostracized not Rotten”
  16. Philip Jamieson, President, United Methodist Foundation for the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences: “‘Have You No Shame?’ Western Theology and the Rediscovery of our Biblical Heritage”
  17. Joshua Jipp, Associate Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; author, Christ Is King: Paul’s Royal Ideology: “Pauline Economics and the Transformation of Value”
  18. Jukka Kääriäinen, Mission Theologian, Office for Global Mission, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland: “Luther’s Anthropology of Simul Justus et Peccator as Pastoral Care for the Shamed”
  19. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, author of the five-volume systematic theology, A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World; Professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary: “Honor and Shame in a Theological Perspective” 
  20. Sam Kim, Assistant Professor of E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism, Asbury Theological Seminary: “The Concept of Shame in World Religions: Eastern Asia and the Middle East”
  21. Te-Li Lau, Associate Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, author, Defending Shame: Its Formative Power in Paul’s Letters: “Defending Shame: Its Formative Power in Paul’s Letters”
  22. David Liles, career missionary in Peru with Bible Baptist Fellowship Int’l (BBFI): “Communication of Honor in New Testament Church Discipline Mandate Passages”
  23. Arley Loewen, Director of Pamir Ministries, author and subject matter expert on Afghanistan: “Honor and Sharia Law”
  24. Michael Matthews, author, A Novel Approach: The Significance of Story in Interpreting and Communicating Reality: “Shame on Jesus: The True Path to Honor in the Book of Hebrews”
  25. Samuel Melvin, founder of The Church and Race Ministries: “Honor-Shame’s Impact on the Quest For Racial Unity”
  26. David Mough, career missionary; trainer in cross-cultural church planting, Ethnos360: “Preparing for Honor-Shame Peoples: The Story of Ethnos360 in H-S Training and Ministry”
  27. Grace Sangalang Ng, PhD student, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University: “The Holy Spirit’s Transformation of Shame into Honor in Romans 8”
  28. Juliet November, author and cross-cultural worker in Thailand: “Honor-Shame in Ethnic Partnerships for Christian Movies”
  29. Stan Nussbaum, missionary, researcher, or trainer in 20+ countries; founder of SYNCx.org; author, A Reader’s Guide to Transforming Mission: “Having What it Takes: The Biblical Panorama Story from an Honor/Shame Perspective”
  30. E. Randolph Richards, co-author, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible; Professor of Biblical Studies and Provost at Palm Beach Atlantic University:  “Shaming as a Virtuous Action”
  31. Ken Roberts serves with Pioneers Int’l, and has walked alongside Hindus in India and America for over 10 years: “Honor, Shame, and Good News in the Hindu Context”
  32. Narry F. Santos, co-editor, Mission and Evangelism in a Secularizing World: Academy, Agency, and Assembly Perspectives from Canada; Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry and Intercultural Leadership at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto: “Jesus’ Honor-Shame Engagement with Gentiles in the Gospel of Mark: Missiological Implications for the Church in a Multicultural City”
  33. William H. Senyard, President, Gospel App Ministries (church revitalization and transformation): “Are You a Guilt-Innocence or Honor-Shame Church?”
  34. Chris Sneller, Director of Innovation, Bridges International (a division of Cru): “Honor Restored: The Compelling Story of Creating an Honor-Shame Gospel App”
  35. Benjamin Straub, Dean of Bible at Central Africa Baptist College and Seminary in Zambia: “Honor, Shame, and Martyrdom in the Early African Church: An Examination of Tertullian’s African Worldview and Context”
  36. Syed Ibn Syed, Muslim background believer from India; author, Try Me, I am Jesus, and owner-manager of isaformuslims.com: “The Key to Reaching Muslims Effectively Employing Honor-Shame Concepts in Sharing the Gospel”
  37. Gregg Ten Elshof, Professor of Philosophy, Biola University; author, Confucius for Christians: “For Shame”
  38. Trey Thomas, cross-cultural trainer, East Asia: “How Honor-Shame Has Shaped My Personal Life & Ministry”
  39. Patricia Toland, missionary with WEC since 1990: “Identifying Characteristics of Leaders who Honor Biblically”
  40. Rod Van Schooten, leader with C&MA in Hong Kong, ministry focus of ‘Soul Care’ among church leaders in China: “Soul Formation in an Honor-Shame Context”
  41. Edwin Roy Zehner, author, Unavoidably Hybrid: Thai Buddhist Conversions to Evangelical Christianity: “Reconfiguring Honor-Shame Discourses: Making Missiology and Anthropology Better ‘Friends’”

Visit https://honorshame-conference.com/sessions/workshops/ for an updated list of presentations. The conference is not a function of Wheaton College

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Why Honor Matters

Guest Audrey Frank is an author and speaker who has lived in the Muslim World. This post is from her new book Covered Glory: The Face of Honor and Shame in the Muslim World (2019, Harvest House Publishers).

Babies were snugly tucked into colorful slings on their backs as the women gracefully balanced handwoven baskets with food and cookware atop their heads. They had walked for days to hear the Christian teach from the Bible. Under sprawling acacia trees, they sat and settled on the dusty African ground, leaning in to hear the words of life.  

Hours later, as the sun began its quiet descent toward late afternoon, the drums and singing began. With simple words and exquisite harmonies, the worshippers poured out praise to the Messiah. The celebration was rare and priceless.

Afterward, as nightfall settled over the landscape, the fire burned low, its embers glowing a soft orange under the starry sky. Soft rustling and murmurs could be heard as women settled down for sleep on their thin lessos, the vast sheet-like cloths they wore over their skirts.

A wizened old lady slowly made her way to the teacher still sitting by the fire. “Thank you.” Her words were quiet, barely above a whisper. The teacher waited. The old lady’s face, already lined with years of hard work, labored to form more words. “I always knew I could be forgiven. But I never knew I could be clean.” Her eyes shone with a new light, the light of revelation and freedom.

Sin has soiled the soul of mankind since the first dirty lie in Eden. It flung its filth on the clean, pure soul of man and woman and stole their sense of value. Man and woman would never again, on their own, be able to make their hearts completely clean. Honor matters because everyone, deep inside, needs to know he or she can be made clean

Behind the drama of humankind’s downfall was One who preserved the value of life. He never forgot. With His own life, God protected the value of the life He had created. He rose that moment and began His longest journey: the quest to restore worth to the human soul, to make hearts clean again. Clean is merely a common word for holy. The holy Creator God chased after mankind. His heart was consumed with purpose and longing to make them holy again so that they might be reunited with Him.

The honor God gives is paramount because it promises restored relationship with Him. The universal human desire to have a heart clean, restored and holy, can help us understand the compulsion that drives entire cultures to see the world through the lenses of honor and shame.

Honor goes by many ordinary names: clean, accepted, loved, good. And around the world, humankind made in God’s image longs to be called by those honorable names. A little girl who feels alone in a prison of abuse, as I once was, longs to be loved. The young woman trafficked for her body wonders if she will ever be clean again. The man who wrestles with his addiction to pornography wonders if he can ever be the good husband and father he wants to be.

The alcoholic fights with all his might to be clean, knowing down deep that his problem is more than liquor. The young jihadist straps a bomb to his chest, hoping with all his might that with his sacrifice Allah will finally call him accepted. The Muslim woman in the workplace, marching for her rights, cries for acceptance and value. The desire for honor is a cry for all of these things, and it rises from the depths of the human soul. This is why honor matters.


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