The Case for Shame: We’ve Lost The Delicate Moral Paradox

There’s a more real problem within the Church and society, that we no longer can discern the difference between shame and shaming.

In 1992, Peggy Noonan penned a brilliant eulogy for American moral delicacy, titled “You’d cry too if it happened to you.” Allow me to quote liberally from it.

We have all had a moment when all of a sudden we looked around and thought: The world is changing, I am seeing it change. This is for me the moment when the new America began: I was at a graduation ceremony at a public high school in New Jersey. It was 1971 or 1972. One by one a stream of black-robed students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. And a pretty young girl with red hair, big under her graduation gown, walked up to receive hers. The auditorium stood up and applauded. I looked at my sister: “She’s going to have a baby.”

The girl was eight months pregnant and had had the courage to go through with her pregnancy and take her finals and finish school despite society’s disapproval.

But: Society wasn’t disapproving. It was applauding. Applause is a right and generous response for a young girl with grit and heart. And yet, in the sound of that applause I heard a wall falling, a thousand-year wall, a wall of sanctions that said: We as a society do not approve of teenaged unwed motherhood because it is not good for the child, not good for the mother and not good for us.

The old America had a delicate sense of the difference between the general (“We disapprove”) and the particular (Let’s go help her”). We had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox, to sustain the distance between “official” disapproval and “unofficial” succor. The old America would not have applauded the girl in the big graduation gown, but some of its individuals would have helped her not only materially but with some measure of emotional support. We don’t so much anymore. For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.

Message to society: What you applaud, you encourage. And: Watch out what you celebrate.

We are now fully upside-down from Noonan’s “moment.” A Christian teen, Maddi Runkles, is pregnant. Her Christian school disapproves, and has banned her from walking with her class to get her diploma. It is no longer an act of courage for a young girl, large with child, to walk in a graduation–society approves of this.

It has become an act worthy of outrage for a school, or any authority, to disapprove of a moral failure that caused this pregnancy. There’s only one way for a girl to get pregnant, and from a Biblical morality viewpoint, outside of her prevenient marriage, it is a moral failure.

The school has taken the delicate sense of general societal disapproval and the particular acts of kindness and charity, and thrown both to the wind. But that’s only because society as a whole has lost that delicate paradox.

Pro-life groups have rallied to Runkles’ cause, stating that Heritage Academy is exhibiting the cold-hearted shunning that drives young girls to abortion clinics in the first place. Kimberly Ross excellently argues this case in RedState.

It is one thing to deal with the pregnancy privately. Instead, the school’s refusal to involve Maddi in graduation sends this very public message: “Choosing life should be frowned upon.”

The school has an extraordinary opportunity to promote wholeness through adversity by treating Ms. Runkles as they would any other student. This does not negate the serious nature of the situation, but reinforces that life can – and does – continue for women and their unplanned, unexpected children.

This is true, in a morally-relative sense. Young girls who find themselves in what they see as an impossible situation of carrying a child while planning to walk out of childhood themselves are confused, stressed, and terrified. Why would anyone want to shame them?

The answer is precisely the one Noonan gave 25 years ago. “What you applaud, you encourage. And: Watch out what you celebrate.” Christian authorities, like schools, should rightly promote a sense of shame for moral failing. That’s not condemnation–we are all sinners. But these groups and leaders should not celebrate the sin–yes, it’s sin–that caused the situation for which we should all, rightly, have compassion.

But American society has lost the delicate paradox of loving the sinner and hating the sin. Therefore, it’s become impossible for a Christian school to maintain Biblical standards of behavior without being condemned by society for shaming those who sin. It’s become impossible for a school, or a church, to show charity, kindness, and compassion to those who have fallen to sin without also celebrating the sin itself.

The two things have become inseparable to us, because we’ve lost the delicate paradox.

I’ve been involved with a crisis pregnancy center for a number of years. I know what the ministry and the service-centered clinical facility associated with it, stand for. They do not judge. They do not preach. They extend a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to cry, and an arm to lift up and support the cause of life. They offer hope to women who feel trapped by a decision they never thought would result in their lives being inalterably changed.

Each of these women are a particular case. There is not societal “approval” or “disapproval” attached to them, only love.

Yet, in a larger sense, society, especially Christian authorities, need to maintain the case for Biblical disapproval of sin. Forcing a Christian school to embrace immorality because the pro-life movement requires unbridled permission to celebrate pregnancy is really working against the cause of Christ in the larger sense.

Maddi Runkles, the product of a society that’s become simultaneously more tolerant and closed-hearted, expressed her distress to the New York Times.

“Some pro-life people are against the killing of unborn babies, but they won’t speak out in support of the girl who chooses to keep her baby,” she said. “Honestly, that makes me feel like maybe the abortion would have been better. Then they would have just forgiven me, rather than deal with this visible consequence.

Ross cited this as the “very real problem within the pro-life movement.” But I think she misses the larger point. There’s a more real problem within the Church and society, that we no longer can discern the difference between shame and shaming. Shame is brought upon oneself for sins committed–it is a ministry of conviction administered by the Holy Spirit. Shaming is a very human act of condemnation of others for acts they bear no responsibility for.

We should not shame the disabled, or the mentally ill, or the poor, or the sick. But an unmarried teen with child is not being shamed, she bears her own shame in the sin. To say there is no shame in sin is to say there is no sin at all.

Now, all that being said, society now accepts without comment pregnant teens walking in high school graduations (or even middle school these days). It’s no longer a cause to celebrate for bravery or grit. Therefore, the school would be well within societal norms, and really not sending any message whatsoever for the pro-life movement to use if Maddi Runkles walked with her class and collected her diploma.

I daresay that it wouldn’t be news at all, of any kind. It wouldn’t be discussed, or known. Runkles would just be another teen with another unplanned baby. We should celebrate that life, and rightfully support Runkles for choosing life. But we should recognize that as a Christian, it’s her duty to celebrate that life herself, and to carry it into this world.

If Runkles had followed through with an abortion because she felt “like maybe the abortion would have been better,” would she have not brought more shame onto herself? Would the pro-life groups have said she has no shame in choosing abortion to avoid the shame of being a teenage unwed mother?

Without shame, and without the delicate paradox of a general disapproval of sin versus a particular application of grace and kindness, our society has become a culture unable to advocate any cause, oppose any sin, or maintain any standards of Biblical morality.

Noonan was right a quarter century ago. Now our society has come full circle, and it’s a very sad day indeed.

For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.

Noonan: Imagine a Sane Donald Trump

Peggy Noonan plays with our emotions and teases us with a vision of what Donald Trump would be like if he weren’t (in her words) a screwball.

Sane Donald Trump would have looked at a dubious, anxious and therefore standoffish Republican establishment and not insulted them, diminished them, done tweetstorms against them. Instead he would have said, “Come into my tent. It’s a new one, I admit, but it’s yuge and has gold faucets and there’s a place just for you. What do you need? That I be less excitable and dramatic? Done. That I not act, toward women, like a pig? Done, and I accept your critique. That I explain the moral and practical underpinnings of my stand on refugees from terror nations? I’d be happy to. My well-hidden secret is that I love everyone and hear the common rhythm of their beating hearts.”

I too believe that Sane Donald Trump would have won in a landslide. I’ve even prayed that somehow, Trump would by a miracle of God acquire this sanity. But the price of being sane is that you don’t “insult your way to the presidency.” He never would have made it out of the primaries.

Plus, as Noonan notes, he doesn’t exist.

Read the whole thing at the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall).

The Elephant In The Room

Stop what you’re doing right now and read this.

As [Peggy] Noonan puts it, over the last generation there has been “a kind of historic decoupling between the top and the bottom in the West that did not, in more moderate recent times, exist.” Those at the top of society no longer share the interests of those less fortunate. “At its heart it is not only a detachment from, but a lack of interest in, the lives of your countrymen, of those who are not at the table, and who understand that they’ve been abandoned by their leaders’ selfishness and mad virtue-signaling.”

In other words, worldwide, democracy (small “d”) is failing. The consequences and implications are truly chilling.

Read it now, at First Things.

Embrace The National Holocaust

“Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States, and the Republican Party elected her.”

It’s difficult to find a word infused with more meaning than “holocaust.” But depending on who you are, other words are grenades with self-pulling pins, like “lynching” or “gringo.” Use whatever works for you.

From the earliest time–for me it was late February–since Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton could reasonably be suspected to end up as Act III of the three-act tragedy of American history, I and many other writers have seen this coming with a sense of dread. It’s like we have read the script through and know how it ends after the scene where little Cole tells Dr. Malcolm Crowe “I see dead people.”

We’re all heading in a forced march toward the same revelation Peggy Noonan had in April, “that moment when 2016 hits you.” There’s even a poll validating Noonan’s feelings. For fun, PPP–not the most reliable pollsters–decided to see how many respondents would prefer global incineration by a giant meteor (affectionately known on Twitter as SMOD, the Sweet Meteor of Death) to either Clinton or Trump. The meteor polled at 13 percent, above Gary Johnson.

President Obama flew with Clinton aboard Air Force One to a campaign event. If there was a clearer signal that there will be no charges forthcoming against Clinton, I can’t think of one.

Trump continues to do whatever Trump wants without even chipping the orange paint troweled around his pursed lips.

I was going to title this piece “Nothing Matters” but then I had the rare epiphany that things do still matter. It’s just that the things that matter to one person don’t matter at all to others. All the bridges connecting principle to reason have been burned.

The word “holocaust” comes to us from the Greek “holokauston,” meaning “whole” and “burn.” It’s an appropriate word.

It’s appropriate because just 71 years ago the seminal event happened in which the wheels of human industry were applied to the stripping of human beings of all value and reducing them to ash in massive death factories. It’s appropriate because the best-known living witness to that Holocaust, Elie Wiesel, just died.

It’s appropriate to use the term “holocaust” to remind us that self-hating moral cowards like Max Blumenthal defend Holocaust deniers and wrap their worm tongues around the eardrums of Hillary Clinton. It’s appropriate to use the term “holocaust” when Trump tweets anti-Semitic blood libels in an internet meme and his defenders tell us to chill. And Sarah Palin tells a sympathetic crowd to hate their neighbors, because “you’re either with us or against us.” (“If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.”–Only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes, Sarah.)

It’s all burning down before our eyes.

The GOP is evenly split between those who say go with Trump and those who say dump Trump. No matter what the convention decides, the GOP is effectively destroyed. It’s all according to the script–I wrote this on August 8, 2015, right after Erick disinvited Trump from the RedState Gathering (in fact I wrote it from my hotel room in Atlanta).

Trump is a direct result of the GOP’s inability to define itself as a party with a purpose. If the GOP is defined as “everything that isn’t Democrat” then it’s nothing more than the Whigs of 1854. Dead.

GOP, it’s time to grow up and look down into the grave that the Whigs fell into before our party goes the way of the Know-Nothings.

With horror, I am seeing it all happen before my eyes. All the warnings, all the words spent, all the pleading, nothing has stopped this tragedy from unfolding.

Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States, and the Republican Party elected her. Then comes the holocaust of politics and the rule of law. As it all burns, I will do everything I can to help those caught in the flames they ignited to get out alive to fight another day.

May we all learn by embracing the holocaust.

What Never Changes, Even in 2016

Politics is 90 percent raw emotion, and the other half is doing what’s right. Peggy Noonan found her voice catching while moderating a panel in New York quoting a line from a song in the musical “Hamilton”–“How lucky we are to be alive right now.”

The next morning, watching cable news, the emotional weight of 2016 came crashing down on her.

I watched dumbly, tiredly. Then for no reason—this is true, it just doesn’t sound it—I thought of an old Paul Simon song that had been crossing my mind, “The Boy in the Bubble.” I muted the TV, found the song on YouTube, and listened as I stared at the soundless mile of cars and the soundless demonstrators. As the lyrics came—“The way we look to a distant constellation / That’s dying in a corner of the sky / . . . Don’t cry baby / Don’t cry”—my eyes filled with tears. And a sob welled up and I literally put my hands to my face and sobbed, silently, for I suppose a minute.

Pardon my Yogi Berra plagiarism above, but it’s absolutely true, and much more so for those of us who write and talk endlessly about Donald Trump, voter anger, fear, and how our country is ever supposed to survive.

Noonan came face to face with the very distinct possibility–growing daily–that “the great choice in a nation of 320 million may come down to Crazy Man versus Criminal.” And for a moment, the weight was too great, and she wilted. “You’ll feel better the next day,” she promised. And she’s right.

Because much of the country has awoken to the broken promises, lies, manipulations, and the self-serving politics that poisoned America since World War II. Not that the people of that generation were pure and faultless, but they peered into the abyss, saw the face of the devil, and stood up to fight for what’s right.

There’s a reason they’re called “the greatest generation,” and it’s not because of physical courage or some greater sense of righteousness. It was the times that they were forced to rise to.

But be of good cheer, because some things never change. Doing the right thing never changes.

We are inspired by God’s expectations of us, written down 700 years before Christ.

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8)

Jesus confirmed the rabbinical conclusion that God’s standing order is distilled to this:

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:37-40)

We are very much lucky to be alive right now in 2016, in the most prosperous, free country in the world–indeed in the history of the world. Our conveniences, rights, privileges, and seemingly-endless wealth would appear to anyone living on planet Earth even 100 years ago as if we were all kings.

Americans’ anger is justifiable, but our response is properly not to be angry at the angry voters for a perceived (and real) lack of wisdom. History is replete with bad choices. The angry voters are our neighbors, whom we are entreated to love as we love ourselves.

We don’t have to agree with our angry neighbors; in fact nothing will persuade me to support or cast a vote for The Crazy Man or The Criminal. But we must side with Heaven, not cheer as our neighbors march to Hell.