At the check-out line of any local grocery store, celebrity word vomit is showcased on the cover of People and other like-minded tabloids. Some of the most watched television shows are full of “he said, she said.”
Perhaps more alarming is the public shaming that takes place each day on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I’ll confess, the “finger of shame” in Jimmy Kimmel is pretty hilarious, but at the end of the day, it’s generally harmful and hurtful comedy.
In a similar vein, the public shaming of teenagers is happening all over social media and is having some devastating consequences on our youth. The Netflix Original Series, 13 Reasons Why dramatizes this social experience with Hannah Baker and the thirteen others who helped shame her into committing suicide—and it’s not pretty. It may be fiction, but for many young people today living in a Snapchat world, this is not far from reality.
The videos that go viral in our culture, like that of “Gorilla pit mom” (#Harambe) last year, are often gained at the expense of another’s personal loss. People post these things to get more traffic and “likes”—they’re not in it for the fair representation of others.
However, what I find most disturbing about this phenomenon is not what they are doing out there, but what we Christians are doing within the walls of the church.
Unfortunately, public shaming is not exclusive to the world; it is often tolerated in the church, and in some cases, it can lead to church divisions and splits. Major issues inside the church usually start with something as simple as a rumor or with slander.
Hey, I’m as much of a fan of The Babylon Bee as the next person and have shared plenty of articles with family and friends. I’m a big fan of laughing at ourselves—as Christians, we do a lot of dumb stuff. But at some point, does our laughter at the expense of others translate over into a violation of loving our neighbor? Justifying it as “harmless satire” might not work if the people we offend most are those who might otherwise consider coming to church with us.
The Ninth Commandment
The ninth commandment tells us not to lie. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). The Psalmist warns us with these words, “Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy” (Ps. 101:5a). Slander is a sin according to God. He does not like us defaming other image-bearers whom he created and whom he sustains with life.
We should be more eager to cover up our neighbor’s blemishes than to publish their sins and faults to the rest of the world. The world does this in many different ways, but Christians are called to something much higher. God does not like gossip, even if it is tolerated in some of our churches as an acceptable sin. We should try to give our neighbors the best reputation possible, even if they are not worthy of it.
Why should Christians do this? Because God has given us the best reputation possible by swapping out our filthy rags for Jesus’s spotless robes of righteousness. Instead of looking at us as we really are and broadcasting this to the world, God in Jesus Christ has not only covered up our sins but has cleansed us from all unrighteousness. We are no longer viewed as we once were, but we are accepted as people who have no spots or blemishes.
Beyond this, Christians must be concerned about avoiding the sin of gossip because every human being is made in the image of God. When we tear down the name of another person—even a celebrity whose sins are “public,” a distinction often used to justify slander—we are ultimately making a mockery of God. He has made each one of his creatures, and by shaming others we are spitting on God.
If you’re a parent with teenagers, we highly recommend Face Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World by Kristen Hatton.
“As a father of teens, I often feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped with the changes that social media are making in our everyday lives. Kristen Hatton has provided a huge dose of information, wisdom, and gospel-oriented encouragement in this book. I highly recommend it.”
— Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology, Westminster Seminary California; author of Core Christianity; cohost of the White Horse Inn